[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

creating and maintaining accessible Linux distros

tl; dr - Here are some ideas about creating and maintaining accessible Linux distros.  Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited by law.

Some Background

To let folks know where I'm coming from, I'll start out with some background.  I'm a sighted programmer who has been working with free software and *ix systems (mostly BSD-flavored) since the early 1980's.  Although I have no particular a11y skillz, I'm quite interested in the general topic.

Getting to specifics, I'd like there to be a FOSS distribution that:

- can be installed, maintained, and used without sighted help
- provides both command line and graphical user interfaces
- runs on very inexpensive devices (e.g., old cell phones)
- is accessible by both blind and visually impaired users
- is plug-and-play and reliable enough for production use
- can be augmented by a wide range of FOSS applications
- supports "always-on" operation (like a notetaker)
- has a substantial developer and user community
- and a pony...

AFAIK, this collection of goals isn't met by any FOSS distributions.  Some distros only work on PC or Raspberry Pi hardware.  Some aren't set up to give blind users a friendly initial experience.  Some have issues with driver and/or app setup and maintenance.

In cases where the OS isn't specifically aimed at blind users, the a11y folks have to convince and coordinate with the boot folks to get blind-friendly startup behavior.  And, if the OS _is_ specific to blind users, the developer and user communities tend to be small enough that development and support are challenging.  

So, I don't blame the majority of blind users for sticking with proprietary OSes.  However, these don't check off all of the items on my wishlist, either.  For example, neither Android nor iOS are easy to augment with FOSS software; indeed, iOS has no command line at all!  Neither Microsoft Windows nor macOS can be used on a cell phone.
And, in any case, the needed hardware may be too expensive for many blind users.

OK, you get the idea, but what is the answer?  Although I don't have a solid proposal to offer, I do have a speculative notion to suggest.  Here goes...

A Notion

There are billions (!) of old cell phones floating around in the world.  Some are staggering along on ancient Android releases; others are sitting in drawers, being discarded, etc.  IMHO, this is a significant untapped resource.  The processors in these phones are orders of magnitude faster than the CPUs found in the workstations of the 1980's.  Better yet, they can commonly be purchased (e.g., on eBay) for $20 or so, making them affordable by a lot of blind folks around the world.

There are several FOSS distros that target cell phones, but postmarketOS (pmOS) seems to be the only one which has the stated goal of keeping the old ones alive.  Better yet, they are making serious progress at supporting a variety of old cell phones (mostly aarch64) on their (Alpine-based) Linux distribution.  For details, see https://wiki.postmarketos.org/wiki/Devices.

OK, you say, but Alpine isn't my favorite Linux variant; I want to run X, Y, or Z.  Well, that's why VMs were invented!  Using something like QEMU, it should be possible to host almost any FOSS distro on top of pmOS.  (Of course, if the guest distro is already ARM-based, that makes things easier and more efficient.)

In summary, I'm wondering what it would take to get versions of the more accessible OS distros set up to run (via a VM) on pmOS.  Does anyone else think this is a feasible and/or worthwhile goal?


Reply to: