What CURRENT distros are out there for LOW VISION?

I’ve read the asking for help FAQ, but I’m not using the requested template as it didn’t seem relevant.

My Significant Other has recently lost most of her sight as a result of a long medical melodrama, which I won’t go into. She is an “architect” level software developer, so knows her way around a computer, but is having major challenges adjusting to not being able to see the screen well, even with major magnification.

She is currently using a Mac laptop :face_vomiting: but has asked me to look into what sort of distros might be available for very low vision users. (I have been using GNU/Linux for over 30 years as my primary OS - I only use Windows if I have hardware that lacks Linux support)

DuckDuck mostly seems to bring up articles and links to things that are either ancient or seemingly no longer existing… Blinux’s FAQ was last updated in 2002, and the Linux Accessibility HOWTO also was last updated in 2002. The Vinux home page mentions the latest release as 2015, and so on. Emacspeak and Orca seem to be currently active, but I’m wondering what else might exist?


I can’t really add much value to this topic - but - I suffer from “low vision” - i.e. I have a reading and a distance prescription and have been wearing reading glasses on and off since Grade 6 primary school (like at least 15 years before I even looked at a cathode ray tube VDU/terminal!).

Anyway - I find Linux like 10,000x better for my low vision than Windows 10… With Windows 10 you can scale up stuff - but what looks normal on a laptop screen (48 pixel high window title bar) eats up vast amounts of screen real estate when docked to hi-res (relatively - I’'m talking 1080p) monitors - it’s frustrating - my answer was to eschew using the work supplied Windows 10 laptop and use a spare laptop I had “lying around” running Ubuntu…

Now - Ubuntu is pretty woeful when it comes to “Universal Access” - so woeful - if you’re on a low res screen - the “Universal Access” section in the gnome-settings applet has to be “scrolled down to” (and it’s not even that obvious it can be scrolled down to! there’s nothing “universal” about it at all!)…

But for my use case, which is 90% running gnome-terminal sessions - I have the terminal fonts scaled up to 14 points - and that works a treat for me…

On my home desktop machine, which hangs off a Lenovo 32" QHD in landscape, and a Dell 23" 1080p screen in portrait - I have the terminal fonts scaled up to 16 points…

Chrome / Chromium - I have everything large (between 110 and 125%), that setting is reasonably easy to find (easier to find than in Ubuntu anyway)… What I kinda HATE about Chrome/Chromium - when you go to “Advanced”, then “Accessibililty” - Google then suggests installing some Chrome addons - that’s it!

I think the “old” Ubuntu with Unity was slightly better than Ubuntu with gnome - and I miss the old simple settings applet from Unity (and I really kinda HATE the gnome-settings applet)…


As far as I know, the development of specialised Linux versions has come to a halt because, as @daniel.m.tripp already said, mainstream distributions are already taking the needs of visually impaired people very seriously.

For what I read, namely all Ubuntu based distributions (there are many) come with many helpful tools out of the box.

Whilst I was trying out some other distributions, I found that Trisquel started with the screenreader turned on by default. How good this distribution supports other special needs, I can’t say (I have good eyes and turning the screenreader off was the first thing I did).

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Thanks, I should perhaps qualify that when I say my SO has low vision, I’m meaning that we are currently waiting to hear from the Mass Commission for the Blind whether she qualifies as legally blind or not…

I personally dislike the Gnome interface and use KDE instead, and while there is the “Kubuntu” distro, I always felt a bit of a ‘second class user’ in the Ubuntu world - nothing overt but just the general assumption that any questions were answered by how to fix it in Gnome…

At any rate, I now have been using Debian for the past couple of years and like it a little better…

It sounds from what folks are saying that I am probably best off by getting one of the mainstream distros and working from there to enable existing features and possibly adding stuff…

The Orca screen reader seems like it is still active, I’m not sure if I’d need to install it or if it comes installed w/ a default setup (probably depends on the Distro…)

Also she used to say that emacs was her favorite development environment, and the ‘emacspeaks’ audio desktop seems to be one of the few projects that I found which is showing signs of life…

Will probably start with that as a base… I also need to dig through my collection of spare laptops and find the best (least ancient) one.


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@ex-Gooserider The choice of a desktop environment is very much a question of taste. I also happen to favour KDE over Gnome.

Regarding the Kubuntu distribution, I can tell you that it started off as “Ubuntu with KDE”, the big boys’ little brother but actually they parted ways a long time ago (with some people of the original KDE team on board) and it is now very much a distribution in its own right. Being a long time user (10+ years), I can assure you that maintenance, usability and documentation is excellent.
Everything that works on Ubuntu works on Kubuntu as well, except for anything related to the desktop environment but KDE in itself is also well documented. Orca definitely works.

