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Accessibility as a reason to switch to XFCE?

Hi everybody,

I'm Alejandro Piñeiro, maintainer of ATK (accessibility toolkit),
implementor of the ATK support for Clutter/GNOME-shell, and one of the
coordinators of GNOME Accessibility team. Some people pointed out a
recent commit in Debian [1] and asked me some questions. As probably it
is worth having this discussion publicly, I'm sending this email.

> This will be re-evaluated before jessie is frozen. The evaluation will
> start around the point of DebConf (August 2014). If at that point gnome
> looks like a better choice, it'll go back as the default.

> Some criteria for that choice will include:

> * The state of accessability support, particularly for the blind.

Taking into account that the previous default desktop was GNOME (so
GNOME Shell), this seems to suggest that GNOME accessibility support is
broken. Probably some people think that because they are testing the
accessibility support with the current Debian stable which still uses
GNOME 3.4. This release was accessible enough for testing, getting
feedback and solving bugs, but it is true that GNOME 3.4 was not
end-user ready as far as accessibility support is concerned. But 3.4 was
released one year and a half ago, and the situation has improved a lot
since then.

Right now the feedback from the Orca screen reader users' list with
regards to the accessibility of  GNOME Shell is positive. That was true
in 2012 with GNOME 3.6 [2], and it remains true to this day. In fact, 
Jonathan Nadeau, a developer who is blind and is maintaining a distro
for users that are blind, ships GNOME 3.8 as the default desktop
environment [3]. And AFAIK, they will move to GNOME 3.10.

In any case, some people could argue that although those releases are
better, it is not worth it to upgrade from GNOME 3.4 if XFCE has proper
accessibility support now. But, the problem is that XFCE accessibility
development has been on hold. Right now I would classify XFCE's
accessibility support as no better than that of GNOME 3.4's
accessibility support. It is good enough for testing, getting feedback
and solving bugs. But it is not end-user ready. What's missing? As you
can see on XFCE roadmap about accessibility [4]:

* Accessibility is not enabled by default, nor is it always on. It's
enabled by default and always on in GNOME starting with GNOME 3.6.
* The Thunar file manager fails to emit accessible events when the
selection changes. This means that as Orca users arrow among files, Orca
cannot tell them what file they just moved to. Similar problems are also
present for Xfdesktop.
* The Xfce4-panel has a number of accessibility issues that make it hard
to use by users who are blind.

So, there may be reasons for Debian to switch to XFCE. But IMHO,
accessibility is not one of them.

Best regards

[2] https://mail.gnome.org/archives/orca-list/2012-October/msg00202.html
[3] https://mail.gnome.org/archives/orca-list/2013-May/msg00171.html
[4] http://wiki.xfce.org/releng/4.10/roadmap/accessibility

Alejandro Piñeiro

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