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Is Linux accessible?

Date Updated

The Linux Operating System has become increasingly popular on servers and desktop systems, in part because it's freely distributable and open-source and it runs on a variety of hardware platforms. For several years, a number of accessibility-related tools have existed for Linux, but most of them made the console, the DOS-prompt-like environment, accessible. Until recently, GUIs and graphical desktops on Linux, which behave similarly to those on Windows® or Mac®, have remained inaccessible to users with various disabilities.

Recent significant improvements have occurred through the GNOME Accessibility Project, which focuses on the accessibility of a very popular Linux desktop called GNOME™. The project has worked to build improved accessibility features into GNOME and to create a screen reader, Braille output software, and a sophisticated on-screen keyboard. In addition, the project has created the GNOME Accessibility Architecture, which integrates these three tools and many other pre-existing third party ones. For example, the newly accessible GNOME desktop can make use of a high-quality speech synthesizer named Festival, which is developed by Carnegie Mellon University and has existed for several years. Other third-party tools include keyboard and mouse configuration utilities (e.g., with StickyKeys, MouseKeys, RepeatKeys, SlowKeys, ToggleKeys, BounceKeys), speech recognition software, Braille translation software, Optical Character Recognition software, and many others. An overview of Linux accessibility, including lists of Linux AT software products, is available at the Linux Accessibility Resource Site (LARS).

Linux advocates argue that the free software movement, upon which Linux is built, eventually will lead to a richly accessible operating system, because open-source software allows users and developers to modify and improve the products they use. Thus, Linux advocates contend that users with disabilities will ultimately have greater control over their computing environment, have more choice in the tools they use and how they use them, and be less dependent on a handful of AT vendors to meet their needs.