Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day and I urge everyone (especially if you’ve never heard of it before) to check out the blogs posts being written.
I never planned on getting involved with accessibility on Ubuntu. I’m a wheelchair user which means fighting for accessibility is almost a daily occurrence for me whether it’s shops with steps or a lack of dropped curbs or just the stares and questions of “what’s wrong with you”. Although my impairment is directly involved with why I started contributing to the Ubuntu community, that had nothing to do with Ubuntu accessibility. Instead, it was because on those days when I can’t even sit up at least I can generally get onto my laptop and getting involved with the community gives me mental stimulation and a way to do something on those days when I can’t manage anything else.
However, when it came down to what I needed for accessibility on Ubuntu, I realised that I have no choice. I periodically can’t type. On MacOS (the other OS I use regularly), this means that I use a combination of MacSpeech Dictate voice recognition software and a program called Dasher which is a mouse controlled text input (not an onscreen keyboard, but much more fluid and faster to use). When I started asking around for similar things on Ubuntu I got good news and bad news.
The bad news was that no one seemed to have a working set-up of a voice recognition software that didn’t involve Dragon Naturally Speaking under Wine. I don’t want to go pay for yet another bit of voice recognition software and I don’t like running things under Wine if I can help it. There are a couple open source voice recognition programs out there, but no one I’ve found has been able to tell me that they have a working set-up that would be useable, especially for someone not very technical.
The good news was that Dasher is open source, has a Linux port, and is in the Ubuntu universe. However, it came with some caveats. Some of the documentation in the program is just wrong. For example, while this is not documented in the official documentation for Dasher yet, the only way to use it to directly input into other programs on Ubuntu is to run it from the command line. And even doing that I find it crashes after a few minutes. The other option is to use it accessing it through the Applications menu, however, then you can only use it to input into its own text screen and have to copy & paste into whatever program you want the text for. I’m hopeful that this will change as I filed a bug about it with Dasher and it sounded like other people were supportive of creating a GUI menu option to be able to directly input into other programs.
So in my experience, Ubuntu as an operating system and open source software in general has some things is needs to improve with in terms of accessibility.This is why I’ve decided to put energy into getting the Accessibility Team going again. With multiple people working together to identify the main problems and either finding solutions ourselves or advocating to get others to implement solutions it should be easier to get Ubuntu to where it should be as an operating system accessible to all.
All that said about the software, the Ubuntu community is one of the most accessible communities (to me) I have worked with. I’ve already mentioned that one of the reasons I got involved was because it’s a community I can work with from bed. I’ve also found people in the community to be very accommodating. If I can’t manage to get something done because I’ve had a rough week and can’t handle typing or the energy it takes to think, others seem to always be happy to step up. And my experience in working with Marianna and Jorge in arranging for attending UDS-M in a week has been fabulous. Not once has it been suggested that I’m asking for something that’s too hard or beyond reasonable. I’ve never had as little hassle with accessibility arrangements ever – including when at school and while working. It’s the community that keeps me thinking that accessibility is something that is worth fighting for with Ubuntu rather than my looking somewhere else.
We have lots of work to do to become a truly accessible operating system, however, I know we can get there.