SuSE Linux 7.0 Features Free Screen Reader, Braille Support, & Accessibility For Visually Impaired And Blind

SuSE Blinux Becomes First Linux Distribution Supporting Installation and Applications In Braille

The invention of the Braille-device (Braille-Zeile) in the mid-eighties enabled more and more visually impaired and blind people to work on computers. This device, in conjunction with a screen reader, which is connected to the serial port of the PC, allows the user to aurally and/or tactilely read whatever information is displayed on the screen, as well as the ability to check his/her entries.

As part of the new version 7.0, SuSE Linux has developed the screen reader SuSE Blinux--software that enables visually impaired users to comfortably work with Linux. SuSE Blinux is neither an independent distribution nor a kernel patch but rather a so-called daemon, i.e. a program that runs in the background. One advantage of this is that SuSE Blinux does not compromise system security in any way. Furthermore, blind users have unrestricted use of all applications of the new SuSE Linux version that runs on the text console. They can even compile their own kernel.

During the boot-process of the installation-CD, the system recognizes any connected Braille device. Once the Braille device is recognized, the SuSE-specific installation tool Yast2 switches to text-mode and the screen reader is started. This makes SuSE Linux the only system in the world that offers Braille support during installation. Users can follow the complete LogIn-process, install and configure their own system. They can work on the text console using the Braille device or a voice activated system.

In contrast to traditional Braille writing, made up of a combination of 6 dots per character, Computer Braille uses 8-dot combinations. All 256 characters that can be displayed on the screen can also be output in a Braille module using this method. More options for transferring the information from the screen become available, such as lower and upper case letters or differentiation of various colors. Users familiar with 6-dot Braille will not find it difficult to convert to 8-dot Braille. Reading Braille information from a Braille device does require disproportionately more effort from the user. While users without light-impairments can scan the screen at a glance and pick out the relevant data, blind users have to work their way through the screen contents line by line.

SuSE Blinux supports the user during screen navigation by putting the Braille device at the position of the relevant information. The Braille device represents exactly that line on the screen on which the cursor is currently positioned. With every move of the cursor the Braille device jumps to the current line, allowing the user to immediately follow any changes on the screen. Cursor routing, for correction purposes, can be achieved via special buttons above the characters on the Braille device. The cursor can be placed on any character, allowing users to operate all applications that are cursor based. In addition, all actions that are not immediately accessible on the Braille device are communicated through acoustic signals.

For each application, settings can be specified which describe the application in more detail. Users can assign attributes to their individual profile, allowing specialized settings such as text blocking, bold script, and other specific key combinations.

SuSE Blinux further facilitates ease of use by offering control of hardware synthesizer that provides voice support to the user. Voice output delivers all the information available on the screen. With text output, special conditions or settings, so-called language filters, can be defined in the profiles for language output. Special abbreviations or characters are specified which are read as a complete word, sentence, or a signal during voice output. Possible commands could be "Read the whole screen", "Read the line only", or "Spell the word". Depending on the synthesizer used, several languages can be reproduced.

SuSE Blinux offers automatic profile switching. The program recognizes the application displayed on the screen and makes the necessary adjustments. Configuration files are specified for particular applications and specific users. When users log on to the machine, their individually specific profiles or language filters are available. This is particularly relevant for the use of Blinux in schools.

One of the major advantages of SuSE Blinux is that it allows users to handle Internet applications. SuSE Blinux, used with a Braille device or voice output, makes surfing the net or sending email via Pine an easy task for the visually impaired. Phone and email support is offered with the purchase of Blinux 7.0. Specialists are available more than 10 hours per week to answer all questions and offer competent advice on more complex problems.

Screen readers usually cost between US $200 and US $5000, SuSE Linux version 7.0 is offering the screen reader free-of-charge.

More information about SuSE Linux can be obtained from:

Xenia von Wedel
Account Executive
The Terpin Group
tel: (650) 344-4944 ext. 104
fax: (650) 344-4992

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This page was created on September 6, 2000
Contents of this document last modified September 13, 2000