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RE: Editorial: The Potential of Open Source for the Visually Impa ired

> Question 1: "Are there API's that editors or mail
> readers should make use of to interface with
> assistance devices?"
> Answer 1: Unfortunately, interfacing with specialized
> adaptive devices is not very standardized.  Support
> for Braille displays and hardware voice synthesizers
> can be spotty and drivers are often written on a
> device by device basis.  This is one of the problems
> that Ocularis distribution of Linux seeks to avoid. 
> Ocularis is meant to run on inexpensive, readily
> available (e.g., at your local computer store rather
> than a special order from another state or country)
> hardware that already has stable support under Linux
> and for which physically interfacing with the device
> is no a focus.  Although Ocularis may support adaptive
> devices, it will focus on using current hardware to
> produce an Audio User Interface (AUI) in a more cost
> efficient manner.

There are quite a few distributions of Linux available,
some of which are based on Debian (see Stormix, Corel,
Linux Router Project, etc.).  It might make sense for
you to base your work on Debian, and focus on just the
'value added' features that would be useful for the
vision-impaired.  These enhancements could also be 
incorporated into Debian proper (benefitting us), as 
well as be forwarded 'upstream' to the primary software
authors for full inclusion in the original software,
thereby benefiting all distributions.

So, if your project were to come up with an install
system for the blind, this could potentially be worked
into the Debian installer software, or possibly be
used by Red Hat or others.
> Question 2: "Is there new software of some kind that
> needs to be written?"
> Answer 2: This is a good, slightly difficult question.
>  Yes, new software does need to be written, but this
> new code deals primarily with re-expressing commonly
> used functions than finding a new way to perform the
> functions themselves. For example, a new e-mail client
> need not be written with its own built-in speech
> synthesizer.  The speech synthesizer and basic e-mail
> client (or libraries for simple e-mail functions) have
> already been written.  One need only collect the
> header information and body of the message that are
> usually displayed on a screen and "pipe" that
> information to the speech synthesizer.  

Well, software following the so-called "Model-View"
design pattern would be relatively easy to modify for
this use.  Effectively, a new front-end mail reader 
would be needed (just the piece the user interfaces 
with), while the "guts" of the system remained the

> [ ... snip software needs ... ]
> Internet browser, and e-mail client.  In addition,
> easy to use, all-purpose screen reading software will
> be included to provide access to nearly any
> console-based program.

Note that an important tool would be an interactive
command-line shell with enhancement for vision-impaired
would seem to be another useful tool (or requirement).

> Question 3: "What sorts of things would make Debian
> easier to install for the blind?"
> [ ... snip ... ] 
> As with using applications, a visually impaired user
> who is moderately computer savvy should not have to read
> volumes of documentation about installation.  Several
> installation steps would obviously be removed, such as
> setting up a graphics card, X-windows, and perhaps ink
> printers.  That leaves the following steps: (automatic
> support for generic sound cards), install method,
> partitioning, package selection, LAN/WAN/modem setup,
> time zone, root password, and boot options.
Note that the packaging systems (e.g., dselect) are 
designed to reduce the amount of interaction and manual
configuration necessary.

> "I'm certain that many Debian developers would be more
> than happy to help make their existing software
> packages more useful to the blind where possible."
> I hope to have answered your questions and that Debian
> developers will be "more than happy" to help make
> their packages more accessible.  Thank you very much
> for your e-mail and support of Ocularis.  Feel free to
> ask me more questions and to forward this message to
> Debian-Devel. Ocularis is hosted at SourceForge,
> "http://ocularis.sourceforge.net/"; and any input,
> suggestions, or questions from Debian developers or
> anyone else would be appreciated.  Thanks again.
I forwarded you mail to the GNU project, because they
have been strong proponents of I18N (internationalization),
through the creation of libraries that allow the standard
messages of the various applications to be displayed in
"local" format and language.

I think we could possibly view interfaces to tools for
the blind in a similar fashion, where instead of selecting
a translation to a particular language, the system could
send the output to a voice synthesizer.
Good luck with your project,


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