Eyes-free feedback on Ubuntu 11.04

We have had some feedback on the ubuntu-accessibility mailing list which I would like to bring to a wider audience, Dave Hunt is blind and using an Asus 1015PE (a netbook) as his work-a-day system.

“I am running Ubuntu 11.04, but still with classic Gnome.  Unlike on the live cd, there are no crashes like we saw, now that I’ve installed it to hard drive.  The machine is not vinucized; that is, I did an eyes-free, independent install from the stock 11.04 image.  Orca got screwed up during the animated slide show that runs while the install is in progress.  When I got to the final step, I turned Orca off and hit the ‘install’ button.  Then, I just walked away, and came back to the machine after about a half-hour.  I assumed all was ready, ejected the usb drive, and rebooted.  To my delight, The narwhale came up talking, on the gdm screen.

Access to the Indicator Applet (the thing used for setting up wifi, checking the battery, etc, is a bit flaky, but, fortunately, one doesn’t need to play with the thing often.  I activated keyboard shortcuts for adjusting volume.  Next, I added the apt repositories for the Orca daily builds, installed Thunderbird, Drobbox, and a few other things I like.  In every stock Ubuntu system I’ve ever used, Orca won’t give access to the gui admin apps, unless one runs them from the terminal, with sudo.

The next thing I noticed was that the skype api plugin for empathy and pidgin does not work fully in Natty.  I can make calls, send and receive text messages, but cannot accept incoming calls.  I hear the ring tone, see the ‘accept’ dialogue, but attempts to accept do nothing.

I have about 12 gb of tunes, mostly in ‘mp3’ files.  In prior Ubuntu distros, I could manage this music collection with the Rhythmbox application.  In 11.04, Banshee is the new media player. Before I loaded my music collection, Banshee could open and play streams.  Now that the music is in place, Banshee will not fully open, and attempts to run it result in a frozen X session.  I installed Rhythmbox for comparison.  Rhythmbox will browse my files, create the indices, and play the music.  It will not, however, save  the database for future sessions.

Finally, Something I unwittingly did on Saturday has resulted in a system in which Orca will, sometimes, not start post-login.  I get the login drums and talking gdm screen.  I log in.  I get the post-login music, then, sometimes, nothing.  If I wait a minute or more, then manually start Orca, it still won’t go.  I have to pull the switch and restart; maybe it will work.

Well, there, you have it!  I’m not sure whether I’ll down-grade, change distros, or just make this thing work.  I have a stubborn streak that makes the third option most appealing.”

a few days later Dave updated us with his progress, now with Unity

“I decided to change the desktop, on this trusty netbook, to Unity from Classic Gnome, having remembered decent accessibility when I played with it at a Ubuntu Beta Bug Jam at a Canonical office.

In my previous message, you’ll recall, I mentioned trouble accessing the indicator applet, where one chooses network connection, checks battery, restarts, etc.  I’m happy to report that these menus are easy to find and read when using Unity.  I like how they are attached to the menu strip for the focused application.  Using that filter string to get quickly to a subset of the items found in Preferences, is very nice, too, so long as one knows what she/he is looking for.  For instance, I typed “login screen” into the filter, and found myself right on the “unlock” button.  The shortcuts, ‘super+0’ through ‘super+9’ are very quick and convenient; What a great idea!

Now, here are the things that still need some work, perhaps the team is already aware of these?  Context menus for launcher buttons do not speak.  The speaking of Unity menu names, as one scrubs with left or right arrow is inconsistent.  All Unity menu items (wifi options, volume/mute, etc, are spoken as “checkbox unchecked”; I happen to know what is a checkbox, and what is not, but, this should be fixed.  The new-style “places” options do not speak.  Partial results in the ‘run’ dialogue do not speak.  Finally, when switching applications with ‘alt+tab” or ‘alt+shift+tab’ keys, Orca will not speak while the modifier key(s) held down.  When keys released, Orca, first, speaks the name of the application that had focus, then the name of the newly-focused application.  This requires that user memorize the order of applications in the stack, an unnecessary distraction.”

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Accessibility Testing Part I

One of the issues faced by many developers and testers is the ability to test for accessible installations and applications without having the specific disability. Hopefully, we are going to explain how to perform some of that testing without cutting off a hand or poking out your eyes.

What is ISO testing? It is the testing of each CD image before it is released for public use. Most of us are familiar with the releases, called milestones, of alpha and beta CDs. Well, before those images are released, they are tested to insure they work. That testing is done by Quality Assurance Testing, and we can always use help. We also run tests in between those milestones, since finding bugs and trying to get them fixed right at release time is problematic. The earlier the bugs are found, the better chance we will get them fixed for the final release.

Who does the testing? I am not a developer nor a programmer. I am, however, a tester. I can download any CD, follow simple directions to test that CD, and file bugs if it fails to work the way it should. I voluntarily do this testing because I want to see users able to use the CD the way it is intended. If I find a problem that gets fixed before the user gets the CD, they can use it with fewer problems.

When we are testing the milestone ISO, we track the results of the testing at http://iso.qa.ubuntu.com/, called the ISO Tracker. When using the tracker, the tester looks at which CD is being tested. By clicking on the CD symbol to the left of the description, the correct image can be downloaded or z synced. Clicking the description, you see several tests listed. To the left of each test is a symbol which takes you to the test case, which is a description of how to perform that test. Clicking the test itself takes you to a place where you tell the tracker you have started or finished the test.

When we not testing the milestones, we can still use the test cases, which are located at http://testcases.qa.ubuntu.com/. If you are testing the installation, you can go directly to the install tests at http://testcases.qa.ubuntu.com/Install. The only difference between this and the ISO testing of milestones is that you will not be logging your tests on the ISO Tracker. Please file bugs you find, and use the testcases every couple of days. Since we are specifically interested in Accessibility testing, we will use the installation testcases at http://testcases.qa.ubuntu.com/Install/DesktopAccessibility. Each test case will describe how to perform the test, whether or not you are disabled. At the time of this writing, we have the screen-reader test. We will eventually have tests for the Magnifier and On-Screen Keyboard as well. We will also attempt to add individual tests for the applications.

How are you going to run this test without looking at the monitor? Well, turn it off, of course, if it is an external monitor. That lets you see exactly what those with severe visual impairment sees. If you can not turn the monitor off, put a towel over it. Many visually impaired individuals can distinguish light and dark. Using a white towel gives you the “light means on” type of indicator. Of course, you still can not read the monitor screen.

The third step of this test is “Select your language and press ENTER”. Inevitably, at this point, the question is asked “How do I  select my language with a towel over the monitor?”. Remember, this is exactly what happens for the visually impaired user. The default language is English. Just press ENTER to select it. No, it might not be what you really want, but it is what you can select. The other trick we use is to memorize where the language we want is. Have an assistant tell you how many down or up arrows to use to get to your language of choice. Is this getting annoying yet? Are you concerned that you might not be able to do this test? Relax, and try to have fun. This is a new way of trying to install for you. But while doing this, take some time to think about the user who is forced to always do things this way.

Post written by Charlie Kravetz