Blind vs. mainstream distros

Linux for blind general discussion blinux-list at
Fri Apr 21 10:53:34 UTC 2017

I'm changing the subject for clarity.

On 4/18/2017 7:28 AM, John G Heim wrote:
> I look at the debate over whether it is better to have a distro for the
> blind or to work on improving mainstream distros like the debate over barley
> versus wheat beers. Personally, I prefer barley beers over any and all wheat
> beers. But if someone wants to brew a wheat beer, it's fine with me and I'd
> even help out if they asked. It's a matter of good and better. In other
> words, my opinion is that even if you think it would be better if these
> developers spent their time on mainstream distros, we should all still
> recognize that what they are doing is really helpful.  Don't let the perfect
> be the enemy of the good.

In principle, I agree. There will always be people who want specialized 
technology such as Braille notetakers and those who expect commercial 
technology like smartphones to work for them. However, we're talking about a 
very small user base here and even fewer developers. Taking myself, I'm not 
a developer but I consider myself an advanced user. I wouldn't even try to 
develop a distro. A talking rescue CD was hard enough. As I said previously, 
anyone can have their pet distro. If someone wants a special distro for the 
blind, go for it! The problem I have and the reason why I feel so strongly 
is because of the lack of qualified and blind developers.

In other words, very few developers are blind and very few sighted 
developers know how to meet the needs of the blind. By investing the very 
limited resources of those few developers into a special distro used by only 
a very small user base, other mainstream distros lose out and the greater 
blind community doesn't benefit. As I said in my original mail, rather than 
hacking Fedora or whatever into shape, work with the upstream Fedora, 
Ubuntu, Debian etc developers. By educating a few, those limited resources 
go much further. Now, many of the sighted Debian developers ask if something 
breaks accessibility, are eager to fix bugs and go out of their way to make 
an accessible installer. The same can be said for Ubuntu. I found their MATE 
installer works fine with Orca and allowed me to install independently.

As already mentioned, Talking Arch, Sonar, Vinux and Oralux all either 
crashed or gave me no sound. Not to pick on Talking Arch, but with only two 
developers working on it, it's impossible to fix bugs in a timely manner 
(their bug tracker wasn't obviously linked on at the time) 
and test lots of hardware. With Ubuntu, they have a huge list of already 
tested hardware known to work. Yes, Canonical is commercial as is Red Hat, 
but essentially we have the sighted community working for us. When someone 
tests a laptop and finds it crashes, they report a bug and the upstream 
developers fix it. When a blind person tries Vinux on that same hardware and 
it crashes, they usually give up and say Linux is crap. Even if they report 
it, again, with the very limited resources, it's impossible to fix. All the 
Talking Arch (or Arch upstream) developers would have to do in my case is 
import the fix for my sound card from Debian where it was fixed years ago 
because lots of other people already reported it and the ALSA upstream 
developers fixed it which was picked up by Debian and Ubuntu. Before Speakup 
was in staging, almost no major distros supported it. Debian and Slackware 
were the only major distros to offer modules compiled with the kernel. That 
meant that Debian derivatives had Speakup if they used the Debian kernel. I 
recall seeing Speakup in Ubuntu, but serial support was broken so it didn't 

To bring this back full circle, if we had hundreds of blind developers like 
we have in Windows or on the Mac, i would totally agree with you and say if 
we want a blind-centric distro, it could help those few people who need or 
want it. However, we don't. It's like water in the desert. Every drop counts 
and is precious. What all of us really need to do is recruit more blind 
developers. That's why I say it would be far better for the Vinux Sonar 
organization to focus on working with other distros and upstream vendors 
rather than essentially reinventing the wheel. The difference with NVDA is 
it does run on Windows and has probably thousands more users. I would still 
like to see an actual development team for Orca rather than only a single 
paid developer. When she goes on vacation, Orca development stops. Oh yeah, 
she writes the docs and moderates the mailing list too.

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