Anaconda accessibility improvements

ALVA braille terminal
ALVA braille terminal, CC-BY-SA via Wikipedia.

Good news: We have started working on accessibility of Anaconda! For start, the braille terminals now somewhat work in text mode.

Current state

On the Workstation images, accessibility already was at the same level as a finished system would offer. Workstation media run a full Gnome session, with Orca available. The installer does not have to do anything. However, for the Server images the situation is different. The environment is heavily reduced: no sound, no Gnome, no Orca. That also means, no accessibility. Let’s change that!

The latest Fedora 35 beta nightly builds now have the brltty screen reader on Server images. Thus far, brltty is enabled only for the console, which requires Anaconda to be started in text mode. There is also no means to configure the brltty session, so autodetection must work for your braille terminal device.

Anaconda text mode, systemctl brltty status shows Active

If you have a braille terminal, you can already try this out!

  1. Grab an “Everything boot” or “Server boot” image from the Fedora nightly compose finder page.
  2. Prepare a flash drive or DVD to boot from. Start the computer with the flash drive inserted.
  3. In the machine’s settings, choose to boot this time from the flash drive.
  4. Press e to edit the boot options. Unfortunately the boot menu itself is not read by brltty, so you will have to guess the timing.
  5. Type space and then inst.text to start Anaconda in text mode
  6. Confirm with Enter or Ctrl+X (the former for BIOS, latter for UEFI) and wait for Anaconda to start.

Once Anaconda starts, you should be able to read the screen using your device… or not. Tell us!

Admittedly, entering the text mode is near impossible for a sighted person, but treat this as only the first step.

Future plans

In the future, hopefully the Xorg driver for brltty could be added, so that GUI becomes somewhat accessible this way, too. That is definitely the preferred option: The text mode is heavily simplified in some areas, and getting there through the “silent” boot menu is not easy.

It is not clear yet if there needs to be some way to configure brltty. The method of doing so would involve boot options: Either directly by adding a new option – perhaps inst.brltty – or indirectly by adding a kickstart command which would require using the inst.ks boot option. However, given the inaccessibility of the boot menu, it is doubtful if this would help anything. Statistics on how many daily used braille terminals need special brltty configuration would be useful.

In the long run, it would be probably best if sound and Orca could be present on the Server images, too. That comes with its own set of problems, though. Right now the combined size of all the missing parts is a very tough proposition. The server images have been traditionally small, lean and trimmed down to fit a CD. While that is no longer strictly true, keeping the images small is still a goal.

Ultimately, neither the Anaconda developers nor Fedora maintainers and relengs are the target audience for this. If you have a stake in this matter, we would love to hear from you! You can find the Anaconda mailing list at anaconda-devel-list@redhat.com. Or just comment on this blog post.

Last but not least, let’s not forget Jaroslav Škarvada and Vojtěch Polášek who helped with this effort. Thank you!

2 thoughts on “Anaconda accessibility improvements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s