Enhancing Accessibility For FOSS Desktops

This project is funded by the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of IT, under the NRCFOSS-Phase II project. The project aims to:

  • Study the field of accessibility with respect to the needs and the relevant technologies and identify the needs in terms of FOSS development,
  • Develop software solutions suitable for Indian environments based on FOSS for specific types of disabilities,
  • Formulate guidelines for software applications to support accessibility, and
  • Plan and organize training programs in this area.

Some of the broad deliverables of this project include:

  • Predictive writing tool integrated with the desktop.
  • Screen Reader based full desktop including office, browser, etc.
  • Development of speech-based input mechanisms.
  • Enhancing the desktop to cater to people with cognitive disabilities.

All the tools developed in this project will be released open source and will be integrated with Linux desktops, as applicable.

Activities under the project:

For Visually-impaired:

1) Enhancements to screen reader Orca: CDAC team has contributed following features to Orca screen reader of GNOME desktop:

  1. List Shortcuts: This helps a new Orca user who finds it difficult to remember the numerous keyboard shortcuts. At the press of a key combination, Orca is ready to speak the list of available shortcuts. The user can navigate the list with Up/ Down arrows. This has become a standard feature for GNOME 2.32 and later. More information can be found at https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=616820
  2. Skim Reading: While reading a large document, a user may want a quick preview of the contents or he may want to go directly to a specific paragraph. In Skim Read, Orca skims through the entire document, reading only the first line/sentence of each paragraph. The user can halt at the desired paragraph by pressing the "Ctrl" key. The feature has been tested by members of Orca community and may become part of a future release. More information can be found at https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=577481
  3. Structural Navigation for OpenOffice.org:Structural navigation enables a user to navigate through elements of a specific category like tables, headings, etc. by pressing only a key or two. For example, a user can move to the next heading by pressing H and to the previous heading by pressing Shift+H. In Orca this feature is available for HTML documents, but not for word documents. CDAC team studied the accessibility of OpenOffice.org and identified bugs which were blocking implementation of structural navigation. CDAC team has also submitted patches to add structural navigation to word documents. More information can be found at -https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=652105
  4. Navigation by sentence:This feature provides navigation by sentence in Libre/Open Office Word Processor documents and text documents. To read the current sentence, press Windows+slash. To read the previous sentence, press Windows+comma. To read the next sentence, press Windows+period. More information can be found at -https:// bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=520591
  5. Restoration of NumPad functionality: Flat Review takes over NumPad functionality even when NumLock is on. This problem was fixed for the main Orca branch w.e.f. Orca v3.3.4 but not for xdesktop branch. CDAC Mumbai has fixed the problem for orca-3.2.0-xdesktop. So NumPad keys can be used to type numerals and arithmetic operators when NumLock is On. Additionally, NumLock On/ Off announcements and key echos for Super key and Menu key are enabled. More information can be found at -https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=690198

Enhanced version of Orca-3.2.0-xdesktop which includes the above features can be downloaded from Here...

2) Making PDF Documents Accessible: CDAC Mumbai made PDF documents more accessible and usable for blind users through Orca. This method of accessing PDF has been listed on ORKA Wiki. More information can be found at http://live.gnome.org/Orca/Acroread#Use_pdftohtml PDF to HTML utility script can be download from Here...

3) Easy traversal of desktop icon and modified search facility: Desktop is the very first screen after logging into the system. A visually impaired user may need to know what is available on the desktop by traversing it once. In absence of visual feedback, it is very confusing for visually impaired to exactly know the state of desktop. This feature helps user traverse the desktop icons completely by using a single arrow key (Down arrow key). More information can be found at - https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=613111
Search facility has been modified on Desktop icon view.

