GNOME 3.4: Finally Orca+GNOME3

GNOME 3.4 is here!

Well, this is not really something new, but GNOME 3.4 was released. And as the release notes explains and Mathias Clasen advanced on his blog, one of the things improved was the screen reader support. On some of my old posts, I already mentioned how some stuff were slowly being added (like here and here). Although that work was also required, was mostly low level ATK stuff, and not really impressive from the POV of the user. After that work the outcome was GNOME Shell exposing some info through the accessibility technologies and Orca knowing that GNOME Shell is there. But it was mostly babbling.

For GNOME 3.4 we finally made a whole review of the GNOME Shell UI. Now most of those UI elements expose the proper combination of name, role (if the element is a button or not) and state (if a toggle button is checked or not). Adding the improvement on the stability and performance of the accessibility technologies (both at-spi2 and Orca), we have now something that we can ask Orca users to test. You can take a look to the result on this video:

[Video in Vimeo] [Full quality video in Ogv]

And now?

This is the first release of GNOME 3.4 with a proper Orca support, so the first one that we can proudly show to our users, so for sure we will get some feedback and some additional stuff to improve. But after all, GNOME has a bugzilla for a reason. During this cycle some users reported some issues with gdm, so we would require to review that part. For sure GNOME 3.6 will have a better accessibility support.

In the same way, don’t forget that GNOME Shell has other accessibility related features. Since GNOME 3.2 has a built-in magnifier, and now, with GNOME 3.4 it is fully configurable on the Universal Access Settings dialog. And for 3.6 it will have brightness and contrast functionality (something that Joseph Scheuhammer finished just after the code freeze) and hopefully focus-tracking.

Acknowledges and conclusions

This release shows how having people with some time to work on the accessibility stack can make things improve. Gtk accessibility is in a better shape thanks to Benjamin Otte. at-spi2 thanks to Mike Gorse. GNOME Shell magnifier thanks to Joseph Scheuhammer. Orca thanks to Joanmarie. Although GNOME 3.2 was an step over GNOME 3.0, the fact is it is more noticeable on GNOME 3.4, and it is mostly due the fact that for GNOME 3.2 (and perhaps 3.0) people were more busy on other stuff. Lesson learned: we need to find a way to keep people working on accessibility and getting more people.

Finally, I would like to mention that this is the first GNOME release since Joanmarie Diggs joined Igalia. Having her on Igalia and getting a release with a noticeable improvement on the accessibility support for GNOME Shell, and the performance and stability of Orca, is not a mere coincidence. Her experience, energy and motivation was a push to the work that Igalia has being doing.

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