Linux Accessibility: Why sticking to text mode will leave you behind
Its been a while since I've blogged, as I haven't really had a lot to blog about, however recent goings on in the blind Linux community have motivated me into writing this post, which is very much likely to be controversial amongst the blind Linux community, but oh well, I feel my opinion needs to be aired. For those new to this discussion, and are unsure as to what the title means, a little bit of history is in order. If you haven't read my series of posts about Linux Accessibility, I suggest you go and read those now, as that will give you more insight as to what I am going to be discussing here.
The first accessibility that was available for blind Linux users, was on the console, through emacs, using Emacspeak, and the use of packages like Speakup, and Brltty, to provide speech and Braille access to the Linux text console, or command-line. For the users who made use of these tools, it allowed them to be very productive in most day to day tasks, particularly email, writing documents, playing audio, and some web browsing. These solutions have suited many blind/vision impaired Linux users, including myself, for several years.
However, while the text console is still very useful for a lot of these tasks, it is not where Linux end-user applications such as web browsers, word processors etc are going. This is particularly true of web browsing, as many websites are now appearing that provide more fancy features for fully sighted users to take advantage of, improving the usability of the site. At the same time, accessibility for such sights is also improving, thanks to assistive technology's ability to leverage accessibility features in the web browser, to provide high quality access to such websites, thereby ensuring that people with disabilities can access the same websites as everybody else, with little to no extra effort on the part of the user.
Whilst not as big of a concern, but still important, is word processing. The OpenOffice.org word processor is already quite accessible for most document writing, and this is only going to get better. Word processing in text mode is also possible, however in order for one to write documents that need particular formatting, text style, font etc, one needs to use a form of markup to write such documents. HTML is one possibility, as well as latex, however most users will not want to have to learn such markup, and will simply want to use a word processor like OpenOffice to do their document writing, and make their document presentable as needed.
Certainly text mode/console accessibility is needed at times when X or GNOME break, but I personally see daily tasks becoming more and more difficult, particularly web browsing, in the coming years. If you are a user of the console, but would like to see GUI access improved, please speak up, and we as a developer community will do our best to take your suggestions onboard, and provide the improvements you need to make the switch over to using GNOME. However if you still wish to use the console regardless, thats fine too, but keep in mind how difficult it may be to access your favourite websites down the track.