Accessibility means helping people with disabilities to participate in substantial life activities. That includes work, and the use of services, products, and information. GNOME includes libraries and a support framework that allow people with disabilities to utilize all of the functionality of the GNOME user environment.

In conjunction with assistive technologies if necessary - voice interfaces, screen readers, alternate input devices, and so on - people with permanent or temporary disabilities can therefore use the GNOME desktop and applications. Assistive technologies are also useful for people using computers outside their home or office. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, you might use voice input and output to check your email.

Assistive technologies receive information from applications via the AT-SPI D-Bus protocol, which you can find in the at-spi2-core repository. GTK implements the AT-SPI protocol for its own widgets, and exposes the GtkAccessible API to application developers. Because support for the accessibility API is built into the GTK toolkit, your GNOME program should function reasonably well with assistive technologies with no extra work on your part. For example, assistive technologies can automatically read the widget labels that you would normally set in your program anyway (e.g. with GTK function calls such as gtk_label_set_text() or gtk_button_new_with_label()). They can also find out if there is any tooltip text associated with a widget, and use that to describe the widget to the user.

With a little extra effort, however, you can make your program function even more smoothly with assistive technologies. Besides helping individual users, this will also make your product more attractive to government and education markets, many of which now require their applications to be accessible by law.

Types of disabilities

Disabilities fall into one of these categories:

visual impairments

these can range from low-vision (including dim or hazy vision, extreme far- or near-sightedness, color-blindness, and tunnel vision, amongst others) to complete blindness. Poor choice of text size and color, and tasks that involve good hand-eye coordination (such as moving the mouse) can cause problems for these users.

movement impairments

users with poor muscle control or weaknesses can find it hard to use a standard keyboard or mouse. For example, they may be unable to hold down two keys simultaneously, or they may be more likely to strike keys accidentally.

hearing impairments

these can range from being able to hear some sounds but not distinguish spoken words, to profound deafness. Applications that convey important information by sound alone will cause problems for these users.

cognitive and language impairments

these can range from dyslexia to difficulties remembering things, solving problems or comprehending and using spoken or written language. Complex or inconsistent displays, or poor choice of words can make using computers difficult for these users.

seizure disorders

certain light or sound patterns can cause epileptic seizures in some susceptible users.

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