Testing Plasma Next with Orca (Screen Reader)

The accessibility BoF at Akademy this year consisted mainly of Alex Merry and me looking at what needs to be done to get Orca working with Plasma Next. While things are far from perfect and sighted assistance is probably still required, there is slow but steady improvement.

Assuming you have a recent release of Plasma Next (5.3 and up), testing is quite easy.  It boils down to installing Orca (in some distributions gnome-orca) and clicking a checkbox in System Settings:

  • make sure Orca is installed and sound from speech dispatcher works
  • when installing Orca, speech-dispatcher should come along. Test it with “spd-say hello” in a terminal. Make sure to have some text to speech synthesizer installed (Arch for example doesn’t seem to give you one by default…), get espeak since it’s easy and fast.
  • enter System Settings, find “Desktop Behavior” -> “Accessibility” and the last tab will be “Screen Reader”. Currently it only contains a check box to activate the screen reader. It seems like things are not working out of the box as much as I’d like them to (help investigating why not much appreciated), so logging out of the session will be required.
  • restart your desktop session.

System settings Desktop Behavior entrySystem settings with the screen reader check box

You will be greated by Orca speaking Gnome and Qt 5 based applications (including Plasma). For Qt 4 based applications, get qt-at-spi and have QT_ACCESSIBILITY=1 in your environment (or even better,  port them to Qt 5).

For Plasma itself, make sure to use the traditional menu, and check that the menu has a keyboard shortcut associated (alt-f1).
When pressing that shortcut, the menu should open and be read when navigating the menu with the arrow keys. The lock-screen mostly works, but many other things need a bit of polish when it comes to being able to control them with the keyboard only and have them read properly.

I hope this is enough to get someone started to poke at things. Especially for Qt Quick based applications, it’s often very easy to fix accessibility bugs, by adding the Accessible attached property to give some context.
Consider helping triaging, organizing testing and fixing pressing issues when it comes to accessibility. I think KDE can become usable for a new audience in one or two releases. I would love to see this happen and I’m quite exited about it, but I know I won’t find the time to get it done by myself.

Open Source Conference in Oslo – May 8 – 10

In just a few days we’ll have an open source conference in Oslo. I’m happy that we’ll have a Qt and KDE track, so I’d like to invite everyone to join for the weekend May 8-10 at the University of Oslo.

If you’re involved with KDE or Qt and would like a promo code, just send me a message.

Just head over to osdc.no and join! There will be a panel discussion on Friday.

The program for the weekend can be found here: Saturday and Sunday

Open Source Developers’ Conference Nordic

I got involved in organizing a local conference in Oslo: Open Source Developers’ Conference Nordic. I’m very much looking forward to an open source event here!

And it looks like we will have a Qt track! I’d be happy to add more Qt and KDE talks, so sign up. Of course everyone involved in free and open software is invited to join. And a big thanks goes to the local Perl Mongers to get the whole show started.

Here is the invitation to join the event:

OSDC Nordic is an upcoming open-source friendly community-oriented
event, held May 8th - 10th in Oslo.

Open Source Developers' Conference exists to enable the many Nordic
open source communities to come together and share their enthusiasm.

Read more about the event on

We want you and your friends to come together to learn, hack and share
their enthusiasm!

Participate by presenting a talk, hosting a workshop, involving your
community, by volunteering, or simply by participating in this awesome
and unique event. Register on http://goo.gl/forms/fgUhby8aU9

Feel free to contact us with any questions on organizers@osdc.no

And finally. To build a great community event we need everybody care by sharing.

Help us spread the word!

Akademy 2014

KDE’s yearly conference Akademy is currently on. It’s great to see so many familiar and new faces.

Anyone interested in the Qt Project, KDE Accessibility and other fun topics find me and talk to me.

I will give two talks:

  • Qt Quick and input: is about how to handle mouse and keyboard in Qt Quick applications. It’s actually a talk that I gave in similar form at Qt Dev days and I recommend everyone who writes applications with QML to join and learn some of the more tricky aspects of Qt Quick.
  • The second talk will be about KDE Accessibility. I’m excited to talk about how we can make KDE a great choice for many more users. I will explain how blind users “see” the desktop and what’s missing. If just a few people show interest, we can include and welcome a new group of curious users.

Plasma Next Accessibility


it’s been a looong time since I wrote in this blog, lately things usually end up in the Qt blog. I hope everyone is reading up on accessibility and other fun things Qt there ;) My contributions to KDE were code-wise mostly small things (such as helping a little with porting Kate’s accessibility implementation to Qt 5) and I’m happy that Parley found new maintainers (thanks Amarvir and Inge!).

