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Accessibility (a11y)

This beat is not included in the release notes files. For Fedora 7, it is being used to gather changes to put back in to the ASCII text file /usr/share/doc/HTML/README-Accessibility.

Begin contents of README-Accessibility

Linux Accessibility Solutions

Copyright © 2003 - 2007 by Red Hat, Inc. and others. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v1.0 or later (the latest version is presently available at


There are approximately 500 million people worldwide with some kind of visual, hearing, or mobility impairment. There are currently over 54 million people with disabilities in the US alone and that number is significantly increasing as the baby boomer generation continues to age. People with disabilities often find it extremely difficult to effectively use existing and emerging technologies designed without regard to their needs. Websites with inaccessible content can also be problematic for screen readers and other specialized devices used by the disabled community.

Accessible features have been voluntarily integrated into operating systems, Web interfaces and other technologies because of marketing potential or because it was "the right thing to do." Equal access to educational, professional and recreational technologies is rapidly becoming a legal requirement. Federal agencies in numerous countries are formulating accessibility standards. Federal requirements in the United States went into effect in June 2001.

There are specialized hardware devices, applications and utilities available that considerably increase the usability of Linux for individuals with special needs.

This document covers the following topics:

  • Why should people choose Fedora as an accessibility solution?
  • The Section 508 Mandate
  • The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)
  • Available open source tools, utilities and drivers
  • Using Orca with Fedora
  • Using Speakup with Fedora
  • Using Emacspeak and Festival with Fedora
  • Reading news using Fedora and Emacspeak
  • Sending and reading email using Fedora and Emacspeak
  • Browsing the Web using Fedora and Emacspeak
  • Using Emacspeak to execute Fedora shell commands
  • Using BRLTTY with Fedora
  • Finding more information on Linux accessibility

Why should people choose Fedora as an accessibility solution?

Linux offers an inexpensive and efficient solution for the disabled community. Open source software costs far less compared to tools that run on other operating systems and Linux tools are often freely downloadable.

While the Graphic User Interface (GUI) is convenient for sighted users, it is often inhibiting to those with visual impairments because of the difficulty speech synthesizers have interpreting graphics. Linux is a great OS for users with visual limitations because the GUI is not required by the kernel. Most modern tools including email, news, Web browsers, calendars, calculators and much more can run on Linux without the GUI. The working environment can also be customized to meet the hardware or software needs of the user.

Fedora (and its predecessor Red Hat Linux) is an extremely popular Linux distribution; most industry professionals are familiar with it, making it relatively straightforward to find assistance if necessary.

Red Hat provides the up2date client and Red Hat Network. These services simplify file management and make it easier to effortlessly keep their computers secure and up to date.

The Section 508 Mandate

The Section 508 Mandate is an addendum to the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 that requires federal agencies to use accessible electronic and information technologies so that people with special needs have the same opportunities as everyone else.

For detailed information about the requirements of the Section 508 Mandate, visit this link:

The Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)

The VPAT template details how a particular product or service conforms to Section 508 criteria. The VPAT helps federal personnel adhere to Section 508 by helping them determine whether they are buying the most accessible IT products and services available. The VPAT template participation by private vendors is voluntary. These templates are hosted on the individual vendor websites. The vendors maintain their own information and the government does not endorse this information in any way. For more information on these templates, contact the legal department at Red Hat Inc.

Available open source tools, utilities and drivers

Current development is focusing on visual and mobility impairments. There are both software and hardware based solutions available. There are also both console and graphic solutions available, however, the graphic solutions are limited at this time. The GNOME Accessibility Project is making great progress bringing the Gnome desktop up to speed.

For more information about the GNOME Accessibility Project, visit:

The KDE Accessibility Project is simultaneously working to make sure the KDE desktop is accessible as well.

For more information about the KDE Accessibility Project, visit:


The biggest advantage of the hardware speech solutions is that speech is available before the OS loads (makes it easier to install). Hardware solutions include speech synthesizers, braille terminals, braille printers, sip and puff systems, eye gaze pointing devices, etc. These devices are usually very expensive and it is difficult to find drivers for them. Drivers are being written (mostly for speech synthesizers) for Linux but they need to be tested and integrated by the community into "upstream" software projects before becoming part of Fedora.

