Trying to get started

Antony Stone Antony.Stone at
Wed Aug 3 14:10:37 UTC 2011


I'm trying to get a machine set up with a recent version of Orca for a blind 
friend.  We've been advised that Ubuntu is currently the best distribution to 
choose for getting an up-to-date version (ie: with as many features, and 
working as well as possible).

1. First question - is this correct, or should we be doing something else to 
get the most functional version of Orca possible?

We're using a Braille display (ie: we prefer not to use speech), which is 
supported by BRLTTY (it's a Papenmeier Compact 40-cell display).

Things seem to be difficult to get going in a reliable way, though:

I have installed Ubuntu 11.04 as standard (ie: I did not select a Braille 
display or any other accessible features to do the actual installation - I am 

After installing, I logged in under my friend's username, and selected 
Accessibility Features on Login, made sure Orca was selected, and told Orca we 
wanted Braille.

I also selected "password confirmations as normal dialogue boxes", so that 
these should work on the Braille display.

The first problem we encounter is how to log in.  We start the machine, I can 
see the GRUB menu (my friend can't, so blind dual-boot still appears to be not 
an option), the machine starts up X, and a login dialogue box appears.

The Braille display says "Screen not in text mode" - the login prompt is not 

2. Second question - how do we get the login prompt shown on the Braille 
display so that my friend can log in quietly?

As a workaround I recorded an audio clip of "Please enter username, return; 
password, return" and set this as the "System ready" sound (I spent some time 
setting it up as the "login" sound, only to find that this is played *after* 
the user logs in, not at the prompt telling them to log in...).

So, my friend now knows when to enter her username and password, and can log 

Orca starts up, with speech, and announces that it is running and the 
Preferences button is active.

Nothing appears on the Braille display (except "Screen not in text mode" from 
when X started while BRLTTY was already running).

I have to restart BRLTTY, and then also restart Orca, for the Braille display 
to become functional.

3. Third question - what have we misconfigured here, which stops Orca from 
showing Braille as soon as it starts up?  (We can hear the standard BRLTTY 
startup bleep, and we see "Screen not in text mode", so we know BRLTTY is 
running and driving the Braille display correctly).

Having restarted things for my friend, she can now start navigating the menus, 
and I've been helping her by reading the Orca / Gnome documentation at

This tells us we can use Alt-F1 to get to the Applications menu; this works.

It doesn't appear to tell us how to get to the "Status bar" menu which I can 
see in the top right corner of the screen - the one with icons for wireless 
networking, volume control, and particularly important, the shutdown / logout 
/ restart menu button (the one which to a sighted user looks like a power 
switch icon).

4. Fourth question - is this the correct documentation we should be using for 
the keyboard navigation keys, and how do we get to the logout / shutdown menu 
without the mouse working?

Oh, yes, while I'm thinking about the mouse, the computer we're using has a 
touchpad, which of course does all sorts of undesirable things when randomly 
touched by a blind person typing.  Since I'm a fairly advanced Linux user, I 
set up sudoers to allow my friend's user ID to run rmmod without a password, 
and then put "sudo rmmod psmouse" into the list of applications to run at 
login time for her username - however this seems rather advanced for an 
average blind user; is there some more standard way of saying "disable the 
touchpad when Iog in"?

Getting back to Orca, I've selected the laptop keyboard layout, therefore 
CapsLock is the Orca Modifier key.  CapsLock-S disables or enables speech, as 
expected.  It also leaves CapsLock turned on after pressing it (or off if it 
was on beforehand) - in other words, CapsLock is still acting as the standard 
toggle, it isn't being fully captured by Orca, even though on an older version 
of Orca (whatever came with Debian Lenny, I can't recall the version number) 
the CapsLock key worked correctly as an Orca Modifier, and did not leave 
CapsLock turned on after you had used some Orca function.

5. Fifth question - is this a known bug, or something we've misconfigured?  How 
can we get the CapsLock key to act as an Orca modifier without leaving capitals 
turned on afterwards?

I know there's more - my friend has been exploring the menus as much as she 
can given the documentation we've found so far, and she's commented that 
various things seem to be either very slow, or don't appear to respond 
properly, but I'd rather see if we can get some answers to these basics before 
going into detail about other things which might just be a consequence of a 
sub-optimal configuration.

Sorry about the length of this email, but I wanted to give as good a 
description as possible of what we're doing and what seems to be happening; I 
hope someone can help shed some light on how to get things working better.

By the way, if the answer is "reinstall Ubuntu following the instructions at 
http://XYZ" then that's no problem; we have nothing significant set up on the 
machine so far, and reinstalling to get things working as intended would be 

Thanks in advance,


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