I’ve been wondering for quite some time though how the state of Plasma Next is when it comes to accessibility. In this case accessibility is mostly how the applications and desktop shell expose semantics to the accessibility framework via an API (on Linux the beast is called AT-SPI, a DBus API). The goal is that assistive technology such as a screen readers (Orca), the screen magnifier, or Simon can pick up what’s going on and assist the user. This allows for example blind people to use the software. The big thing here is that while Qt never had good support for QGraphicsView accessibility, we plowed away at making things work well with Qt Quick. This afternoon I finally got around to looking at the next iteration of the KDE desktop for real. In fact I’m writing this in a running Plasma Next session on top of the frameworks 5 libraries. It feels a bit like the porting from KDE 3 to 4, except that most things seem to just work so far.

I ended up running the neon5 packages on top of Kubuntu. I don’t manage to keep up with the speed of KF5 development and whenever I want to run anything I’d be building and the day is usually over when I figured out the dependencies and such. Instead I now ignored all warnings (big red signs saying: “don’t do this at home kids”) and installed the daily build packages (for some reason the weekly one didn’t work at all on my laptop). After that I built and installed the things I was interested in over the system packages to be able to debug them. This is a horrible way of messing up one’s installation, but since the neon packages install nicely into /opt, I decided to go for it. I ended up wanting to debug a few things, so now I have my own build of qtbase+declarative+plasma-frameworks+plasma-workspace+plasma-desktop.

The first issue I ran into is that Gnome changed their interpretation of a settings value which is reflected on DBus in the a11y service… the property IsScreenReaderEnabled will now return false, even when a screen reader is running. I’ll have to find a better way of starting Qt’s accessibility on Linux, hopefully for Qt 5.4. There is no real standard to these things since so far it was a Gnome-only thing.

For now the work-around is to simply run this one-liner before trying anything else:
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true

With that in place I could restart plasmashell and see that … there was not much to see.
Before running a screen reader, it makes sense in this case to use one of the explore and debugging tools first to see what is exposed about the desktop.
I ran “Randamizer” which is an example that comes with libkdeaccessibilityclient, the alternative is “Accerciser”. Both tools now showed me plasmashell (yay!) and I could navigate to see the hierarchy of accessible elements. Which turns out to be completely empty (meh). I was not quite sure if this was due to bugs or simply really no information was provided, luckily (that’s easier to fix) it turned out to be the second one.

Screenshot of Randamizer
I started writing a few patches for the above mentioned plasma repositories and now I have at least a few things showing up, I can see the clock is there and even see the time displayed. I can also see the desktop element as such and some panels. The patches need cleaning up, but I’m happy that getting the basics to work will be relatively easy.
Now I don’t think I’ll manage to go though all of KDE and Plasma to fix simple issues, even though I’ll try to get the basics covered in the next few days. Consider this is a call for help, please join KDE’s accessibility mailing list (IRC is also good) and help out.
The most basic work is to look at the Qt Quick items used in Plasma and add some simple information to them. For example for the Button.qml in plasma-frameworks the patch will add these lines:

Accessible.role: Accessible.Button
Accessible.name: text
Accessible.description: tooltip
Accessible.checkable: checkable
Accessible.checked: checked

They are just a few bindings, but with QML it is impossible to automatically detect the meaning of a an item – is it just decorative or part of a control? Where is the actual control? Which Rectangle has which significance?
This is why it’s important for authors of Qt Quick UIs to use standard controls where possible. Qt Quick Controls shipped with Qt are accessible, the Plasma ones will soon be, I hope :) When writing custom controls, the properties as shown above need to be added.
For more information on what properties are available and should be set, check the documentation for the Accessible attached property.

Akademy 2012

Akademy 2012 banner

I’ll be talking about accessibility for KDE on Sunday afternoon, please join me and help getting your application into the hands of ever more users.

At the same time I’ll be happy to talk about the Qt Project. And I’m looking forward to meeting so many old and new friends.

Building KDE applications

Quite often the question comes up how to build a KDE application.

Now we have great tools such as kdesrc-build and buildtool and long wiki pages on techbase

But many of these aim at building not just one application but the world. Or at least kdelibs and everything on top of it. To start development, it’s often easier to build just the application you care about. Lately for a quick patch, that’s what I’ve been using. So if you’re not yet hacking on the internals but just want to build let’s say Parley, here you go:


I bet there is much to add and improve, so please help make techbase nicer for new contributors, we all started at some point, right ;) I wonder if this approach should be more  mentioned as the default way of building an application – it just takes a couple of minutes and you’re good to start hacking.

