GNU/Linux Live CDs for screenreader users

If you’re a real geek you’ve probably at least booted up Linux and played with Emacspeaks or Orca or Speakup. You’ve probably got at least one Live CD – that is, a CD you can boot that runs a working GNU/Linux operating system so you can fix your Windows installation – or you know, even try out Linux itself. Knoppix is probably the most famous.

Well, there are not one but two distros that let you boot, provide speech synthesis or even drive a Braille display, and use the machine straight away without installing any extra AT. Use the machine, install GNU/Linux, access the file system – all without a sighted friend coming in and pressing the buttons for you. Well, pretty much – see below.

Vinux is built by Tony Sales of the British Computer Association of the Blind. Based on Debian. Uses Orca for the screenreader, runs off CD or USB stick. Probably the one to try out first.
Also Debian-based, but uses the Speakup screenreader. You have to type something when it boots to start the screenreader, but it comes to me recommended by a blind screenreader user, so it gets a mention. Maybe for the more geeky types.

So next time you break your machine by “accidentally” deleting a driver file “to save space” and you haven’t got round to backing up your machine even though you really really meant to this time – you can boot a Live CD and rescue your files without a sighted accomplice. Good luck!