Why custom documentation for Free Software is needed for vision-impaired users


(this is the second part of an interview to Tony Baechler about the usability of Free Software by vision-impaired users).

Stop: Tony, what kind of resources would you like to have available, in order to convince more blind users to try Linux and Free Software, at least through a live CD?

Tony: Hopefully, I would be able to point them to various distros being demonstrated and audio tutorials, custom written for vision-impaired users, explaining how to perform various tasks. Unfortunately, there are very few resources of this kind.

Stop: Many Linux users probably believe that there is no need at all for such resources because, in their opinion, there are already many good resources in text format that a speech syntesyzer can read, from man pages to online tutorials. What do you answer to that?

Tony: First, I've had several people ask for audio demonstrations. It's great if you're comfortable reading text, but how does a brand new user know where to begin? In the sighted world, you can just get a Linux book. While there are some books in an accessible format, most aren't easily available to the blind. Also, they have no idea what kind of screen readers and synthesizers are out for Linux. On Windows, you pay for everything in the blindness market, so a lot of them are scared off before they even get started because they assume they'll have to buy another screen reader. I would also like to add that I know of several blind people still using DOS because they simply can't afford anything else. Linux is ideal for old hardware, but since many disabled users are still on dial-up and still use shell accounts with text browsers, they might not easily be able to search.

Second, a lot of people learn better from hearing something demonstrated. Just as a lot of sighted people like to watch a video, many blind people like to hear an audio presentation. What the sighted might not realize is that the speech synthesizer is the blind person's monitor. If they don't have speech, it's no different than the sighted user having no screen. As you know if you've used live CDs before, many have special boot options for special functionality.

Stop: But of course, in order to use those options you'd need to see the boot prompt...

Tony: Right! When that is not an option, it's much easier to hear someone else showing you how to boot the CD and install a distro rather than trying to figure it out yourself. It also gives you a chance to make notes on what to expect, such as if a particular screen doesn't read very well with speech or if a certain box needs to be selected to install accessibility features.

Stop: What Tony says confirms the suggestion I made to developers and activists in my first article about Free Software and disabled users: “make it a personal goal to be able to configure your favorite Free Software blindfolded while someone reads your own instructions aloud”. Luckily, Tony is now working on a new project (which we'll present within this week here at Stop!/Zona-M) to make good audio tutorials for Free Software easily available.

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