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Blind Hackers

Resources for the Blind Hackers talk by Patrick Smyth at a11y Accessibility Camp, NYC.

Video of the talk
patrick smyth 01 @ g

Jargon file definition

Haccessibility Projects

Raspberry VI

A mailing list and set of bootable images for the $35 Raspberry Pi minicomputer

Blind Arduino blog

Arduino is a microcontroller that allows for the creation of DIY hardware projects. Blind arduino is a blog that discusses Arduino use for blind makers. The blog also collects accessible tutorials for Arduino. Check out this overview post.


A version of the Arch distribution for Linux that boots up with text to speech enabled.


A mature screen reader project for the Emacs text editor. Emacs has been compared to an operating system because you can do almost any task in it, including browsing the web, so it makes sense to have a screen reader designed for this program in particular.


A lightweight screen reader for Emacs that can be turned on or off and targeted more at low vision users. Available in the MELPA package manager. May be more easy to get installed than Emacspeak.


A sensory substitution project for the blind. Takes images and attempts to render them using sound. An example of augmented reality. Mixed success, at least currently, but an interesting idea.

Pokemon Crystal Access

A hack of the Game Boy Advance game Pokemon Crystal that allows a blind player to interact with menus and move around on the map. Takes advantage of the NVDA screen reader on Windows and emulation technology that allows Game Boy Advance games to be run on computers.


A series of plugins for the Calibre ebook management tool that allows circumvention of Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions that make it difficult or impossible for the blind to read ebooks.

What is a hacker?

First used by the community that developed around the MIT AI research lab, this word has a long history and now means different things to different people. In its original use, the word had a number of meanings, including someone who has an iterative or exploratory approach to programming, is an expert in a particular technical domain, or who uses systems or components of systems in ways not intended by their creators. Over time, but especially in the 90s, the last aspect of the term was picked up by mass media, and now most people think of hackers exclusively as individuals who specialize in gaining illegal access to computers. In programming communities, however, the term is still used in its original sense.

In this talk, I'll be discussing not only hackers who happen to be blind, but also people who hack blindness—that is, who have become experts in circumventing disability and making the inaccessible accessible. Mostly, I'll be using the word hacker in the original sense, but there's an element of the colloquial use of "hacker" here as well, especially when it comes to removing DRM from digital books to enable eyes-free reading.


Notes and resources from my talk, Blind Hackers



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