Accessibility with Orca under Linux

Vincent Le Goff vincent.legoff.srs at
Wed Aug 2 13:27:33 EDT 2017

Hi everyone,

I have recently switched to Linux (Ubuntu) and started using Pidgin for 
a few protocols.  It is very accessible, and some steps have already 
been taken to make it really comfortable for screen reader users.  
However, I find some strategies to be actually harming accessibility and 
I would like to have your opinion, and get first ideas about how to 
solve it.  If it takes a plugin, despite my lack of knowledge about 
Pidgin for the time being, I am quite willing to try and produce it.

First let me remind you of the context.  I use Orca as a screen reader 
on Ubuntu (the Gnome desktop).  I installed Pidgin without any problem 
and launched it.  My primary need was to be able to talk on IRC, so I 
created an account on the Freenode server and joined some channels in 
development I have frequented for some time now.  Typing text, and 
reading the list of answers, is really easy with Orca, and without need 
of any special feature.  Every message that I send or receive from any 
channel no matter in which window I am is spoken by Orca.  And that's 
where it gets a bit problematic: although it is usually a good thing for 
accessibility, on very busy IRC channels, it turns into a practical 
nightmare.  Reading messages one by one becomes very difficult as they 
are interrupted by new users adding in their two cents about the issue.  
The user (I, in this case) gets confused on what was spoken first, what 
was spoken last, and usually has the most remote concept of message 
endings.  In fact, on very busy IRC channels, this can prevent being 
able to read anything when the audience rises to more than 5-6 users 
speaking (with a rate of one message per second, for instance).

I thought, at first, that this was due to libnotify, and I went to 
check.  I removed all notifications to the system and this, at least, 
solved an issue: I don't get interrupted when a new user joins one of my 
protocols.  However, removing the message notification in libnotify 
didn't solve my most important issue. Although it is quite difficult 
when you are in an active conversation, this becomes worse if you have 
an active conversation in the background and are minding your own 
business, coding or writing or reading.  Interruptions don't cease with 
the change of focus.  Again, this can be a good feature for 
accessibility, as long as the amount of messages doesn't go too high.

My first question would be: is this a feature or a side-effect? Perhaps 
it's something hard-coded into Orca itself.  If it's a side-effect, can 
something be done about it already?  I didn't see "accessibility" tab in 
preferences, and I can understand why, the need isn't that great for 
most users.  I was thinking about adding a plugin with some internal 
features to change the TTS (text-to-speech) configuration: do not talk 
if I'm outside of the window, for instance.  Or do not talk at all.  Or 
do not talk in this protocol.  Or... you could have some interesting 
settings there, actually.  Of course, doing this as a plugin wouldn't 
work if it's a feature that is coded in the main Pidgin client itself.

I would greatly appreciate your ideas and take on this issue.  I know 
this isn't a "common" issue, and I don't wish to make any developer's 
life harder, quite the contrary!

Have a very good morning, afternoon or evening,


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