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Accessibility update – Kickoff, Kicker and KWin improvements

Chrys took up the role of coordinator, fixer and new master of KDE accessibility, which I think is just fantastic. We have been working on what he decided to be most important, mostly chrys fixing issues to make things work with Plasma and screen readers. After getting Orca to read desktop icons he spent quite some time to improve the various start menus.

With so much fresh energy around I started poking at KWin, which was a bit scary, to be honest. It was fun to read code I hadn’t looked at before. In the end, after I spent a while working on a huge work-around, it turned out that we could enable the task switcher to work with relatively little code added. The main issue was that KWin does really not want to give focus to the task switcher. My first attempt was to write sub-classes of QAccessibleInterface for everything in KWin. That started to work, but during some debugging I realized that KWin was actually creating the regular representations for its UI, it was just not properly announcing them to Orca. Thus I threw away my almost complete prototype. At least I verified that it’s possible to create an entire Qt UI for screen readers only, disconnected from the actual UI. Thanks to QAccessible::installFactory it is nowadays pretty easy to instantiate custom representations (subclasses of QAccessibleInterface). Once that was done, I started over and made the task switcher think it’s an active window without letting X11 or Wayland know. That way we get the right dbus messages sent to Orca, when alt-tabbing through the windows. Thanks David, Martin, Roman and Vlad for your input 🙂

More work is needed on Plasma when it comes to keyboard usability – getting the focus onto the panel and the various notification areas. I’m sure some great ideas are already being worked on, but I can see this easily as a blocker going forward. Configuring the network, checking the battery status and other tasks are really important after all.

I wrote the basics for Kate to work with screen readers in 2014 and it seems like there are some improvements needed when working with Orca, luckily we got some help from Joanie (who maintains Orca) to figure out what goes wrong when navigating by lines. Now it’s just to verify the findings and get the issues sorted out.

If you have a bit of time and want to help, we need someone with good English skills to help clean up the wiki. Good written instructions are really helpful when getting blind users to try Plasma for the first time. We’d also be happy if more people joined in testing and improving things. Join the KDE Accessibility mailing list to join the fun.