It is very much focussed on stability. However, if you prefer to keep up with the newest features within the KDE + Ubuntu universe, there’s also KDE Neon which has a stronger focus on delivering always the latest features. I have not tried it myself, but it is equally mature and I have never heard anything bad about it.


You could try the suggestions on



Several years back I had a student with sight difficulty and gained a lot of help and suggestions from


It’s difficult for anyone without the problem to make suggestions so existing user help is always a good starting point. I had not fully appreciated the problems until I realised when repairing a computer for a partially sighted client, he coukd not see the same things as me so I had to revise many phrases and move the screen around to help. A learning experience for me.

Thank you for the effort Caulpaul, but unfortunately the Accessibility HowTo and the Opensource.com article are both very old and most of the links in them are out of date / dead (I had found them earlier) the RNIB.org site looks very interesting and useful for folks living in the UK, but we are in the US, and they had a FAQ article that says in part:

Although we work with international organisations towards positive change for blind and partially sighted people throughout the world, we do not provide direct support for people living outside of the UK.

Even so, I may explore some of their articles further to see if there is anything I can get that is useful / relevant.


Sorry no idea where you were based and so just guessed at a UK link.

Similar services must exist in the USA but I am not aware of who to recommend.

Technology is moving so fast hard to keep sites up to date and check links on them

Bonne courage!

Do a web search for ‘(your location, state) blind associations’. You’ll find contact info for generalized resources, guaranteed.
As for Linux accessibility, it’s becoming more and more built in, which means much less specialized. Years back I collected used outdated PCs and installed Vinux which I then sent around Pennsylvania for members of the Pa. Council of the Blind. My wife and I were members and officers of a local chapter of the PCB. When Ubuntu moved from the Gnome desktop to Unity that’s what shot a hole under the water line of Vinux. The latest developers of Vinux were blind and low vision themselves and there were several graphical features of Gnome that were much more suited to manipulation than Unity. They just gave up.
My wife, who is blind in one eye and has slightly distorted vision in the other and I use LMDE (Linux Mint Debian Edition) currently. I just have ancient eyes and do well with some enlargement and a slightly high contrast set of themes. My wife prefers hers toned down with below medium darkness, but not dark and a lighter than average contrast set of themes. We each have QRedShift installed and set up for well below average settings to reduce brightness, lower blue light and lower gamma for comfort and safety. I HIGHLY recommend this for all users, not just those with vision problems.
To check out Debian accessibility check out the archives in their mailing list; Debian -- Debian-Accessibility
Most distros have the screen reader set for keyboard activation even from their installation images. Press the ‘Windows+Alt+s’ keys after a certain point in the live boot and it will talk the user through testing and/or installing. They also have a general Braille device set of drivers installed so that even deaf-blind users can install and use most distros. Of course the BIOS/UEFI isn’t accessible, but after it’s been set by a sighted user a blind or low vision user can install and use most all builds of Linux with a bit of encouragement their first time or two through. A friend of mine hung onto a Vinux disk for years because it allowed her to access files on MS systems when they crashed or trashed and she loved being able to do that!
Which distro is best? That simply can’t be answered. Each user has their own visual preferences. Each user has their own programs and purposes and needs. Each theme has its own effects on displays and each program has its own visual settings. WAY too many variables. If there’s a problem with Linux, it’s that there are too many choices!! But that is what makes Linux so special isn’t it?

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Many thanks for the excellent reply! It answers why I hadn’t been finding much in the way of low-vision specific distros. We are slowly making the connections with low vision resources locally, right now it is kind of awkward as she has just gotten her official registration as being ‘legally blind’ and we are still waiting for the low vision assessment that we hope will give us a better idea of what sort of tech to look for.

The two projects I’ve found that do seem to still be active are “Emacspeaks” and the Knoppix/Adrianne combination, but I haven’t tried setting them up yet.

I will be looking into the QRedshift suggestion for myself as well, as it seems like it might help w/ the setup I’m using right now w/ dual monitors as it seems rather bright.


Knoppix has a special subsystem called Adrianne for visually impaired access. It was developed by Klaus Knopper for his wife, whose name is Adrianne. It has a numerous recommendations.
You can try Knoppix from a dvd or usb drive. dont have to install , just run the live system.

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Bringing this back up again - the GF had been using her Macbook Pro and was happy with it and w/ our current space constraints didn’t want another PC to deal with. However she dropped it the other day and it appears to be seriously FUBAR - the lady at the Apple “Genius Bar” said it looks like the logic board / video card is bad, not to mention the frame being bent.

I swapped out the HD in my best laptop for a spare blank, and downloaded the latest Knoppix - I’d really like to install it to run off the hard drive but they seem to make this difficult and the stuff in their wiki doesn’t seem to work.

