Working on Orca General Audio Support

This is a post that I’ve wished to write for a long time but now here it is.

I’m working on the Orca Screen Reader! Specifically I’ll be implementing Orca General Audio support and many things related to that.

Usually screen readers rely on speech and braille to provide visual impaired users information about the applications they use, on simple terms, “what is on screen”, transforming pure visual interfaces in something useful for people without with few sight. To complement these means (speech and braille) the use of sounds (sometimes called sound icons) to improve the interaction between the user and the interface can make the user experience really better. On quick example got from the NVDA screen reader: when someone is comping a file in Windows explorer, there is a progress bar informing how much was copied and how much it will last; NVDA not only informs the user of the real percentage value of the progress bar but also beeps when the value raises, with higher pitch beeps when the value is higher. It starts from a lower beep (on 0 percent) and raises gradually until the maximum value, this way the user knows the progress in real time having not to wait for the speech update or requesting himself the progress bar value. This is just one use case, there is room for many improvements and new great ideas.

The basic sound support is already implemented, I’ll focus more on the on the user experience part although when needed I’ll improve the general audio code for performance reasons. It uses the Gstreamer framework to play the sound but we have been having some problems with gstreamer python bindings on opensolaris so for now it just spams a new process to play each sound.

I’ll propose this activity for my course of ”Portfólio Pessoal” at IST university. I think it will be a great experience working with the great folks at the Sun accessibility office, the Orca team, the orca community in general and the open source community. It is also a great step for my opensource contribution, I’ve mad some things here and there but this seems the biggest project I’ll make on my own in open source.


~ por Rui Batista em 1 de Setembro de 2009.

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