What distributions (distros) of Linux are accessible?
You can use a screen reader on another computer to log into any distro remotely, and then use it accessibly in a console mode session. Some mainstream distros
can be made to come up talking, without sighted assistance. There are blind programmers who love Debian, Arch, Knoppix, and Gentoo, for example. Ubuntu
Lucid currently holds a small lead over other main-stream distros in terms of default accessibility on the Gnome desktop, though more experience hackers
often prefer other distros.
Specialized distros for the blind are also available. For beginning computer users, you probably can't beat Knoppix Adrian, which boots into a talking menu.
It can be downloaded from mirrors like the one at
There are other distros for the blind, but Vinux may have the most users at present, available at
Being based on Ubuntu Lucid helps the Vinux community feed improvements they make into a mainstream distro quickly.
Linux has just about every kind of programming environment. There is not, however, a solid and highly integrated IDE like Visual Studio, though progress
is being made on Eclipse accessibility, and other IDEs are also progressing.
Blind programmers on Linux are encouraged to learn to control it through a shell, like bash, which is similar to a Windows command shell, but better. You
can log in from a Windows box and make Linux do just about anything remotely. You can also boot into Linux directly, and control it from the command line
using console readers like Speakup, available at
or Yasr, available at
Shells are highly accessible, through programs like Speakup, and most programming is done directly in shell-based editors. The GNU debugger also works
well in a shell.
Alternatively, you can boot into Gnome, the most popular Linux desktop, and use the Orca screen reader.
Orca works with FireFox, mail, Open Office, and various GUI-based administration utilities. Gnome is fairly accessible, but not as good as Windows or Mac
Check out the Gnome Desktop Accessibility Guide at http://library.gnome.org/users/gnome-access-guide/stable/index.html.en
Many blind programmers prefer the Emacspeak environment, which is a powerful audio desktop built on top of emacs, available at
In Linux, you have many choices, and are free to choose what works best for you. You can also improve any part of the system, and working with open source
communities, you can make them better.