Lecture About Accessibility in Linux

Yesterday I at last could tick off the top item in my ToDo list.

The Linux accessibility lecture has finally been delivered to the Haifux club in the Technion, Haifa (http://www.haifux.org/lectures/112/ and if you have trouble opening one of the *.pdf files linked to the page in your Web browser, download it and view it offline using acroread).

In this context, the subject of accessibility in Linux is naturally divided into three sub-topics:

  • General introduction to the world of disabilities – for people who are not familiar with the subject.
  • Accessibility provisions in Linux.
  • Comparison between Linux and MS-Windows.

So, after some planning, negotiations and buttonholing, a bit of interleaving was retained. At beginning I spoke about disabilities (except for blindness). Then Ori Idan spoke about computer usage by blind people, and entertained us with tales about some amazing (to us sighted) feats of blind people.

Then I declared 15-minute break (somehow I was silently nominated as the host of the “mini-seminar”). After the break it was surprisingly easy to get the attention of the people for the second part of my lecture. At least, for me it was surprising, because I am used to the difficulty of getting the attention of a group of deaf persons at break. This time, I did not have to ask the room lights to be blinked few times to get attention.

Then I spoke and demonstrated what Linux (X-Window, Gnome) has to offer in way of accessibility.

I did not notice signs of sleepiness or boredom among the participants. Some brave souls asked questions or made comments. Ori Idan’s lecture (being delivered by an hearing person) drew out much more comments, questions and anecdotes from the audience.

After the lecture I was rewarded by a can of beer (comment: “free as in free beer”).

There were two disappointments:

  • Ladypine, who suggested that Ori collaborate with me, and who organized the meeting – could not show up after all due to personal reasons.
  • Interpreting assignments, in which the deaf person delivers a technical lecture to hearing audience (rather than an hearing person delivering a non-technical lecture to a group having deaf persons) are very rare. The Sign Language interpreter, whom I booked for the event, needed to meet me before the evening to prepare for the assignment, but this was not possible due to geographic reasons. So there were some difficulties in communication between me, the interpreter and the audience.

I also botched up the demonstration of the virtual keyboard utility. But I did not consider this to be an important part of the lecture. The demonstration of the Emacs visual beep feature went well, however ((setq visible-bell t)). This was more important, as Gnome does not handle visual beeping in behalf of applications (as far as I saw). Someone from the audience pointed out that KDE does handle this.

Author: Omer Zak

I am deaf since birth. I played with big computers which eat punched cards and spew out printouts since age 12. Ever since they became available, I work and play with desktop size computers which eat keyboard keypresses and spew out display pixels. Among other things, I developed software which helped the deaf in Israel use the telephone network, by means of home computers equipped with modems. Several years later, I developed Hebrew localizations for some cellular phones, which helped the deaf in Israel utilize the cellular phone networks. I am interested in entrepreneurship, Science Fiction and making the world more accessible to people with disabilities.

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