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Re: creating and maintaining accessible Linux distros

tl;dr: as a Linux user since 2004, I dont think creating an accessible distributioon is a good idea. I prefer contributing to mainstream distros than creating a new one, as such maintainance may require a lot of work, the maintainers team is nearly always so small, so there is no future warranty for the end-user. While using a,n accessible Debian will be alwyas possible as there will be maintainers, using a small specific distro in the future requires the maintainer (or 2-3) to be here (and it is not certain at all one person will maintain a long time). I have seen a lot of accessible distro, maintained by a small community, few are still active AFAIK. And accessibility is necessarily maintained by a small community.

Le 05/01/2022 à 09:04, Rich Morin a écrit :
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.

debian has place to improve this, provided that persons do the work. Its first purpose is to work on most architectures, but we lack maintainers. Why not help porting packages instead of starting from scratch?

Anyway, the purpose of "plug and play" and "inexpensive hardware" has always been the dream of persons: Debian tries do this via a modular kernel and ports mechanism, but people always want something on recent hardware, and then we experience typical hardware compatibility problems unrelated to the distro but to the FOSS in general.

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

Yes, debian did it. But of course, improvements stay possible, eg. creating a tasksel to install or uninstall easily accessibility features, reduce the size of the documentation so that persons find how to start installer according to their situation

and user communities tend to be small enough that development and support are challenging.

So imagine a still smaller community for a specific distro

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.

that is right, but here you introduce a much more global problem: FOSS and hardware, desire of people to use CLI vs capability of such hardware to run GUI, accessibility of slight GUIs (to be improved upstream).

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.

But are you talking abot a n accessible distro or OS? My previous replies were about Linux distros. If you talk about OSes in general, it is still another point: developing an universal OS? a layer able to apply to any OS (would be nearly research and dev, I know an european project trying this somesyears ago)?

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.)

Do you know Cosmo Communicator? they do a high effort to have a phone with Android, Linux, etc. I think we can do something on such base.

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?

I think debian is the most opened ecosystem to do this: this distro has an accessibility experience, persons to give opinion, we only lack of resources to port and maintain other architectures or implement improvements in the installer. Adding the hardware question is interesting but very complex, but... who knows

Best regards


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