Blind computing

Text of my e-mail to Bong Copuyoc:

Dear Bong,

I'm glad to hear that you're working on an article focusing on assistive technology! I started looking into it because I wanted to be able to use my computer while walking around. Although the head-mounted display looked really cool, it was heavy and conspicuous. Fortunately, free and open-source tools such as the Festival Lite speech synthesizer and the Emacspeak audio desktop made it easy for me to glue together a system that let me browse, read mail, and do all sorts of things without looking at my computer.

I've Cc:'d Richard Burgos, the IBM guy who told me about their wonderful Computer Eyes workshop. They gave me an opportunity to help out before, and I can tell you that it is an amazing experience. However, the JAWS screen reader costs a lot (USD 895). Richard - IBM has helped people with disabilities for far longer than I have; perhaps you can spare time from your Christmas preparations to help this journalist out? =)

With the increasing interest in Linux as a low-cost alternative even for sighted users, maybe you can help convince your readers that Linux training will benefit sighted and visually impaired users alike. I'm sure that the Philippine Linux Users' Group (http://plug.linux.org.ph) and organizations like the Bluepoint Foundation (http://www.bluepoint.com.ph) would be willing to help out.

You might be interested in the BLinux community (http://leb.net/blinux/). They have an active mailing list and will probably answer questions promptly.

Major distributions are beginning to support blind users out of the box. If I'm not mistaken, you can get a Redhat install CD with speech support (requires a hardware speech synthesizer). Knoppix comes with Braille support out of the box.

Smaller distributions also cater to the needs of the visually impaired. Oralux (http://www.oralux.org/), a live-CD distribution based on Knoppix, has Emacspeak and the Festival Lite speech synthesizer - allowing you to use practically any computer with a supported sound card. Brlspeak (http://www.brlspeak.net/) has Braille and partial speech support and can be installed on an existing FAT hard disk without repartitioning.

Good luck and have fun!