Oneiric Ocelot

We are pleased to announce the release of Ubuntu 11.10, the Oneiric Ocelot. There have been significant architectural changes this release and heroic efforts have been made to get the accessibility tools and APIs functional by the time of release. This is the first release where the default desktop environment for the accessibility install profiles is Unity 2D, this does change the screen layout for everyone, including screen reader users, more on that below. One small, but interesting, change we made was a tweak to the espeak pronunciation dictionary, Ubuntu 11.10 can now pronounce it’s own codename, even if you can’t! With Ubuntu 11.10 installed you can run the command spd-say "Ubuntu 11.10 The Oneiric Ocelot" to hear how it should be said.

Starting the screen reader installer

The procedure for initiating a narrated install has changed. No longer do you have to press space during some time interval after the startup when there is an on-screen icon that you can’t see! When booting from CD or USB wait until you hear some drums and press ctrl+s to start speech. (if it doesn’t work, wait a few seconds and press ctrl+s again, there appears to be a timing issue remaining). Orca will then start, and focus will be on the Orca window. From this point you can alt-tab to get to the Ubiquity installer and proceed with the install.
We recommend you do the install whilst connected to a wired internet connection, this will allow it to auto detect your location and get your locale and keyboard settings right, these bits of the installer are not easily operated with a keyboard and orca can’t see some important parts of them.

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Alternative video URLs as the flash object above is not accessible:

Sorry about the crackly audio in the videos.

Getting around Unity with Orca and the keyboard

Unity is almost fully keyboard navigable (a few bits in the indicators don’t work) and there is a comprehensive list of shortcuts available here. The video below describes some of the elements on screen and how to get between them.

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Alternative video URLs as the flash object above is not accessible:

Onboard the on-screen keyboard

Onboard now has a new theme, Radiance. This has been designed to fit in with the overall look of the Ubuntu desktop, it uses the Ubuntu font on the keycaps, the circle of friends on the super keys and colours picked out from the Ubuntu pallete. We made sure that the main letter keys had the most contrast, followed by numbers and we used bolder colours on the special keys like tab and space. An earlier version of this theme was available after release in 11.04, but with 11.10 it is set up by default on the CD.
The Onboard settings manager now works correctly, you can change themes, including high contrast themes and a scanning layout which allows users with highly restricted mobility to operate the keyboard using a switch. (There is a fairly significant bug with the return key in scanning mode right now as shown in the video below, hopefully that will be fixed in an update soon.)
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Another small but highly significant improvement is that Onboard is back in the menus, you can now start onboard using just a mouse, touchscreen or other pointing device.

Compiz zoom

This is off by default (not sure why) but you can turn it on using the compiz settings manager, which is not installed by default. From the software centre install compizconfig-settings-manager, or from a command line sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
Once this is installed you can run it from the dash and enable the enhanced zoom desktop plugin, I like to set a mouse shortcut of <Super>Button 4 for zoom in and <super>button 5 for zoom out, this way I can hold the super key (windows key) and use the mouse wheel to zoom the desktop.
Compiz enhanced zoom does not zoom the dash, launcher or panel, just the workspace you are on. It tracks the mouse cursor and can be set to move manually.

The Accessibility Settings Dialog

The main system settings screen is available in the Unity launcher, and in the power/shutdown indicator at the top right of the screen, it has a submenu for accessibility settings where various assistive tools can be turned on and off and settings can be tweaked.
The accessibility subsection has 4 pages, the first one relates to visual features with options for high contrast, large fonts, zoom (which doesn’t work for me) and turning on Orca the screen reader.

The second page is about hearing, and contains the option to have a visual system bell indicator.

Thirdly typing, where the onboard keyboard can be activated, along with sticky keys, slow keys and bounce keys.

Lastly mouse related items including hover click, also known as dwell click. This allows use of the mouse or other pointing device without clicking. This works quite well in conjunction with the onboard keyboard.

