KDE 3.4 offers improved accessibility

An improved colour scheme and a tool that reads out text should make KDE Linux desktop more usable for those whose vision is impaired

The latest version of Linux desktop environment KDE, which was released on Wednesday, includes a number of new accessibility features.

Matthias Dalheimer, a KDE developer, said a new text-to-speech technology and improved colour scheme in KDE 3.4 will help visually impaired people use the open source applications.

"It's a huge improvement in accessibility," said Dalheimer. "There is a new screen reading technology for visually impaired people and a much better colour scheme with icons that have a high contrast."

The text-to-speech technology allows those who want it — the visually impaired, for example — to have text, PDF and browser content read out and will also read out notifications from all KDE applications. Other accessibility applications in KDE have been improved for the 3.4 release, including KMagnifier, which magnifies sections of the screen — useful for the partially sighted — and KMouseTool, which is meant to assist people who find it difficult or painful to click the mouse by interpreting pauses in the mouse's motion as clicks.

Dalheimer said there has been "quite some" interest in the accessibility features in KDE. He believes that KDE is able to meet the needs of the disabled community better than commercial companies as they are not driven by revenues, which allows them to develop tools for a small market.

"Open source developers tend to be more responsive about the needs of people with disabilities, while commercial companies think about the bottom line," said Dalheimer.

KDE 3.4 also includes improved groupware support. It is the first release to support version 2 of the open source groupware server Kolab, which works with both Microsoft Outlook and KDE's groupware client Kontact. This is important as it would allow businesses to run a groupware server with both Linux and Windows clients.

The next major release of KDE, version 4.0, is expected later this year. KDE 4 may run up to 30 percent faster due to improvements in Qt, the graphical framework that KDE is built on.