This post was triggered by some great Parley patches I received from Christian Muschick, who also happened to ask how to best build the application without messing up his system.

qt-at-spi 0.3 released

Hello planets, long time no see…

I don’t blog unless there’s something interesting to say, so here it comes: after less than a month I’m happy to release qt-at-spi 0.3 succeeding version 0.2.

What is that thing? A bridge that lets Qt applications interface with the AT-SPI accessibility framework that GNOME provides. For users that mostly means that the Orca screenreader should work nicely with Qt applications.

This project keeps evolving and as you’d expect in an accessibility plugin that is completely hidden from the user, development is just about bugfixing and getting it in shape to play nice with other existing infrastructure.

What made me happy this time around, and what triggered the short cycle since the last release is that I started getting more and more feedback from Orca users.

Thanks to Joanie and Mike and others I could finally nail down some old issues in the tree view handling.

As always this goes together with some fixes in Qt itself, so you might want to grab the 4.8 branch of Qt that will soon be 4.8.2 if you want to try the latest and greatest.

Changes since 0.2:

  • Send keyboard events only when someone is listening
  • Fix caching of tree and table items (Orca will no longer read outdated data)
  • Fix at least one crash and one off-by-one error when reading tree items
  • The usual internal cleanup and improvments that won’t be noticable

Dependencies: Qt 4.8.0 and newer.

You need a distribution that uses AT-SPI 2 (check your packages, any recent distro should do, this is part of standard GNOME).

The source can be found here: https://gitorious.org/qt-at-spi

It doesn’t give a file with file name extension, but extracting it should work fine.

For help setting things up, please refer to: http://userbase.kde.org/Accessibility

And for a bit more information for developers: http://techbase.kde.org/Development/Tutorials/Accessibility



Of course you find another crasher the day after the release, so grab v0.3.1 instead which fixes accessing some invalid objects and some more issues in for example KMail.

Download the tar.gz from gitorious: http://gitorious.org/qt-at-spi/qt-at-spi/archive-tarball/v0.3.1

sha256sum d7ee0a628771e6d2659dff1850d8c436fcf001b2f98f47954cd6a8c4eff4ea1a

md5sum cc749ef766f8a199b603a7d5fb723006


Attica goes Bretzn

Lately libattica had some new contributions. Project Bretzn kicked off and with that additional functioinallity was needed. I’m happy to release a beta version that will turn into 0.3.0 when everyone has had a chance to play with it for a week.

So please test if it pleases you ;-) Especially packagers are encouraged to give feedback, as always.

Grab it while it’s still fresh (from ftp)!

The sha265 is: 7b85a38ddd2891802d767b9ae697dfd7c39b13749061809dd0b0fb3ef144125d

Surprise Present

We all know that KDE is a group of awesome people and friends. Now I had the special luck to have a friend who has friends that got him to smuggle a small present from the KDE e.V. to me (thanks Olivier). Yeah, just like that, because I happen to be a member of the KDE e.V.

The KDE e.V. is an organization that tries to help the KDE project in many ways. Non-technical ways that is. The e.V. (which means “eingetragener Verein”, German for “registered association”) helps in organizational matters. It enables the KDE community to meet by helping with travel costs for example. Or organizing Akademy, our yearly meeting. And it supports the numerous sprints where we meet simply to get stuff done.

You can support KDE in many ways. If you’ve been involved in any of our activities, well, don’t worry. You do enough probably – spending your spare time to improve KDE is the most valuable for all of us. Be it artwork, usability, helping others (in forums, on mailing list), improving documentation (for example userbase.kde.org) or maybe even writing code.

If you enjoy using KDE and want to give back without sacrificing as much time and energy, we offer you a new and convenient way: Join the Game – you can easily donate some money. And you even get a nice present as thank you. Yes, now you can become a supporting member of the organization that helps keeping the KDE community going!

In other good news: Qt 4.7.0 is released! Now you can start playing with Qt Quick (qml/declarative). I’m curious how you like it. I tried it and I like many things about Qt Quick, but sometimes it is noticeable that it’s fresh new code that needs some more poking at :) When will we have the first KDE application that uses Qt Quick? (OK, after Plasma, which already has some integration…)