I also am having some problems getting the audio to work right - it seems that if I have the headphones plugged in at boot, they work but the speakers don’t. If I don’t have the headphones plugged in at boot the speakers work but the headphones don’t… :confused: :confounded:

I’m not sure if it’s a distro problem or a hardware issue.

Are there any Knoppix variants that have the Adrianne / low vision stuff but are intended for a hard drive install?


Ha! Always have to laugh, when reading anything related to “Apple Genius Bar”… :laughing:

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I think Klaus Knopper abandoned the hard install option at one of his recent releases of Knoppix.
You might be able to get a hard install with Adrianne if you could find an older version.
You could ask on his website, it is here


If you cant get a hard install, a USB drive permanently plugged in would be the best option


Thanks Akito…

The logic board diagnosis seems to be legit in this case. The machine gets part way through the boot process and then starts over… They got into the BSD part, and did a check on the drive which passed. They then tried booting from their remote server and got the same thing… They said that judging from the progress bar, it is rebooting when starting the graphics hardware. The graphics card is supposedly hard soldered to the logic board so my assumption is that she probably cracked a solder joint when she dropped the machine.

I have looked online and they seem to have logic boards on fleabay for about $150 not the $500 that the GB was quoting. However it is a 2015 machine, so how much effort to repair it is a question… (Apple said they would stop all support on this one in November as well) Now her parents are buying her a new one, so it may be a moot point…

I’m almost thinking it would be better to break it down and sell the used parts instead… They say the machine has an SSD in it, I’m tempted to try grabbing it and after wiping, use it in one of my Linux boxes…


Even if that’s the case, I would never in my life even believe a single word those charlatans would utter.
Could you ask someone in an independent repair shop what it would cost to repair the device and why?

They should be able to assess the situation, without charging you a penny.

That’s one of the disastrous design decisions Apple has made for its products.

When we are talking about repairing a technical device, one should never assume anything. :wink:

That’s a bad move… :expressionless:

I sort of agree that it is a bad move to replace her broken Mac w/ a new one, but it is not my decision… (I advised against it) My recommendation was to get a machine from the “Computers for the Blind” folks - they get donated hardware from places that are doing upgrades, refurbish it and load it w/ W10 and a bunch of low vision software including JAWS and other screen readers. Essentially what she needs in order to re-enter the workforce as a software engineer… I know, Microsoft sucks, but they seem to be the top choice for accessibility on a PC, per all the support groups, and low vision rehab folks we’ve dealt with. (OTOH they also say the I-Phone is the best for phones)

Part of her reasoning is related to the Apple lock-in, where she has a lot of stuff that she does have backed up, but on an Apple ‘Passport’ which is hard to get stuff off of with anything but an Apple product… :angry:

I base my cracked solder joint (or possibly a trace) diagnosis on what I know of probable failures resulting from a drop, especially since the machine chassis is visibly warped - the PC board is screwed to the chassis, so if the chassis is warped, it seems likely that the board is as well, and most PC boards don’t like getting flexed…

I agree with trying to get this machine fixed if it can be done cheaply, the question I’m trying to get her to answer is how much she is willing to spend on it…


This is one of the many reasons why Apple is evil/bad/whatever you want to call it. They do that on purpose. That’s undeniable. Once you go in, you can’t get out. It’s like Mafia, but more fancy looking and the blood is white/silverish (most popular colour for Apple products), instead of red.

It’s not so much about the cheap thing, I just don’t like giving someone a replacement for something they broke, just like that, because in my personal life that always lead to the same thing or another thing breaking, again. It’s like, you can’t learn from it if you always get a replacement. I know, sounds like a philosophy for teaching children, but I have seen this happening with adults just as often as with kids and people usually cannot go against their psychology.

That said, in your case it’s probably a different story, as a visually impaired woman has special requirements (which you just explained), so I can understand it from a personal perspective and why their parents would care take of that the way it happened.

I agree on the idea of to rapid replacements, but the computer is an incredibly major part of her life at this point, as she uses it for pretty much all of her interaction w/ the world outside our house. She uses it for watching TV, listening to radio, a variety of support group meetings, along with all the traditional email and web surfing type stuff. When she broke it (she snagged a cord and dragged it off the table while trying to get to the phone) it pretty much left her with just her talking book machine. (I will say the Perkins talking book system is fantastic for those that need it)

She had a much older (~2010 vintage) Mac that we sort of thought was a backup machine but the cord for it’s power brick was all dry-rotted, and it wouldn’t power up… The Apple store people were able to sell her a new brick ($80 - sticker shock! but it got it working) and that helped her some but it didn’t allow her to do a lot of the stuff she normally does…

Given her situation, I am happy to see her having as much access to the world as getting the new machine should.


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