Orca is probably one of the best translated software packages ever, thanks to the comments the developers leave for the translators so that we (the translators) can better understand what we are translating. When it comes to the Brazilian Portuguese translation team, the Orca translation gets an special ingredient: Tiago Melo Casal. Besides reviewing the Orca translation for every release, he uses the application every day and is always in touch with other blind people using free software. That is Quality Assurance! 🙂 Changing a little bit this blog’s theme, I invited Tiago Melo for an interview about the current state, the history and the expectations for Accessibility in GNOME and other free software projects.
First things first: Could you talk about yourself?
I’m Tiago, born in July 18, 1985 in Salvador city, capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. I’m blind, I was born with Retinosis Pigmentosa. Currently I live in the Brazilian state of Ceará, with my partner, who is also blind.
Everyday I use the computer, Orca, GNOME and Linux.
Around 2002/2003 I heard about Linux, Free and Open Source Software, got interested and started searching for it and reading about them in the Web. By that time there were no accessibility resources in Linux for Brazilian blind users, such as speech synthesis software in Portuguese. There were only text mode screen readers using speech synthesis hardware and Braille terminal, which where uncommon in Brazil. Speech synthesis applications spoke mostly English, and I didn’t know any screen reader for graphical interfaces.
I started using Linux in 2004 with Linvox, a Brazilian project which brought a LiveCD derived from Kurumin Linux with Dosvox working through WINE. Dosvox is an application suite for blind people with Portuguese speech synthesis software. It has a text editor, a web browser, an email client, a telnet and other applications. Initially it was for DOS, then for Windows and then WINE. I used the Linux shell through Dosvox’s Spoken Telnet.
In 2006 I created the Linvox mailing list in Yahoo Groups, where many people share experiences about Accessibility in Linux.
Blind people’s autonomy improved with the whole Accessibility infrastructure developed in GNOME, specially with the Orca screen reader. It made the difference and GNOME became a reference in desktop environment accessibility. Ubuntu Linux was the first Linux distribution to bring GNOME with Orca and a simple way to start it in a LiveCD, use the system and install it without any aid from a sighted person. I started to use Orca in Spanish in 2006, and in 2007 it was already possible to use Orca in Portuguese thanks to eSpeak, a speech synthesis software with speech in many languages. Since then, GNOME and Orca are always evolving, GTK+ applications have being improving their accessibility, and Firefox made a leap in Accessibility with version 3.0.
Besides Orca, what are the other strengths in GNOME’s accessibility? What needs to be improved?
Overall, GNOME is very accessible, with the active development of the basic accessibility infrastructure — ATK/AT-SPI —, Orca screen reader and other projects. In the specific case of people who don’t see, we can use more than 80% of GNOME with GTK2 [and GTK2 aware] applications like Nautilus, Gedit, OpenOffice Writer, Firefox/Iceweasel, gnome-terminal, Adobe Reader, Brasero and others.
GNOME’s accessibility is available for applications written with GTK2 and using ATK/AT-SPI; accessibility is missing when an application is developed without ATK/AT-SPI and in old applications written with GTK 1.2 or previous. One way of remembering people to make their software accessible would be “embedding” ATK/AT-SPI in GTK. [Note: GAIL was incorporated to GTK+.]
How well does Orca works with other toolkits, like Qt?
For now Orca doesn’t work with Qt applications, only GTK2, PyGTK2, Java (via Java-Access-Bridge)… Maybe it will be possible for Orca to read Qt applications after the efforts to make AT-SPI use D-BUS.
How does GNOME compares to other desktop environments accessibility-wise?
The GTK2 environments benefit from the GNOME accessibility infrastructure, but GNOME takes accessibility “more seriously”, if I may say so. For now KDE doesn’t provide to blind people the autonomy GNOME provides. I don’t know the accessibility state in Enlightenment and other environments for Linux and Unix. Microsoft’s environment can’t be compared to GNOME, MS Narrator is not good so people use third-party screen readers, which are generally commercial. Orca can be compared to NVDA, a free screen reader for Windows. Desktop peculiarities apart, both allow access to everyday tasks like browsing files and folders, browsing the web, editing text, playing media etc. I don’t have anything to say abvout Mac OS and its screen reader, because I don’t have any experience with them.
Did you test recently any Webkit-based browser? How good is the WAI-ARIA support?
I tried to use Google Chrome 18.104.22.168-r19969 for Linux, but I didn’t have accessibility in the pages content. The Orca and Firefox (Gecko) couple is the one which is working. In the other web browsers I tried, if they used GTK the menus would be accessible but not the display area, and until now the Qt browsers are inaccessible.
Orca with Firefox supports web pages following the WAI/ARIA specification, the issue in accessibility is chiefly in sites not developed following accessibility standards like WCAG, WAI/ARIA and new standards being developed by W3C. Accessibility is for everyone, not only deficient people. Developing a site following the accessibility standarts ensures everyone will get access to the site, text browsers and older browsers included. Everyone wins!
You were speaking about the Ubuntu LiveCD. Today, which distributions are more accessible to blind people, with regard to both installation and everyday use?
