Some readers may have been following the progress of the accessibility of Linux desktops. The two main desktops being targeted for accessibility in the industry are Gnome and KDE. Both desktops use on the accessibility architecture defined by the Gnome Accessibility Project. The architecture builds off work IBM did with Sun on the Java Accessibility API back in 1998.
There are a number of, what we call, "gaps" in the total GAP solution. These are in the areas of assistive technologies and accessibility infrastructure performance. To date, the main screen reader on the platform, Gnopernicus, and the provided magnification solutions are not what users come to expect on a Windows system. Gnopernicus, is not scriptable which allows developers and end users to customize the audio interface. Magnification, today, is also limited to a window rather than full screen.
A shining star on the platform is the Gnome Onscreen Keyboard which benefits from GAP. GAP provides the list of named actions on accessible objects as well as a list of all named hypertext links in applications. The breadth of support on the Windows platform is lacking in these areas.
A more pressing issue which effects the quality of screen reader support is the provision for solid, performant document access for large applications. The problem areas are Open Office and Firefox. The accessibility architecture on GAP attempts to restrict people from gaining access to document structure. The existing API depends on numerous cross process calls to get access to information in large documents resulting in inadequate performance. Also, the use of the GAP ATK API is inadequately documented making it difficult for application developers and assistive technologies, new to the platform, to discover how to enable their products or write new assistive technologies. The performance of Open Office accessibility is also impaired by using the Java Access Bridge to implemant an accessibility API bridge between Open Office and the ATSPI. ATSPI is the CORBA-based communication layer through which assistive technologies acquire the accessibility information from the GAP architecture.
To address these issues, IBM has recently become active in the open source accessibility effort through its work in the Free Standards Group. IBM is in the process of proposing API extensions to ATK and the ATSPI to improve performance and improve access to large documents. Also, while being dormant on the screen reader front since Screen Reader/2 and the Self Voicing Kit for Java, IBM is developing plans for an open source Linux screen reader.
Also, last year IBM released Via Voice TTS for Linux through Wizzard Software. It is available in Simplified Chinese, German, Spanish, Finnish, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican Spanish, Brazillian Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, US English and UK English. We felt releasing Via Voice was essential for Linux due to its high quality at high speeds and the breadth of languages it supports.