The hackers / developers behind getting the Emacs/Emacspeak working on the Pi – Michael Ray, Jason Miller and Mobeen Iqbal, are totally blind and the entire development is really fascinating to the point that they were able to get something developed by and for sighted users to be adapted for the blind users such that they wouldn’t require any sighted assistance at all. The biggest hurdle in developing Emacs/Emacspeak for the Pi was that there is no Linux distribution available for the Pi that supports screen-reader or Braille display out-of-the-box.

To work around this hurdle, Michael used a Windows box as a client with Open Source screen-reader called NVDA to connect to the Raspberry Pi using SSH. Jason used Ubuntu derivative called Vinux to connect through to the Raspberry Pi using SSH. Once past this hurdle they started to build an image by “building, tinkering, and scrapping” for hours together. Despite this they didn’t have a stable image which was buggy.

Having tried everything Michael went through “every package installed for Emacspeak to work.” He went through each and every folder; every program that was linked to the server; went about cleaning files; tweaking build scripts and either removed or reinstalled everything.

Michael notes, “Finally one evening after who knows how many hours of tweaking, and working, I gave it one last shot. Started the Pi, and connected through an SSH session, started Emacspeak, and it worked, received the loading messages, and finally the final functioning message. We have stability.”

This was through the SSH login and that too an assisted one. Considering that many VI users wouldn’t have even the knowhow to activate the SSH and setting up a client SSH box with voice assistance, Michael tried one last thing – logging on the Raspberry Pi blindly.

“I gave it one last test for stability by blindly logging into the Pi without SSH, directly into it. Started Emacspeak, and same, working and stable.”

This is definitely a great development for the VI community and the Raspberry Pi community as a whole. The Emacs/Emacspeak Arch image can be downloaded from here.