Blind Linux installation - Orca screen reader

Q I am considering moving to Linux from Windows, but I must have a screen reader because I have recently lost my sight. I have listened to a podcast by a blind user installing Ubuntu 8.04 using the Orca screen reader, which sounded pretty cool. Will Orca read out all screen text with all Linux programmes, and is Ubuntu 8.04 the best distro for this, bearing in mind that blind users cannot read the screen or use the mouse, and that screenreaders cannot read out graphics or icons with synthetic speech? Commercial screenreaders cost around £500 and work only with Microsoft programs, so I am faced with an upgrade cost of £250 if I want to change from Outlook Express 6 to OE7. Which would be the most suitable distro, and where can I obtain a disk to install on my PC?

A Orca appears to do that you need. While it doesn't work with all programs, it does work with any that support the Assistive Technology Service Provider Interface (AT-SPI). This includes the Gnome desktop and many of the applications that run on it. All the common tasks are catered for with at least one program; office suites, web browsing, email, accounting and even a terminal, so this should fulfil your needs. Orca doesn't work well with KDE, so you'll need to use the Gnome desktop (though there are proposals to change the AT-SPI to make it possible to work with KDE). This is the default desktop for Ubuntu, making it a good platform for such a setup.

You can download Ubuntu from www.ubuntu.com. If you don't have broadband, you can also request a CD from the Ubuntu website, free of charge. The Orca screen reader is included in the standard Ubuntu installation. Go to the System menu and select Preferences > Assistive Technologies. Here you can set the screen reader and/or magnifier to run at startup. You also have to deal with the login screen. There are two ways to do this, both set in System > Administration > Login Window. One is to enable automatic logins for your user under the Security tab. You should be aware that, although more convenient, this does make your system somewhat less secure, as anyone turning on the computer is automatically logged in as you.

The other option is to enable Orca for the login screen by ticking the 'Enable accessible login' box under the Accessibility tab. You can find more information on Ubuntu's accessibility features at www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/accessibility, and details on Orca, including a list of supported programs, at http://live.gnome.org/Orca.

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