Emacspeak provides a complete audio desktop by speech-enabling all of Emacs.
In the past, screen reading programs have allowed visually
impaired users to get feedback using synthesized speech. Such
programs have been commercially available for a long time. Most
of them originally ran on PC’s under DOS, and have moved over to
the Windows environment. However, screen-readers for the UNIX
environment have been conspicuous in their absence. Note that
this is now changing with the availability of console-level Linux
screenreaders such as
speakup. Such Linux
screenreaders provide the same level of UNIX accessibility
provided in the late 80’s by PC terminal emulators running a DOS
screenreader. This means that most visually impaired computer
users face the additional handicap of being DOS-impaired — a far
more serious problem:-)
Emacspeak is an emacs subsystem that provides complete speech access. It is not a screen-reader — rather, it is a complete user environment with built-in speech feedback. Emacspeak has a significant advantage; since it runs inside Emacs, a structure-sensitive, fully customizable environment, Emacspeak has more context-specific information about what it is speaking than its screenreader counterparts. This is why Emacspeak is not a “screenreader”, it is a system that produces speech output.
A Traditional screen-reader speaks the content of the screen, leaving it to the user to interpret the visual layout. Emacspeak, on the other hand, treats speech as a first-class output modality; it speaks the information in a manner that is easy to comprehend when listening.
The basic concepts used by Emacspeak are simple; all interactive Emacs commands have been adapted to provide speech feedback. Hence, you use Emacs as normal; Emacspeak works behind the scene to give audio feedback in addition to updating the screen.
Emacspeak consists of a core speech system that provides speech and audio services to the rest of the Emacspeak desktop; application-specific extensions provide context-specific spoken feedback using these services. Emacspeak currently comes with speech extensions for several popular Emacs subsystems and editing modes. I would like to thank their respective authors for their wonderful work which makes Emacs more than a text editor1.
I have now been using Emacspeak under Linux as the only source of speech feedback since 1994.