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?

Thanks,
ex-Gooserider

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)…

2 Likes

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).

1 Like

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.

ex-Gooserider

1 Like

@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.

2 Likes

You could try the suggestions on

https://tldp.org/HOWTO/Accessibility-HOWTO/visual.html

Or

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

https://www.rnib.org.uk/

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.

ex-Gooserider

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?

1 Like

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.

ex-Gooserider