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Mumble for Windows Users

Mumble is pretty much hands down the best voice chat software on the planet. It has awesome features, and uses the opus codec, so it doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth and yet the sound quality is very high. The problem is, Windows users who rely on a screen reader can’t use it because of some kind of keyboard conflict. So, until y’all can switch over to Linux, where this problem never existed to begin with, here’s a solution.
First, install mumble. Then, after running through the installation, run this registry file that disables some keyboard hooks that interfere with mumble. I’m not even sure why they are there to begin with, but doing this does not, so far as anyone who has tested it can tell, cause you to lose any keyboard functionality. That’s it, from now on your screen reader of choice and Mumble should live together in perfect harmony. Of course, since you’re using Windows, remember to virus scan anything you get before running it. This includes the registry file linked to above. I have the file hosted here on my server, but you can never be too careful.

Cheers Mate

To tell the tale of Linux desktop based accessibility is a long and daunting endever. There have been several screen readers most started and abandoned after a short time, some possibly not abandoned, in name only, and the only one to really make any headway as far as a graphical environment goes is Orca. There is good old reliable speakup of course, but it is console only. The Copernicus screen reader has been left by the wayside, in fact, I doubt many people still remember it. there is another one, or was, called LSR (Linux Screen Reader) but, as far as I know, that project is also dead.
As if that isn’t a twisted road enough, let’s take a look at the desktop environment situation. First, accessibility wise, there was Gnome. Gnome 2 was great. Accessibility chugged along at a decent rate,bugs got fixed eventually, except that thing in terminal that caused the first letter of words on a line to be dropped by Orca. It had a great, easy to use interface, and everything just worked and worked well, and except for the little hiccup caused by the Oracle Fiasco, Orca development went along at a decent pace. Of course, the Oracle travesty screwed lots of projects and it fell to the open source community to fix the mess left behind when Oracle acquired Sun. As is usally the case, the open source community did an excellent job, making new and better projects to replace the stuff destroyed in the takeover. But, I digress. All in all, Gnome 2 was great. Then, Gnome 3 came out.
I’m not going to rant about Gnome 3. Out there, somewhere, there are Gnome 3 users and developers who love the project, and out of respect for those poor souls, I will keep my opinion to myself, well for the most part anyway. Let’s just say, I like it only slightly better than Unity, which is one of the key reasons I left Ubuntu and its derivitives such as Vinux in favor of Arch. It’s really too bad about Vinux, the projecthad a lot of potential, but it is so tied to Ubuntu that accessibility seems to take a back seat to sticking with a distro that seems to become less and less accessible as time passes.
So, without Gnome, which I refuse to use in its current condition, I was in need of a desktop. There were supposed to be two of them that worked with accessibility, LXDE and XFCE. I can’t comment on LXDE, because I was never able to get it working with Orca. The closest I ever got was getting Orca to say “Welcome to Orca”. Other people had better luck with it than I did, and the accessibility was supposed to be pretty good for the most part.
I went with XFCE. It really seemed to have a lot of potential. Most of the programs that came with it work with Orca. The file manager, desktop, and panels did not read at all though. So, I went to the propper IRC channels, file the propper bugs, was told the usual “accessibility is very important to us, it will be fixed in the next release.”
The next release came and went, and nothing. I was told that it had been kind of rushed and that the accessibility stuff was definitely going to be in the next release. Well, that release came and went as well. After that one, there was really no more communication. No one answer quearies in the IRC channel, no one replied to messages on the XFCE accessibility mailing list, nothing improved with accessibility at all.
Things stayed that way for about a year, until one day a friend of mine tried the Mate desktop. For those who don’t know, Mate is a fork of Gnome 2. Apparently, there are more people than just me who refuse to use Gnome 3. We were both surprised to find that Mate was very accessible. The last we had heard, the accessibility stack had been completely removed from it. Either that was completely wrong, or sometime afterwards they put it back in. There were a couple problem areas, once again with the desktop and panels, and the propper channels were once again followed. And, unlike with previous experiences, the bugs were fixed right away.
As far as the Mate desktop itself goes, I can’t say enough good stuff about it. It’s like the good old days, the desktop is fun again. I once again enjoy using a graphical environment. Of course, I think I have become a hard core CLI user, but when I need a desktop, Mate is completely awesome.
The one thing I kind of don’t like, is if you install the mate and mate-extra packages and select the defaults, you get stuck with pulseaudio. I have disliked pulseaudio for as long as I can remember. I probably would have stuck with XFCE if there wasn’t a way around it. Fortunately, though, you can select packages 1-12, and 14-23 I think it is and it will skip the pulse dependancy. In the mate-extra packages also skip the package that pulls in pulse, and it will fall back to using gstreamer.
To install, just do the usual pacman -S mate mate-extra.
So that Orca will talk when you first open Mate and launch Orca, add this to your ~/.xinitrc

#accessibility enabled
export GTK_MODULES=gail:atk-bridge

There is a second way to do this using gsettings directly. I haven’t tried this method yet, but others say it works just as well.

gsettings set org.mate.interface accessibility true
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true

So, in closing, if you want a great, accessible desktop that is fun to use, works well, and behaves like a desktop should instead of something that appears to have a Mac and/or tablet identity crisis, use Mate. Even the people who can see prefer mate to the other desktops, the interface is well thought out, and just plain better in pretty much every way.

Please Help Protect Accessibility

Oracle has, in their infinite, "wisdom" laid off the leader of the Gnome accessibility project leader, not to mention the lead developer of Orca. This is a horrific blow to the blind community, especially those who use the Orca screen reader. This move by Oracle was unexpected because in the past they have at least pretended to care about accessibility. I must say that Sun Micro Systems was a great company, I know it will take a lot for Oracle to live up to our expectations, but for them to just abandon Orca like that is ill tidings for the future. What will happen to the accessibility of other products now owned by Oracle? Will Open Office no longer be accessible to the blind? Once the avalanche begins, where will it end? If you, dear reader, care about accessibility I urge you to please take what action you can. Leave a comment here, contact companies, let everyone know that accessibility is important and needs to be taken seriously. Even if you do not use Orca or Linux it still is important to you. Perhaps other companies are watching to see how the blind community responds to this situation. Maybe if this battle is lost it could be the beginning of losing the war. Let your voice be heard. Maybe we can reach them with out resulting to Billboards.
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