The ugly bits

Maximising the onboard window in Unity2d is a really really bad idea. It is on top of everything and has no window controls when maximised as it refuses focus, and you can’t double click the title bar to restore it. Once maximised your only real option is to switch to another workspace using a hard keyboard ctrl+alt+arrow keys then run gconf-editor and in the apps\onboard section change the height, or reboot into Unity3d and double click or drag down the top panel. This is Bug 859288
Orca can’t read what is going on with Unity3d. By default if you install using the screen reader you will boot into the 2d desktop. At present the 3d desktop is not accessible, however there is code to make this work and we expect this to be made available in a PPA for 11.10 is available in a PPA and should be in by default in 12.04 LTS.
Orca does not run during the lightdm window manager right now, this will be fixed in an update, but as of release the login screen is not accessible. By default on bootup the primary user of the system will be selected, so entering the password and return will lead to the desktop where orca will start. There is no sound at the lightdm window, but disk activity should stop when it gets to the point to type in the password.

What our personas say

We use a set of design personas to help us examine the accessibility of Ubuntu from different perspectives, we asked our fictional characters what they thought of Ubuntu 11.10:


“As a deaf user of Ubuntu I like video conferencing with my friends who sign. I know there have been some difficulties with Skype and Oneiric, but it works on my computer. The new Google plus hangouts are nice and smooth. glad to see the option to make the system bell flash the window is still available”


“As a blind user of Ubuntu I am glad that the new desktop is becoming accessible to me. I think I will wait a while for some of the fixes that didn’t make it to the initial relase before installing it on my primary laptop though.”


“As a partially sighted user of Ubuntu I am pleased that the themes for high contrast are available, however a bit disappointed that they don’t affect the unity panel and launcher. I use the compiz zoom a lot and this does not zoom the unity elements which is a bit of a disappointment, I like the big chunky alt-tab switcher though.”


“As a user with rheumatoid arthritis I like the on screen keyboard accessibility of the Unity launcher and the dwell click options. I can’t quite figure out how to do a middle click though.” I would like to use dasher with unity but it is not easy to use it to type directly into applications or the unity search box.


“As someone with memory issues I like the dash search that allows me to see recently used files and applications and the way the desktop helps me to be organised, I put the applications I use all the time on the launcher and I use workspaces to focus on different activities”

And onwards to Precise Pangolin

Generally speaking, Oneiric including the ubiquity installer and unity desktop is now broadly functional, in the next release we want to make it pleasurable! The major changes in this release have meant  that meaningful accessibility testing has taken place later in the  development cycle than we would have liked, but we do now have a solid foundation on which to build for the 12.04 Long Term Support release. Some items we would love to work on during the forthcoming development cycle are:
  • Compiz zoom text cursor tracking – the zoom currently tracks just the mouse, it would be great to be able to zoom in and type in text fields and have the zoom follow the text cursor.
  • Ubiquity script improvements – we need to review and change the accessible text that is read out by the installer, possibly including some introductory guidance on how to navigate through the interface and generally making it more welcoming.
  • Additional onscreen keyboards –  onboard has slightly special treatment in unity, it is about the only thing that is allowed ‘above’ the dash so you can use it to type into the search field. We would like to support other keyboards such as the Gnome Caribou project and Dasher. There might be some benefit to a really tight integration with the unity layer, making it slide out of the launcher like the dash, possibly as part of a renewed effort to get the tablet and touchscreen experience as smooth as possible.

If you have any further questions about accessibility in Ubuntu, or would like to help make it better, then do ask below, or join us in the #ubuntu-accessibility IRC channel on Freenode.

Meet Daniela

Continuing our series of design personas we would like you to meet Daniela, here she is diving into a training session at the university pool, where she is a keen swimmer.
Daniela diving into a swimming pool
Now, unlike most people who throw themselves into a pool, Daniela can’t see that she is going to land in water because she is blind. There are many different types of visual impairment, Daniela is classified as NLP or Nil Light Perception, she can’t see a thing, and never has done. Daniela loves her swimming, and she is very good at it, she enters lots of competitions in the S11 paralympic classification. She is used to winning.
She says:
“Being blind, I depend on synthesized speech and a refreshable Braille display to access my computer. I need to be able to use all sorts of documents in different formats including: Microsoft Office, and PDF-documents. E-mail access and a book scanner are also vital to my being able to function in my job and private life. Low sound quality is difficult for me, so text should be pronounced clearly. I also would like to communicate with people using voice messages or even voice chats.”
Daniela uses her laptop extensively, she is never without it as it is her primary means of organising her busy life and her competition schedule.
The Orca screenreader allows Daniela to navigate around the Ubuntu desktop, because she does not know or care where on the screen things are positioned she thinks of them in terms of a stack of applications, each one consisting of a circular list of widgets she can tab through. Audio is really important to her, she uses Ekiga, Mumble and Skype to talk to different groups of friends.
Why using Ubuntu?
Daniela has been using Orca for some time and is familiar with the way gnome applications are normally arranged. She wants to use the operating system that her friends also use.
Why a challenge?
Daniela tried to install Ubuntu Maverick herself, but the installer could not be read by the screen reader so she had to ask a sighted friend to help by describing what was on screen.
We tried to install Ubuntu Natty using the screen reader profile and just about managed, but with the benefit of functional eyes.
(If you are reading this on planet Ubuntu then click through for the video)
We filed a few bugs as a result:

