Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A short time spent on LibreOffice accessibility

LibreOffice and Orca

In the last months I have a short time period fixing accessibility issues mainly on Linux. LibreOffice has a bunch of this kind of issues (fdo#36549). This metabug is about those bugs which makes it difficult for Orca screen reader to make LO usable for visually impaired users. As I see Orca has a few workarounds in it's LO related code to handle these issues (e.g. ignoring false or duplicated events), but some times there is no such solution and we need to add improvements on LO side.

Small fixes

So I did some bug fixing on this area. Most of the bugs were about missing accessibility events, which are needed for Orca to handle events which are visible on the screen and so users should notice these changes. For example when the selection is changed on a Calc sheet (fdo#93825) or when the cursor moves inside a text portion (fdo#99687, fdo#71435). These issues can be frustrating for users who used to get feedback about the effect of their keyboard key pressing.

Fixing these issues needed small code changes, which shows LO accessibility code has a good structure in general, but as the code changes in time, some parts of this code just becomes broken, without maintanance.

Spellcheck dialog

A bit bigger change, I added, was related to the spellcheck dialog (fdo#93430). Spellcheck dialog shows the errors spellcheck algorithms find and shows some options to handle these errors (e.g. suggestions for correction). The problem with this dialog was with the text entry which shows the misspelled word. This text entry contains a small part of the text and highlights the misspelled word with red text color. Orca tried to get this small text part and find out which word is the erroneous one, but LO did not return the right text attributes and so Orca did not have the necessary information to handle this situation.

Now, after fixing this issue text color and also the boundaries of misspelled word are accessible for Orca. Great to see that Orca's developer, Joanmarie Diggs already adapted the code to handle these new information and so reading of this spellcheck dialog will be better in the next versions of the two softwares.


I added these accessibility improvements working for IT Foundation for the Visually Impaired. One project of the Foundation is an Ubuntu based operating system for visually impaired users called BeLin ("Beszélő Linux", which is "Speaking Linux" in English). Since it's an Ubuntu based distribution it has LibreOffice as default office suite and uses Orca as screen reader.

Hopefully these change will make more comfortable to use LibreOffice and Orca both on BeLin and on other Linux distributions.