Update on Newton, the Wayland-native accessibility project

There’s incredibly good news for people who use accessibility tools on Linux, but who were facing serious, gamebreaking problems when trying to use Wayland. Matt Campbell, of the GNOME accessibility team, has been hard at work on an entirely new accessibility architecture for modern free desktops, and he’s got some impressive results to show for it already.

I’ve now implemented enough of the new architecture that Orca is basically usable on Wayland with some real GTK 4 apps, including Nautilus, Text Editor, Podcasts, and the Fractal client for Matrix. Orca keyboard commands and keyboard learn mode work, with either Caps Lock or Insert as the Orca modifier. Mouse review also works more or less. Flat review is also working. The Orca command to left-click the current flat review item works for standard GTK 4 widgets.

↫ Matt Campbell

One of the major goals of the project was to enable such accessibility support for Flatpak applications without having to pass an exception for the AT-SPI bus. what this means is that the new accessibility architecture can run as part of a Flatpak application without having to break out of their sandbox, which is obviously a hugely important feature to implement.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, though. Something like the GNOME shell doesn’t yet support Newton, of course, so that’s still using the older, much slower AT-SPI bus. Wayland also doesn’t support mouse synthesizing yet, things like font, size, style, and colour aren’t exposed yet, and there’s a many more limitations due to this being such a new project. The project also isn’t trying to be GNOME-specific; Campbell wants to work with the other desktops to eventually end up with an accessibility architecture that is truly cross-desktop.

The blog post further goes into great detail about implementation details, current and possible future shortcomings, and a lot more.

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