When I cite a Linux distribution, I’ll be talking about the easiness or difficulty of use by Brazilian blind people, who usually don’t get access to speech synthesis hardware or Braille terminals, and need speech synthesis software. For a beginner, today I consider Ubuntu the easiest distribution, a blind person can use the LiveCD, install the system and use it without any help. Another good distribution is Mandriva, and then there’s OpenSolares too; you can use the LiveCD, install and use them too. Back to Linux distributions, Fedora 11 came with GNOME, Orca and English speech synthesis. The voice is very good, but there aren’t other languages, which makes it difficult to install Fedora if you speak another language. After installing Fedora 11 and a native language the system becomes accessible, but it would be much better if the LiveCD spoke other languages, in example with eSpeak. A friend of mine tested OpenSuSE, overall he liked the accessibility. It is possible to use Slackware, but for now you need a sighted person to help you in the installation, until you can start a text mode screen reader or a GTK2 environment with Orca. Currently I use Debian; the text mode installation tool doesn’t have speech synthesis software yet (only support for speech synthesis hardware and Braille terminals), but it looks like this will be fixed in the next version. If it happens, it will be a very import differential from another distributions. There were Linux distributions targeted at blind people, like Oralux, which was discontinued; there still are some distributions, but it is more interesting to have mainstream distribution with proper accessibility support.
In general, I think that any distribution with an installed speech synthesis software (I prefer eSpeak because it has speech in many language), a text mode screen reader, and GNOME as the desktop environment (with Orca) will be usable by a blind person. Another GTK2 environment (LXDE or XFCE, after making some settings) will be OK as well.
So eSpeak has a speech option in Brazilian Portuguese? I was about to ask what are the speech synthesis option for Brazilian people. Dosvox, I guess, doesn’t work with Orca.
Talking a little more about TTS (Text-to-Speech) eSpeak: the Brazilian Portuguese speech rules were implemented by my friend Cleverson Uliana in October/November 2006, making it possible for more people in Brazil to use Orca and other readers. Before the eSpeak “translation” we used TTS Festival with English or Spanish speech. There was a Portuguese speech for Festival but it wasn’t easy to install and it depended on an external component with a restrictive license. Another TTS with Brazilian Portuguese speech (BR1, BR2 and BR3 voice databases) is MBROLA, which license is free and restrictive at some parts. The Brazilian Portuguese rules for MBROLA were set by Cleverson Uliana as well. The Oralux distribution, which was discontinued, had speech in many languages including Portuguese using MBROLA. Currently there is a MBROLA quality database named BR4 (a.k.a. Liane TTS), under development by Serpro (Federal Data Processing Service) and NCE/UFRJ (Rio de Janeiro Federal University Electronic Computing Nucleus). They are developing a driver to use Liane TTS with GNOME and Orca, which was tested with success by the community, and Liane TTS is used by Dosvox in Windows as well. One can use eSpeak as an interface to the MBROLA speeches, and this way MBROLA can be used with Orca and other Linux or Windows screen readers through eSpeak. The are commercial speech synthesis software systems as well, like VoxIn, which in my opinion is the best, with speech options in many languages, and also very affordable, costing about 5 euros each available language.
Dosvox is an application suite developed in NCE/UFRJ, initially for DOS and then for Windows. It has its own speech synthesis for Portuguese but can also use other TTS in SApi4 and/or SApi5 (Microsoft’s speech system) and Liane TTS. I believe there’s an ongoing effort to port Dosvox to Linux, but people who like Dosvox use it through WINE. It doesn’t need an external screen reader, and it’s not accessible to Orca because WINE doesn’t use GTK+.
What does BR1, BR2, BR3, BR4 mean?
They are file names for the MBROLA speech databases. The letters are the country abbreviation, and the number is usually the chronological sequence; a new database can be either an enhancement of the previous one, or a completely new one. MBROLA has a page with speech databases samples. MBROLA speeches BR1, BR2 and BR3 are from the same male person and there’s little difference between them; BR4 is female and is under development by Serpro and NCE/UFRJ.
When it comes to using the computer, is there any difference between being born blind and becoming blind as a child or an adult?
It is hard to give a definitive answer to that question, since it varies a lot from person to person. It depends on whether the person enjoys computers or wants to learn to use them, how much does the person already knows and how skilled is the person, and what does the person wants to get by using the computer. Considering all these factors, I think that there’s no difference in being born blind or becoming blind, the difference is more in the personal characteristics of everyone.
What are yor expectations for GNOME 3.0?
I hope that GNOME continues to be accessible, the developers keep contributing to accessibility, and that Accessibility is intimately bound to GNOME 3. I expect GNOME and GTK applications to be synonyms of Accessibility.
Would you like to leave a message to the web site readers?
First, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to the interview. I enjoyed answering to the questions, I answered according to what I think about the topics, and I hope to have contributed something to the readers.
I’d like to share some links in Portuguese:
Accessibility is for everyone! Thanks for everyone who make GNOME! A strong hug to my relatives and friends.