Bristol Braille Technology

Experiences with Braille


Hello all, I'm fully sighted so I don't use or even know Braille, however I'm a volunteer promoter and installer for Vinux, which is the Ubuntu build of Linux which has been optimized for the vision impaired group. By optimized I mean that the developers have taken Ubuntu, versions as recent as 11.04, removed any programs that are not keyboard navigational and screen reader friendly and replaced them with programs that are compatible. They've also optimized the Live mode and the physical installation of Linux to make both the screen reader and drivers for most common Braille displays active as early in the installation process as is possible.

So far, of the equipment I've installed and set up for others no one has tried a Braille display. Only one lady has returned her computer in favor of her old laptop with JAWs. It was a bit much for her, switching back and forth from what she was very used to and comfortable with to something new with just enough differences to be confusing. However, of the others I've installed, the users didn't have another computer and after learning the slight navigational differences between Microsoft and Linux, fell right into it as long as they'd had previous computer experience. For those who didn't have a computer before, they've now got internet browsing, emailing, instant messaging, an office suite and more.

A friend who is blind from birth and is an Assistive Technologies Trainer helps them get started. She uses Microsoft on several of her computers of course, and has Vinux set up on a couple others. She became interested because Vinux is free and accessible. All of the Linux screen readers, including Orca are free. The programs are free, and it's an entire operating system that a blind person can install by themselves once their computer's BIOS is configured to start from either the CD or the USB drive. There is no other operating system that can make that claim. There's a human voice generator for the screen readers that changes the machine voice that isn't free, but at less than $7 per language, Voxin won't break the bank!

A friend was performing a Microsoft system restore on a laptop when the power went off. Her battery didn't last. Her system was totally corrupted and wouldn't even boot. She had one important file and email address that she hadn't saved or backed up. Just to find out if I could do it, I put a CD with Vinux in, booted it up in the Live mode, so as not to further alter the hard drive, browsed her files and retrieved her information to a pen drive! So, with Vinux you also have an accessible file retrieval tool. I've approached the developers with the idea of making a fully accessible retrieval and rescue version of Vinux and they're interested, but don't have the time or resources to take on a new project. At any rate, a vision impaired user can use Vinux to retrieve files from a corrupt or failed computer hard drive, and with a Braille display a deaf-blind user should be able to do the same. If anyone tries this, please let the Vinux project developers know how it went. Wouldn't it be great not to have to pack up your computer and get it to a repair shop when things mess up?

You can find out more about Vinux at the Linux distribution watch site;

Thank you.


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