GNOME desktop navigation guide - Orca

Jack Wallen
May 24, 2010
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

For those who are less than fortunate and have severe vision problems, using a computer can be a task that is nearly impossible without either the help of others or some form of assisted technology. There aren't tons of options available, but at least the options that are there work well and allow those who have challenging vision issues to use their PCs. One of those technologies is Orca. Orcais a screen reader for the GNOME desktop. It's fairly easy to set up and works like a champ.

In this article I will show you how to setup and use the Orca screen reader for the GNOME desktop. After you have completed this tutorial, hopefully you will have a desktop that is usable for those with severe vision impairments.


You will be pleased to know, there is no installation necessary. Orca is installed in all GNOME desktops, so it is already there for you to use. What you do have to do is set Orca up. There are two ways to set Orca up - command line and GUI. I want to walk you through the command line setup, since the GUI set up is fairly typical of any GUI. Now when you start up Orca for the first time you have to walk through the setup steps. Let's do that now.


It might surprise you to find out that even the setup of Orca is assisted. In other words, as you walk through each step of the setup, Orca reads you what is on the screen (even the 56 different language options).

To begin the setup open up a terminal window and enter the command orca. This will begin the setup. Let's examine each step of the setup.

1. Speech server: You have three choices: Default Synthesizer, espeak, or dummy. Default synthesizer might be a bit of a challenge to get used to at first, but it is the one that is sure to work in most situations. It is also the easiest.

2. Desired voice: This is the language. You have 56 different choices, each is represented by a number. Enter the numeric value associated with your language.

3. Echo by word?: This options sets up Orca to echo each word you enter. This will aid the user to know the word entered is correct.

4. Echo by key?: This option sets up Orca to echo every key pressed. Select no (n) to disable this option. If you (or your user) are a fast typer, do not enable this option.

5. Enable alphanumeric and punctuation keys: This option turns on (or off) the echoing of alphanumeric keys in Orca.

6. Enable modifier keys: This option turns on (or off) all modifier keys like Alt, Ctrl, Shift, Tab, Esc, etc.

7. Enable locking keys: This option turns on (or off) all keys like Caps Lock and Num Lock.

8. Enable function keys: This option turns on (or off) all function keys.

9. Enable action keys: This option turns on (or off) all keys like arrow keys, page up/down, home/end keys.

10. Select desired keyboard layout: Here you can select either laptop or desktop keyboard.

11. Enable Braille: If you need Braille support, you would select y for yest.

12. Enable Braille Monitor: If your monitor has Braille support, you could enable it here.

13. Auto-start Orca when you log in: If you want Orca to start at login, select y (yes) here.

14. Do you want to log out now?: This means you have completed the setup and Orca wants to log you out so setup can complete. Before you select this, make sure you save all of your work and close all of your applications.

You are now ready to log out and log back in. Once you log back in, if you enable Orca to start upon login, Orca will begin speaking the actions that occur on screen. If you did not set up Orca to begin at login, you can start Orca by entering <Alt>F2 and then typing the command orca.

Final thoughts

Orca takes some getting used to. But once you have gotten used to it, it's an amazing piece of technology to have to enable those with impairments to use a PC.


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