Jim Van Zandt has also written several servers that work with Emacspeak. These servers can be found in a package called Emacspeak-ss on Jim Van Zandt's website or linked within the Emacspeak HOWTO

The Emacspeak HOWTO is available online at:

For more information on Emacspeak, visit:


This document focuses mostly on software tools and utilities that work with Linux. Most of these tools have been developed by the Open Source community and many have not yet been tested by Red Hat, Inc. Speakup, Emacspeak, Festival and BRLTTY have been tested by Red Hat. Festival and Emacspeak ships with Red Hat Linux 7.3 and later releases (including Fedora). The following list of downloadable tools provide various functions:

  • Software Speech Synthesizers:
  • IBM ViaVoice Outloud
  • Festival
  • Emacspeak
  • Magnification Tools:
  • xzoom
  • SVGATextMode
  • Speech Recognition Software:
  • IBM ViaVoice
  • cvoicecontrol
  • Xvoice
  • Screen Readers:
  • Screader
  • Speakup
  • Visual Bells
  • Keyboard Tools
  • AccessX
  • StickyKeys
  • GTKeyboard

Using Fedora's Accessibility Tools

Using Orca with Fedora

The login screen of a default Fedora installation emits a beep when the system is ready for login. To start the Orca accessibility program from the login screen, hold Ctrl-s for one second. The system speaks the phrase "Welcome to Orca" aloud when Orca is successfully activated.

Use the Tab key to give focus to the user list, and the arrow keys to move through the user entries, which Orca reads aloud. Press Alt-L to start the language list menu, and Alt-T to bring up an options menu.

The same usability options are enabled at the desktop.

Using Speakup with Fedora

Speakup is a GPL screen review package written by Kirk Reiser and Andy Berdan. Speakup gives users with visual or mobility impairments the ability to have audible console feedback using a speech synthesizer. Red Hat recommends Speakup for blind users because it provides an audible installation and is fully supported by the blind open source community.

William F. Acker currently maintains the Speakup packages for the Red Hat distribution. His contributions to the open source community and to blind Linux users have been outstanding.

Speakup works with the following hardware synthesizers:

  • DoubleTalk PC/LT
  • LiteTalk
  • Accent PC/SA
  • Speakout
  • Artic Transport
  • Audapter
  • Braille 'N Speak / Type 'N Speak
  • Dectalk External and Express
  • Apollo2

For instructions on using Speakup with Fedora, visit:

For more information about Speakup, or to contribute to the Speakup project visit:

Using Emacspeak with Fedora

Before using Emacspeak, you should familiarize yourself with some documentation. Start with "A Gentle Introduction to Emacspeak" by Gary Lawrence Murphy, which is available online at:

The Emacspeak HOWTO written by Jim Van Zandt is also a very good resource, although the document is limited to the Slackware distribution. The Emascspeak HOWTO is available online at:

Reading news using Fedora and Emacspeak

Gnus is the news reader included with Emacspeak. Gnus gets the appropriate data from the ~/.newsrc file in the user's home directory. To post and read news through Emacspeak, refer to for manuals, tutorials, HOWTOs, and more. To start Gnus, type the following command. Note that "M-x" means to hold down the [Meta] key (often labeled [Alt] ) while simultaneously pressing the [x] key:

M-x gnus

This command displays all the newsgroups you are subscribed to. To select a newsgroup, highlight your selection and press the space bar. Next, specify how many articles you would like to open. Type the number you desire and press [Enter] . This splits the screen into two buffers. The top section is the summary buffer, the bottom section is the article buffer. You should now be able to read your news. For a detailed overview of this tool, visit:

Sending and reading email using Fedora and Emacspeak

There are several email clients available in Emacspeak. The Gnus utility can actually be used for both email and news. Type:

M-x gnus

to start Gnus, then type:


to use the mail client.

The easiest tool to use is RMAIL. To send a message using RMAIL, type the following command. Note that "C-x" means to hold down the [Ctrl] key while simultaneously pressing the [x] key:

C-x m

Fill in the To: and Subject: fields. Put the body of the message below the line that reads -text follows this line-. You can send the message when you are finished by typing:

C-c C-c

To read a message using RMAIL type:

M-x rmail

For more information on using RMAIL visit:

Browsing the Web using Fedora and Emacspeak

You must download William Perry's w3 browser:

You can install the package from the FTP site (after you log in as root) and type:

rpm -ivh

Once the package is installed, restart Emacspeak and type the following command:

M-x w3

This starts the browser and opens the default homepage. For more information on w3 including a tutorial and command explanation, read through the information on the default home page, available online at:

Using Emacspeak to execute Linux shell commands

You do not have to leave Emacspeak to execute a Linux command. To execute a command within Emacspeak, type


and then enter the name of the command you would like to run when Emacspeak prompts you. To exit the command output window type:

C-x 1

This functionality is extremely useful. You can even print and compile files you are working on within Emacspeak. For more information on Linux shell commands refer to Josh's Linux Guide or any other comparable command resource.

Josh's Linux Guide is available online at:

Using BRLTTY with Fedora

BRLTTY provides access to the Linux command line for blind people using refreshable braille displays. The tool provides complete screen review functionality and minimal speech capability. BRLTTY has been tested by Red Hat Inc. and is available in RPM format. For information and documentation on BRLTTY, visit the following link:

Finding more information on Linux accessibility

The following documents offer helpful suggestions for making Linux more accessible:

Linux Accessibility HOWTO:


Additional links that may be helpful include:

The Speakup Homepage:

Trace Center:


End contents of README-Accessibility