2. The Linux Operating System

The Linux operating system has many software applications and utilities that run in the non-graphical environment. The graphical user interface (GUI), which is often referred to as X Windows, is clearly separate from the underlying non-graphical, text-only environment. One major reason that a visually impaired individual can use Linux is that network connectivity is built in to the operating system and provides full access to the Internet from the non-graphical interface. All visible text on the screen can be translated using a screen reader and speech synthesizer.

Over the past few years many improvements have been made to the GUI, and many of the desktops now provide features and enhancements designed for accessibility. In the following sections you will find information on the tools, utilities, and applications that are available to assist users in configuring their desktop environment.

2.1. Assistive Technologies Available for Linux

Assistive technologies are computer hardware devices and software applications that provide individuals with impairments access to the information and applications on a computer. Although there are not many commercial applications available specifically for Linux accessibility, there are free software applications that can make the computer more accessible. Detailed information on assistive technologies that are available has been listed in this document based on the type of disability.

2.2. Usability

Linux has the advantage over Windows that a large majority of Linux software has been developed for the console. Although many programs are now being developed for the GUI, programs continue to be written for the non-graphical, text-based environment. Linux originated as a programmer's operating system and, for the physically disabled, this means that it is easy to build and customize programs to suit an individual's needs.

The windowing system used by Linux (X11) includes many programming tools that enable further modification and customization of the GUI. KDE and GNOME have included many accessibility and usability features in their latest releases and are continuing to test, upgrade, and enhance the graphical environment. The following are links to KDE and GNOME's accessibility and usability projects:

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