For Physically-impaired:

  1. Anumaan:It is an open source predictive text entry system to aid people with motor disabilities.
  2. GEM: GEM (GEstures with Mouse) is a mouse gesture-based input mechanism which uses gestures as input to the system. Gestures can be drawn using a mouse or some equivalent device like touch pad, joystick, pen tablet etc.
    This Input mechanism is intended for people suffering with different kinds of motor disabilities, who may face problems in using mouse and keyboard in conventional way. Hence, it provides them with an alternate and effective mechanism for using the system to perform various tasks such as navigation, executing commands & keyboard shortcuts, and launching applications etc. on Linux desktop.
  3. Screenshots:

    Downloads :

    • GEM-beta-0.1 tar.gz can be downloaded from here
    • GEM-beta-0.1 .deb can be downloaded from here
    • GEM-beta-0.1.rpm can be downloaded from here
    • GEM installation manual can be download from here
    • User manual for GEM can be downloaded fromhere
  4. Hand Gesture-based Input Mechanism: A prototype for hand gesture recognition have been developed. On the basis of prototype, the development of hand gesture-based input mechanism (HGIM) is in progress. This mechanism intends to provide input mechanism via a set of predefined hand gestures for Linux desktop.

For Cognitively-impaired:

Cognitive disability is one of the most challenging disabilities to address. People with cognitive impairment face different kinds of problems such as memory loss - short-term or long-term, learning disability, forgetfulness, attention problems, etc. The type and nature of the problem varies from person to person. A desktop environment is being developed as per the requirements of these users. The initial focus is given to address the memory based issues, associated with such users while using computer. Features include:

  • Simplified desktop
  • Tagged file system with visual tags for easy recall.
  • Reminder facility
  • User Activity Log to checkout the work done before.

A GNU/Linux distribution has been developed containing these features.

GNU/Linux distributions for differently-abled people

There are three distributions specific to three different kinds of disabilities namely:

  1. ALViC: This is a GNU/Linux distribution created specially for visually challenged users. Visually challenged users can use it out of the box because accessibility settings required by them are already enabled.
  2. GNU/Linux distribution for Cognitively-challenged: This GNU/Linux distribution has been developed to provide an accessible desktop environment to the cognitively challenged users.
  3. GNU/Linux distribution for Physically-challenged: This GNU/Linux distribution is a special distribution for physically challenged people, so that they can easily access FOSS desktops.

Awareness and Deployment Activities:

  • National Workshop on FOSS Desktop Accessibility: A national workshop on FOSS Desktop Accessibility was organized on August 26, 2011.
  • Computer Training Program for Visually Challenged: A number of training programs for Visually Challenged are organised during July, 2012 - January, 2013.
  • Collaboration and linkage with relevant institutions and rehabilitations centres working for visually impaired for consultation, experience sharing, testing and feedback collection
  • Solutions have been deployed and tested at various institutions and centres working for the differently-abled persons.


  • Shiv Nath K, Sagun B, Leena C, Aparna R, Sasikumar M, "Conceptualizing a Desktop Environment for Cognitively Challenged People", 10.1145/2381716.2381785, ACM ICPS proceedings and page366-370,Proceedings of CUBE Conference 3-5 Sep, 2012, Pune, India.
  • Leena C, Bhat D, Aparna R, Sasikumar M,"Enhancing Orca For Document Navigation For Visually Impaired", page255-262, Proceedings of AEGIS Conference 28-30 Nov, 2011, Brussels, Belgium.

Feedback can be sent at ossd@cdac.in


Staff Associated:

  • Sasikumar M (sasi[at]cdac[dot]in)
  • Sagun B (sagun[at]cdac[dot]in)
  • Leena C (leena[at]cdac[dot]in)
  • Dattatray B (bhatdv[at]cdac[dot]in)
  • Sambaiah R (reniguntla[at]cdac[dot]in)
  • Shivnath K (shivnath[at]cdac[dot]in)

Contact Address
Raintree Marg
Near Bharati Vidyapeeth
Opp. Kharghar Railway Station
Sector 7, CBD Belapur
Navi Mumbai - 400 614
Tel: 2756 1503, 27565303