Do have a go at this yourself, this is all available using the standard desktop CD and it is quite fertile ground for the keen bug hunter. If you would like to help fix some of these bugs or discuss them further then please do join the #ubuntu-accessibility IRC channel on Freenode.

She is quite used to the Orca screenreader, but would like more applications to be tested with it to make sure they operate logically.

When applications crash and dialogs unexpectedly pop up it is hard to figure out what has happened as her mental map of where things are in relation to each other gets disrupted.
Life Goals
In 2012 the Paralympic games are on in London, Daniela wants to represent her country in the S11 swimming events. This will involve yet more travel and a lot of alarms to remind her when to be at different parts of the Olympic Village. She will also be using it to find information about places to explore and to get access to Twitter updates from the organisers and other athletes.
Experience Goals
Daniela has plenty of sighted friends who can help, but she would very much like to be more independent when using her computer.
How to be Daniela
Try walking up to the edge of a swimming pool blindfolded and do a proper dive in, harder than it sounds! When using the computer, you have to be blind too, but it isn’t essential to wear a blindfold or shut your eyes, start by unplugging or turning off the monitor, you won’t be needing that (Ubuntu doesn’t boot without a monitor at the moment, so you may need it for a bit). To see if you are a good enough typist put a towel or cloth over your hands and keyboard, or even one of these funky keyboard gloves:
Body-Technology Interfaces
but don’t worry, if you need to see the keys just take it away, that isn’t a critical part of your testing. Do make sure you are not cheating and looking at any lights on the computer such as hard disk activity lights or lights on peripherals. Try installing Ubuntu using the voice prompts and getting around the desktop and your favorite applications.
Today was the day for the community sponsorship mails if you are going to UDS in Budapest then why not arrange a visit with a bunch of friends to the Invisible Exhibition you will be given a white cane and led into an area of total darkness where your guide (who is blind) will take you on a tour of the exhibition. On Thursday they do a dinner in the dark followed by an invisible party! This is a fantastic way to get an understanding (even if brief and limited) of what it is like for Daniela and the many many people like her. If you are interested in this please add a comment to this blog post.

Meet Faisal

A common technique for user interface design is to create a set of personas, fictional characters who will be using the software and have different needs. These help developers to scratch not just their own itch, but the itch of these characters that will be using the software. Canonical has a set of personas already in use by the design team, most are able bodied people from different backgrounds, but one of them is a visually impaired user. The Ubuntu Accessibility team is working on a project to expand the set of design personas to include a wider variety of different users with accessibility needs. Each one should have a name and a background, they should seem as real as possible, whilst being completely fictional, they even have a plausible looking picture (Creative Commons licensed). The descriptions include what their needs are and what they find difficult to do with the current release of Ubuntu. Our personas are all lovely people who just need a little bit of your help making their favorite operating system to work well for them as well as it works for everyone else. If you are a developer of any applications in Ubuntu or websites or community we want you to think about each of our persona characters and just ask yourself questions like “This works for me, but is it broken for the personas?”

