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.

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.”

Accessibility at the Ubuntu Developer Summit

Last week was the Ubuntu Developer Summit in Budapest, this marks the start of the development cycle for the Oneiric Ocelot release of Ubuntu which will be out in October. This is where the strategic discussions take place to decide what work items can be achieved in the next 6 months, and how the work in the next 12 months leads up to the next long term support release. There were four sessions specifically on accessibility, but it was also raised as a consideration in a number of discussions of other subject matters, including a segment of the keynote (audio here, starting around 21:30)

“We made major steps on Accessibility in Unity, we knew we couldn’t move to an entirely Unity based environment until we had accessibility absolutely sorted. Accessibility is one of our core values as a project and so I want to thank Luke and several other people who made substantial contributions to that we have a lot more work to do and that work will get finished in this coming cycle, so Luke and the other folk who led that, thank you very much” – Mark Shuttleworth

On the Wednesday evening about 30 people went on the outing to the Invisible Exhibition, you can read about it on Lyz’s writeup of day 3

Group photo of the people who went to the Invisible Exhibition

All the session notes were made using the collaborative etherpad editor integrated into the summit schedule website, but we are including them below as plain text for ease of reading with Orca, along with link to an audio recording of the session below each heading.

Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing the Accessibility Team Blog

Welcome to the new blog from the Ubuntu Accessibility Team!

With all the focus on getting accessibility support in Unity and looking forward at all the exciting things going on in the world of open source accessibility support, we decided that it was time the team had a blog.

The Ubuntu Accessibility Team is a joint community and Canonical team which works on development, testing, support, and documentation for accessibility for people with sensory, cognative, physical, and any other type of impairments. Most of the development work is done within Canonical with the current focus being getting the accessibility framework written for and into Unity in time for the Natty Narwhal (11.04) release. On the community side we focus on support, testing and bug fixing, and documentation. We also do work to educate both the larger Ubuntu community about accessibility and the disability community about Ubuntu and open source software.

Currently there are several main projects happening:

  • Development – Luke Yelavich and others at Canonical are getting the accessibility framework, keyboard navigation, and other accessibility related issues into Unity.
  • The Personas Project – Community members have researched and are writing design and development personas that will fit in with the preexisting design personas for Ubuntu covering a range of impairments. We hope that these will be useful both to Ubuntu designers and developers and to add to the growing number of general accessibility personas out there in the open source community. We’re always looking for new people willing to help with the writing now that the research is done.
  • Testing – We have worked on some general preparations and guidelines for testing accessibility so that as soon as the new accessibility features are in Natty and available for community testing, we can test! Luke and his cohorts have had to write a new framework in a very short amount of time and we need to get it tested as thoroughly and quickly as possible so that everyone who chooses can use Unity. The bug squad has agreed to label all Unity accessibility bugs as Medium priority or higher and there will now be ISO testing for installing as a blind user (after it turned out Maverick is not possible to install without assistance if you’re blind).
  • Documentation – We’re waiting for the accessibility features to show up in Unity so that we can get the documentation done. We hope to work with and get support from the Ubuntu Doc team in doing so.
  • Outreach – Most of our outreach is still informal in blog posts, social networking, and other personal types of outreach. I am looking forward to expanding this part of the team in the future. I’d like to see people from the Ubuntu Accessibility team liaising more with other open source accessibility teams, but also going out and having a presence at both open source conferences and disability conferences.

The Ubuntu Accessibility Team can be found in the following places:

  • Mailing list:
  • IRC: #ubuntu-accessibility on

The Ubuntu Project Philosophy includes a commitment that that every computer user “Should be able to use all software regardless of disability.” The Ubuntu Accessibility Team is working hard to make that a reality.