Using Free and Open Source Assistive Technology

By Julius Serrano

Open source software gives us freedom to help and innovate at little or no cost. And for people with disabilities like me, this freedom includes independence - independence through the use of free and open source assistive technologies.

Vinux OS is a good example of open source assistive software which provides just that: a means for people with disabilities to have the freedom and independence to work and contribute at no cost. In this post, I'll talk a bit about Vinux and share my experiences in using it.

Using Vinux at Work

Vinux is a Linux-based distribution which is optimised for the needs of blind and partially sighted users. One of the main features of Vinux is the Orca screen reader. This is software that speaks the highlighted text contents on the screen. Screen readers are used mainly by blind individuals, although other groups such as people with cognitive disabilities also find screen readers useful.

I use Orca in my daily tasks as it works well with virtually all applications. I do a significant part of my accessibility testing and evaluation using Orca with Firefox. When I create accessibility reports, I use Orca with Vinux's built-in word processor and our document template in writing my recommendations to make web content more accessible. Chatting with our web developers and designers is easy as I can make Orca read all our messages on my chat client. And it's the same thing with sending, receiving, and reading email messages, enabling me to communicate with everyone about accessibility and basically any useful topic.

Vinux and Orca also provide a good way to connect with colleagues and establish great relationships. Like other blind people, I find it a bit challenging - even difficult - to start conversations with sighted individuals. But Vinux and its assistive software have been very helpful to me in reaching out to people, having good conversations with them, and getting them interested in web accessibility.

It is very important to note that I am able to do all these things at no cost. Thanks to the developers of Vinux and Orca, I don't need to purchase commercial screen readers - which cost a couple of thousand dollars - just to use the computer and perform my tasks.

Vinux also has a mailing list where you can get in touch with members of what is an active community of open source developers and users.