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TIL:
- my on screen keyboard doesn't appear on the lock screen
- there's apparently no screen reader installed by default on Debian 11
- searching for screen reader in Discover (the software store) comes up with a comic book reader and a PDF reader for dual screen presentations
- and yet, searching for orca comes up with the screen reader

Shout out to two of the people who encouraged me (a sighted person) to explore what accessibility is like.

devin.masto.host/@devinprater/

octodon.social/@derwinmcgeary/

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I strongly encourage my followers to try this out for yourself.

After installing orca, I pressed meta (windows button) typed "orca" and hit enter. It said "screenreader on". Then nothing. So I went to toot about it and part way into typing my sentence it started talking to me. When it stopped, I tried to continue typing. Pressing 'w' typed a 'w'. Pressing 'a' didn't type anything. Pressing 's' didn't type anything. These were apparently screen-reader buttons so I couldn't type those letters

Then I realized that I'm not going to be able to complete my toot because of this. Also, it was saying each character that I typed, which is mighty distracting.

It was only then that I realized that I don't know how to turn the screen reader off. There aren't any icons anywhere on the screen (system tray, open windows, etc.). I went for a terminal, hoping that I'd be able to type "ps" but knowing that 's' didn't work in my toot.

Fortunately, I could type in the command prompt. I later found out that it's apparently just something in Mastodon that was causing letters to get hijacked.

It was speaking some button presses (space, left shift) but not letters or numbers. It also didn't read the output of the ps command.

I once again used my eyes to get the process ID of the screen reader and killed it. It said "screenreader off" before terminating.

Wow. What an experience!

Now, to be fair, I didn't read the instructions or any documentation. I just launched orca and expected it to be usable.

Why didn't I read the entire manual before trying to use it? Because that's not what I expect to be necessary. I expect to be able to run software and figure it out as I go and I'll hit the docs when I want to look up a specific thing. Whether that reasonable or not, it's worked out pretty well.

Should I be expected to lower my expectations for accessibility software? No!

I checked the man page and found there was a --setup option. So I ran Orca with that. There was an option to not say what I was typing, and another to correct the pronunciation of Hax0rbana. I ended up having to kill the settings window because it locked up.

There is also a lag of about 14 seconds when I'm using the screen reader. It seems to very, but I can't figure out what it varies based on.

It did helpfully tell me when I misspelled something in my toot, and ctrl+shift+left read the word.

I've found that a good way to figure out what you typed is to select it all, and then unselect it. When it is unselected it will say "<all the text> unselected".

This toot was pretty difficult to understand. I hope there are add-on voices that I can use.

I haven't been able to figure out how to post a public toot without looking. I have to use the mouse to get the menu, but I can then use the keyboard and hear the options and press return to select one.

I think the main takeaway is that this is not at all easy, even when I'm cheating and using my vision

It is exceptionally difficult for me to learn how to use Orca because of the level of frustration I'm experiencing. I'm going to try to at least learn the basics so I can use it, but it's going to have to be in short sessions or I'm going to yeet this thing into the sea.

Oh, and I just figured out that I can use tab indexing to get to the post privacy setting. Public toot FTW.

@adam Thank you so much for trying this. About 60% of the people that took my pill that ended yesterday said that they didn't even try. If you hold down the Insert key (with NumLock off) and press H, it will give you the option of showing all of Orca's keyboard commands.

Some accessibility spoilers and tips, don't read if you plan to figure it out yourself 

@adam I've found that you will get the best experience using the Mate desktop. Anything else is very hit or miss. The second closest one is XFCE, or at least it was when I tried. Even then there were issues. It says it works best with Gnome 3, but that's just a lie. It really does not.
If you're using a Chromium browser, a year ago you still had to set some environment variables to get it to work reliably, and I believe you had to start the browser with --force-accessibility or something similar?
The screen reader's keys change drastically when you're in a web context than anywhere else. For example, h (should!) move you by heading, f by form field, etc. This is necessary since you usually can't navigate through text on a website, only the interactive controls.
ESpeak is the default speech synth on Linux because it's all GPL about itself, but it really doesn't sound great. It's small and performance, sure, but it's very harsh. Festival or RHVoice should sound a lot better, and they should work with speech dispatcher. I think.
I hope any of this helps at all. And I hope I didn't just provide gross misinformation.

@adam orca had a bunch of improvements lately too so it's probably not on Debian yet.
Otherwise I can sign under everything, while testing accessibility it was super hard to do anything.

@adam Cannot speak for Orca specifically as I never got that far, even as someone familiar with screen readers,: what you're encountering is probably some for of browse mode. It is a common thing on Windows, in JAWS, NVDA and even Narrator.
Basically, browse mode offers you the ability to quickly jump between various elements in a web page. H and shift+h for headings, b and shift+b for buttons, etc.
You should be able to press enter on the edit box you want to type in, which will enable focus/forms/WhateverOrcaCallsIt mode, allowing keys to be passed straight to the application. If it's anything like NVDA, insert+space should also work.
Contrary to what you might have believed, a screen reader is a very complex piece of software. It requires you to interact with the computer in a completely different way, and have a different spacial understanding of your software and yourself as nothing but the tiny cursor somewhere on the screen. Given the vast amount of keyboard shortcuts to learn, expecting to figure this out without a manual is unreasonable.
Try pressing insert+1. It should enable a testing mode which will allow you to test what various key combinations do. None of the keys should pass through, hopefully. So open your browser, press insert+1 and see what all these keys are for.

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