This article explains the Orca screen reader for graphical desktop environments such as GNOME, MATE and others. See also the official GNOME Orca documentation.
If you have enabled accessibility during the Debian installation and also installed a desktop system, accessibility is enabled by default and Orca was installed for you automatically. This only works for GNOME, Mate, Cinnamon and Unity at the moment, but can be activated manually. See the section on autostarting Orca.
Installation on an existing system
If you installed Debian without accessibility features, you should do the following steps:
In a terminal, type sudo apt install orca, to install orca.
- If you are using one of GNOME, Mate, Cinnamon or Unity, the next steps should not be required for you.
In a graphical session, open a terminal or press Alt+F2 and type orca -s to start the setup. If you are unable to do so, it is best to enable the autostart of Orca and run the setup with Orca support with the command orca -r -s.
- In the following dialogs, you can select the options you like, including Orca modifier, etc. After this procedure, Orca should start automatically.
Autostart of Orca
Orca can be configured to start automatically in the Gnome user session by hand by running these lines as a normal user:
eval $(dbus-launch); export DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS DBUS_SESSION_BUS_PID GSETTINGS_BACKEND=dconf gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true
Orca can be enabled to start automatically in the MATE user session by hand by running these lines as normal user:
eval $(dbus-launch); export DBUS_SESSION_BUS_ADDRESS DBUS_SESSION_BUS_PID GSETTINGS_BACKEND=dconf gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.a11y.applications screen-reader-enabled true GSETTINGS_BACKEND=dconf gsettings set org.mate.interface accessibility true GSETTINGS_BACKEND=dconf gsettings set org.mate.applications-at-visual startup true
The accessibility support for XFCE has to be enabled manually. This can be achieved either by clicking the "Enable assistive technologies" checkbox in the XFCE accessibility settings, or by running this command in an X session:
xfconf-query -c xfce4-session -n -t bool -p /general/StartAssistiveTechnologies -s true
Alternatively you can put the following into $HOME/.config/xfce4/xfconf/xfce-perchannel-xml/xfce4-session.xml:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <channel name="xfce4-session" version="1.0"> <property name="general" type="empty"> <property name="StartAssistiveTechnologies" type="bool" value="true"/> </property> </channel>
The file might already exist. If you haven't configured XFCE yet, you can replace the content of this file with the above excerpt. Please note that this will drop your XFCE session configuration. If you don't want to lose your existing XFCE session parameters, just add another "general" property, it will look like this:
<channel name="xfce4-session" version="1.0"> <property name="splash" type="empty"> ... </property> <property name="general" type="empty"> <property name="FailsafeSessionName" type="empty"/> <property name="StartAssistiveTechnologies" type="bool" value="true"/> </property> <property name="sessions" type="empty"> <property name="Failsafe" ... </property> </channel>
For now, orca will not autostart. The simple workaround is to just drop the "?OnlyShowIn" line in /etc/xdg/autostart/orca-autostart.desktop , or to add XFCE to it.
LXDE and LXQT
For now, orca does not start automatically. The simple workaround is to just drop the "?OnlyShowIn" line in /etc/xdg/autostart/orca-autostart.desktop. Alternatively, LXDE or LXQT can be added at the end of this line.
Orca does not offer magnification itself, however a variety of solutions exist, which are documented here.
Orca works on multiple browsers with a varying degree of support.
Gecko-based browsers: These include firefox-esr and have the best support and are hence recommended.
WebKit-based browsers: They work to a certain degree, but cannot be considered production-ready with Orca yet. You need to press F7 in those browsers to activate caret browsing.
Orca does not interact with them nicely, it is better to run BRLTTY for screen reading. For this a new instance is started as a normal user process which does the screen reading and connects to an already existing BRLTTY instance: "brltty -b ba -x a2 -X type=terminal -s no -N -r" .
It also makes sense to disable braille and optionally speech in Orca for the current application. Press OrcaKey + control + space for the application-specific dialog.
You can configure BRLTTY to emit speech, see the documentation.
Other speech synthesizers
Orca does not itself interact with the speech synthesizer, but uses a backend service called speech-dispatcher to access various speech synthesizers. If you want to add or configure a synthesizer, please see the Speech-Dispatcher section of the general accessibility page.
The package orca-sops provides a plugin system together with a selection of default plugins. It also contains a guide to help getting started with plugin development.
Newer versions of Orca
It is possible on Debian stable to use a newer version of orca, either via Backports or via unstable.
Usually there are more recent versions of Orca backported for stable, but this is not always the case. The steps to install Orca from backports are the following:
1. Open /etc/apt/sources.list with administrator privileges and make sure that the following line is present (or add, if missing):
deb https://deb.debian.org/debian/ bullseye-backports main contrib non-free
This is for Debian 11 bullseye. Replace bullseye with the code name of the Debian version that you are using.
2. sudo apt update && sudo apt install orca/bullseye-backports
- Again, if you are not running Debian bullseye, change the code name in the command.
If you don't want to compile Orca from source but still try a newer version (at your own risk), you can try using the version from unstable (or if available, from experimental). For this, you have to configure apt-pinning. Add a Debian unstable / experimental-source of Debian, update your package lists and run
sudo aptitude -t unstable install orca
WARNING: unstable and experimental don't have their names without reason!