New Linux distro would target disabled users

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There are more than a billion people around the globe living with some sort of disability today, yet software in general and operating systems in particular are just beginning to address their computing needs.

Microsoft's Windows 8 reportedly brought with it some accessibility improvements, and now a new project on the Linux side aims to take such efforts even further with a brand-new Linux distribution specifically targeting disabled users.

“I want to build a Linux operating system focused on accessibility,” explains developer Jonathan Nadeau in his Sonar Project campaign page on Indieogogo. “Not just for blind and low vision people, but for people who struggle with dyslexia and learning disabilities as well as accessibility for people with low motor skills and quadriplegics.”

'We are being left behind'

There are roughly 360 million blind and low vision people in the world, for example, but 90 percent of them live in developing countries. Eighty percent of those in the United States are unemployed. Meanwhile, the average cost of proprietary accessibility software is around $900, Nadeau explains.

“How are they supposed to afford this?” writes Nadeau, who is himself blind as a result of a 1992 car accident. ”The faster technology moves, the farther we are being left behind.”

There have been some advances in the Linux world over the years, to be sure. The GNOME Accessibility Project has already been under way for some time, for example; Fedora Linux has also published an accessibility guide.

Then, too, there have been offerings like Vinux, which is aimed at the blind and visually impaired. There have also been Linux screen readers such as Orca and text-to-speech readers such as eSpeak, Festival, and Emacspeak, as's Carla Schroder noted last year.

'Anyone can modify it'

Meanwhile, the Ubuntu-based Sonar Project hopes to go further with an accessible Linux distribution that's not only free in cost, but also has free source code.

“Free (as in source code) is the most important part of this,” Nadeau explains. “Since the source code will be Free, this means that once the operating system is built, anyone can modify it to improve and enhance what already exists. I want people that depend on assistive technology to use Free software so we can be in control of our own computing and accessibility needs.”

The Sonar Project seeks $20,000 in funding by Feb. 20; so far, it's garnered only $2,385.

Does accessibility matter to you or your company? Please leave a comment if an accessibility-focused distro would make a difference for your business.

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