During the KDE Community World Summit 2004 "aKademy" the 'Unix Accessibility Forum' took place which gave possibility for handicapped persons to come in touch with Unix. We talked with Lars Stetten, a partially sighted computer science student from Giessen.
Dear Mr. Stetten, you study computer science in Giessen. How do you estimate
the situation for handicapped working with computers?
The current situation with Linux is not so good. Sure, the SUSE installation kernel has had
support for the braille line for many years, but you can't operate a graphical user interface
with this feature alone.
Is the support in Windows better?
There is only a tiny market for handicapped accessible software. There are some suppliers, but
their software is expensive and health insurance funds only pay for the cheapest software.
Unfortunately such software does not function properly in many cases and even
crashes from time to time.
Can you go into some details please?
This technology lies in between the driver and the application functionality and lacks flexibility. Let me
give you some examples: There is some software, that reads directly from the keyboard to preprocess key strokes. But this software
was written for the German keyboard layout only; it is not possible to use a keyboard with another layout.
I can, of course, connect another keyboard and configure my Windows box to use the proper layout for
the desktop, but the support for the partially sighted will fail because of the different layout! Another example from the
Windows world: There is a software screen magnifier, but when it is installed you will run into problems compiling as soon
as you try to write OpenGL applications, which makes debugging difficult. Nobody is searching for errors while running the
compiler in a software for screen magnification? And last I want to mention the text-to-speech software that can read out
the menu points from your browser, but not the content of a webpage!
So far we have just talked about visual impairments. What is about other handicaps?
Visual impairments are the most common handicaps. This is the reason why there are the most tools for this area. I know
that there are eyetrackers and headtrackers for those with a neuromuscular handicap. With these tools, which are known to
work well, you can control the mouse cursor or type text.
Can we say that the partially sighted won't need special hardware?
This is more or less the truth for visual impairments, but not those who are blind. In the GNOME project
there is the support for visual impairments as part of the applications; Gnopernicus does this well, and supports
type-to-speech, the braille line and magnification for screen areas. Harald Fernengel from Trolltech built
support at the base on the toolkit Qt 4.0. If these classes are used by the application maintainers, KDE applications
based upon Qt 4 will be an enthralling prospect. Because the same API that GNOME uses will be used there will
be no difference between a KDE or a GTK application concerning accessibility. With KMouth, KMouseTool and
KMagnifier the KDE project has three tools for handicapped. With these tools the audio-visual output is
supported and mouse control for people with neuromuscular problems are improved. KMagnifier at last is a
But with alpha blending or hardware accelerated applications a software magnifier won't work. The
software will never know what the graphics adapter has rendered.
This is right. You can not magnify OpenGL graphics which such solutions. But particularly for using video
players like Xine or MPlayer there is a simple solution that doesn't require the installation of additional
software: it is easy to change the screen resolution to 320x240. So you can watch movies without
Mr Stetten, we thank you for this interview and hope you have an interesting conference.