Survey of Screen-Readers inLinux Operating Systems


Presented at 9:15am in Colorado I-J on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.



  • Zach Lattin, Campus IT accessibility coordinator and assistive technology specialist, Clark College

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Intermediate
  • Type of session: General Conference


Screen-readers like Jaws, Voiceover, or Talkback only read the screen in their respective operating systems. What should a screen-reader user or other accessibility professional who wishes to run Linux, (either in a virtual machine or on hardware like a Raspberry Pi) do? Come learn about the screen-reader opportunities available for Linux users.

I will demo the following screen-readers on the following platforms: Fenrir and Emacspeak on Raspberry Pi 400, and Orca on a laptop running Ubuntu


Many screen-reader users and accessibility professionals are familiar with popular screen-readers like Jaws and NVDA for Windows, and Voiceover for IOS. Anyone who wishes to run a screen-reader in one of the many freely available and widely used Linux distributions such as Raspian for Raspberry Pie, Ubuntu, Debian, Arch, Redhat, Mint, etc., needs to learn and use a screen-reader compiled and designed for the Linux environment, and these screen-readers are often overlooked in accessibility discussions. I will explain the basic use and advantages and disadvantages of the following screen-readers: Fenrir, Emacspeak and Orca.

When using Linux through a command line interface as often happens when using a Raspberry Pi, a screen-reader user has three options which give a user robust and customizable output: Emacspeak, Fenrir, and Yasr. These screen-readers were designed specifically for use with the command line.

Fenrir ( is the newest of the bunch. It offers intuitive screen review commands, audio feedback (like beeps when a user misspells a word,) and custom scripting to extend its functionality via Python. It uses very little ram and SD card space so it is ideal for use with a Raspberry Pi.

Emacspeak ( is built upon the Emacs text editor. It is very easy to install and is very powerful once a user masters its command structure. We’ll explore how to get up and running with Emacspeak and some basics of its operation.

Orca is the most intuitive of the screen-readers I will be demoing. It is designed to be used with the Gnome graphical user interface. Its command structure is similar to Jaws or NVDA, and it is compatible with many Linux applications such as Libre Office, Firefox, Nautilus File Explorer, Gedit, Gnome-Terminal, and more. Orca is ideal for users who wish to use Linux with a graphical desktop.

Let’s talk about accessing Linux at Accessing Higher Ground.


  1. Fenrir and Emacspeak are ideal for Linux command line environments, while Orca works in graphical environments
  2. Keyboard shortcuts for basic screen-reading tasks are intuitive for experienced screen-reader users.
  3. Documentation on these screen-readers is easy to find and access.

Disability Areas


Topic Areas

Assistive Technology, Research, Uncategorized, Universal Design for Learning, Web/Media/App Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Zach Lattin

Zach Lattin is a congenitally blind screen-reader user who prefers to use free and open source technology. Most recently he was the keynote speaker at the Athen STEM conference presenting on best practices for how to create accessible STEM content. He has also presented at CSUN on accessible STEM tech, Accessing Higher Ground (on Blackboard Ally tool for alt format), and various accessible technology topics at many state level conferences.


Overview of Screen-readers in Linux Handout