Our first persona is Faisal, a 28 year old from India, here he is whilst out for a drink with a bunch of his mates:

photo by Kaushal Karkhanis (BY-NC-ND)

Faisal teaches a class of 6 and 7 year old children in a primary school in Assam, India. He studied at an Indian Institute for Information Technology and certainly knows his way around the computer! He would like to make better use of technology in the classroom to bring the lessons to life and inspire the children to explore the world around them. Faisal has rheumatoid arthritis which was diagnosed whilst he was studying at IIIT and has progressively made it harder for him to use his hands to operate the keyboard and mouse of his computer. When he first started teaching the arthritis didn’t cause much of an issue but now he is worried that if he became unable to continue he would find it very hard to get another job. He now doesn’t use the computer in the first lesson of the day when his hands hurt the most, and has found some ways to make it easier. He uses a very slow mouse cursor as he doesn’t have the fine motor control. He finds it very hard to resize windows with the standard Ubuntu themes, he has learned to hold alt and use the middle mouse button to resize because he just can’t hit the window borders. One hand on the keyboard for the alt key and moving the mouse whilst pressing the middle button is a tricky bit of coordination but he gets by. In the evenings when preparing lesson plans for the next day Faisal tends not to use the keyboard but uses the Dasher on screen keyboard, this allows him to type with just small movements of the mouse to select letters as they fly across the screen, it isn’t as fast as typing on the keyboard but it is much more comfortable and he can use it for long periods. Faisal also suffers from Deuteranopia, a form of colour blindness which is quite common in men, affecting about 1%, it can also affects women, but not nearly as many, about 0.01%. This means he struggles to distinguish red and green colours, so red icons on a green background just fade together.



Faisal is a teacher and an academic, he will have a play with new things to discover how they work, then he likes to read documentation and manuals to back up what he has found out for himself.


Faisal has a laptop, he tried a netbook but the keys were too small and close together. In the classroom he plugs it into a television for the students to see the screen too. The school plans to get more projectors but there isn’t one in his class yet.


Several other teachers at the school were impressed by Faisal’s use of Ubuntu in the classroom, they want to know more about it and Faisal has promised to spend a day showing them how to use it during the holidays.


He is keen to look at new ways to control the computer, he is looking forward to finding out if the Unity desktop will make his window management easier or harder. He likes to try new hardware as well and wonders if the Apple magic touchpad would be a better way for him to control Dasher.

Why using Ubuntu?

Faisal uses Ubuntu because he likes being able to adapt it to suit himself. He enjoys participating in the community support, both asking questions and helping other people.

Why a challenge?

Using a computer is an increasing challenge for Faisal as the keyboard gets more painful and can be used for shorter periods at a time. Using Dasher is relatively comfortable but it is slow, requires a lot of concentration and segfaults too much. Ultimately his condition is incurable and progressive, but Faisal wants to carry on working and enjoying what he does while he can.

Life Goals

It is quite hard in India for those with a disability to get a job, Faisal has no intention of leaving the school and wants to grow as a teacher in the area he loves. In two years from now Faisal will still be taking a sabatical from the teaching job to lecture trainee teachers on the use of technology in the classroom.

Experience Goals

Faisal would like applications to make efficient use of the keyboard and give him the flexibility to use multiple input devices and on screen keyboards. He would like applications to be tested for colour blindness to ensure that the colours used don’t blend together.

How to be Faisal

To test Ubuntu to make sure it works for Faisal and for people like him, you need to make your hands worse. Use sticky tape to tie some fingers together, observe how this makes some key combinations harder to reach. For a lack of mouse control crank up the mouse accelleration settings to the maximum, and instead of holding it in your dominant hand as normal swap to the other hand. If this is too easy try moving the mouse by prodding it with clenched fist rather than holding the mouse itself. You could also try tying some string around your wrist and attaching a weight to it that hangs off the desk to see the effect of a lack of control and fatigue. To use Dasher as a keyboard install it from the repos and launch with “dasher -a direct”. Unplug your regular keyboard and put it out of easy reach, just to remove the temptation to press a key if you get stuck! At some point Dasher will segfault – now what are you going to do? Faisal is colour blind, so you need to be colour blind too. Install compizconfig-settings-manager package and turn on the colour filter plugin in the accessibility section. Press super+d (the super key is the one with the little Windows flag on it) to turn on the full screen filter, then ctrl+super+s five times to step through the filters to the Deuteranopia setting (the Protanopia filter doesn’t work in Maverick 10.10 due to bug 599206 which has been fixed in Natty 11.04)

We do hope you enjoyed meeting Faisal, our first Accessibility Persona, why not come and join the team in the #ubuntu-accessibility channel on Freenode IRC and help us write the rest of the set.