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By Sound and By Touch: Using Linux with Speech and Braille Output Interfaces


This presentation provides an overview of how GNU/Linux can be accessed using
braille and speech-based user interfaces, as commonly employed by people who
are blind or vision-impaired. In doing so, a conceptual framework is offered
through which the different approaches taken by free software projects in this
field can be characterized and compared.

The underlying braille and speech output technologies that form the basis of
the user interfaces to be described later, are first introduced. The
principles, practical operation and limitations of braille display hardware
built upon piezoelectric cell technology are discussed. The BRLTTY braille
access daemon supplies the necessary supporting drivers. The various speech
synthesis systems available under Linux are also described, concentrating on
software implementations distributed under open-source licences, specifically
Festival, Festival Lite and eSpeak. The respective features and limitations of
these systems, for the purpose of supporting spoken user interfaces, are
explained.

Having laid the necessary groundwork, attention is turned to the software that
makes user interfaces provided by the operating system and by applications
accessible through braille and speech-based interaction. The "screen reading"
paradigm that has conventionally defined the role of access software can be
exemplified by several projects which allow users to interact with the Linux
console, including YASR, SpeakUP and BRLTTY (in console mode). On the other
hand, the Emacspeak project exhibits an alternative approach, whereby the
Emacs editor and its applications are extended, in Emacs Lisp, to create a
highly customized, and effective, spoken interface.

Accessibility architectures which extend widget libraries to support
alternative user interfaces combine elements of both of these approaches. Like
conventional screen readers, they offer generic access to the user interface,
but like Emacspeak, they can also take advantage to some extent of the
underlying structure and semantics of the application. The Gnome accessibility
architecture, also supported by OpenOffice.org and Mozilla, is such a
framework. (Support for this architecture in Qt 4 and KDE is under
development). Having explained the principles of the Gnome accessibility
infrastructure and its application, in the Orca assistive technology, to
creating braille and spoken interfaces, the distinct approaches so far
described are compared. The benefits and importance of collaboration among the
various accessibility-related projects which have emerged in the free software
community are emphasized.

The presentation concludes with an assessment of important technical
challenges for the free software community in advancing braille and
speech-based interfaces, as well as in improving the accessibility of the
GNU/Linux operating system and its applications. This discussion emphasizes
the vital role played by developers, at both the system and application
levels, in this process, pointing out the extent to which success from the
user's perspective requires, and benefits from, cooperation among a diverse
range of development projects.

Project: BRLTTY, Emacspeak, YASR, Gnome Accessibility and others. 


Jason White

Jason has been enthusiastically using GNU/Linux since 1998, with both braille and speech output. Following technical collaboration with Dave Mielke, the maintainer of BRLTTY, in which a driver was extended to support his braille display device, Jason finally shelved his old DOS machine and was able to use GNU/Linux exclusively. Jason is an active participant in project mailing lists devoted to free software and accessibility. He has also contributed to documentation, participated in beta testing and helped to track down bugs, particularly in the Emacspeak, BRLTTY and Yasr projects. Jason has been extensively involved in technical standard-setting activities related to accessibility for people with disabilities. From 2000 to 2004 he served as co-Chair of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He has also participated in working groups that have enhanced the support for accessibility provided by a number of W3C technical specifications, such as HTML, CSS and SVG. Since 1998, he has contributed to technical committees of the Daisy Consortium, developing standards and DTD's for accessible electronic books. In real life, Jason is a Ph.D. student in philosophy, devoting much of his time to writing about conceptual issues in contemporary analytic semantics.

Jason White

Jason has been enthusiastically using GNU/Linux since 1998, with both braille and speech output. Following technical collaboration with Dave Mielke, the maintainer of BRLTTY, in which a driver was extended to support his braille display device, Jason finally shelved his old DOS machine and was able to use GNU/Linux exclusively. Jason is an active participant in project mailing lists devoted to free software and accessibility. He has also contributed to documentation, participated in beta testing and helped to track down bugs, particularly in the Emacspeak, BRLTTY and Yasr projects. Jason has been extensively involved in technical standard-setting activities related to accessibility for people with disabilities. From 2000 to 2004 he served as co-Chair of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines working group of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He has also participated in working groups that have enhanced the support for accessibility provided by a number of W3C technical specifications, such as HTML, CSS and SVG. Since 1998, he has contributed to technical committees of the Daisy Consortium, developing standards and DTD's for accessible electronic books. In real life, Jason is a Ph.D. student in philosophy, devoting much of his time to writing about conceptual issues in contemporary analytic semantics.

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