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What we're up to:

Vinux Computer Operating System.

Our big project at the moment is ambitious. We are actively seeking used working computers. We are installing a relatively new build of the Linux Operating System onto the hard drives. This new build of Linux is called Vinux, Linux for the Visually Impaired. A group of volunteer programmers and scripting gurus brought together by a lecturer of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in England has been rebuilding the Ubuntu build of Linux to fully enable it's accessible features. Linux, Ubuntu and of course Vinux are free. The accessible software packages are also free. Linux has counterpart software to rival other Operating System packages and nearly all of it is free. Our plans and hopes are to begin a pilot project which any chapter of the ACB could pick up and run with which will get accessible computers into the hands of as many vision impaired users as possible! These guys are also working on adapting other builds of Linux into more accessible Operating Systems through trial and error and a lot of feedback from users. You could be one of them, helping to build a better computer Operating System. You don't have to be a programmer, just be adventurous and keep details of what you have tried and what problem you have encountered and present it as a question or observation to the developers.

There are many free software packages that are included with the Vinux installation package, plus there are many more that can be installed. Linux has become user-friendly. No more is it the Operating System just for nerds and geeks. Much documentation has been prepared and tutorials are on the way. If you would like to check out the Linux equivalents to Microsoft programs study this page; linuxquestions.org/Linux software equivalent to Windows software.

The purpose of Vinux is to provide inexpensive accessible computers to as many people as possible all over the world. There are user groups being formed in India, Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere. For a fantastic and very interesting set of biographies on Vinux and it's producers and developers, go to this page vinux/people and enjoy some great reading! Here is another page that will help to better explain Vinux, vinux/faq.

Linux is not as resource-hungry as Windows, so it will run quite well on many older computers that can no longer handle the load of running newer versions of Windows, all the required background software and any needed accessible software. This can provide users with inexpensive or possibly free computers. When you find anyone getting rid of a computer because it no longer meets their needs, bargain for it and install Vinux. Linux is extremely stable. A rough rule of thumb for upgrading Windows; If your computer came with a version of Windows earlier than XP it won't handle Vista or later versions unless you also upgrade your hardware. If your computer is running XP, you may or may not have enough horse power to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7, but it's worth a try. If you have Vista and it's running well, you shouldn't have any trouble upgrading to Windows 7. For a listing of all Windows versions go to wikipedia/List of Microsoft Windows versions. For those who can't upgrade their Windows versions, you can either stay with what you have, or switch to Vinux.

There are also many discussion forums available for asking questions and getting help with any subject you need. Oh, and again, even these are free! Linux is a cooperative effort. Many Linux developers are volunteers. Most of the technical help forums are operated by volunteers. This is what makes and helps keep Linux free. As you grow in using Linux, pass on the help and knowledge you have received to others. This is what helps to keep Linux free, as well as those individuals and organizations that use Linux's paid professional versions and those who join the Linux Foundation. If you are interested and able to join in supporting the Linux Foundation, please check out linux/join. This effort helps to support the further development of Linux.

Are you interested in Vinux but cautious? Do you want to try it without installing? No problem. There is a Live CD feature that allows you to run Vinux from a CD without installing it. Because a live install runs in your computer's memory without affecting your hard-drive, it runs a bit slower than a physical installation, but you can try it for as long as you like. Like what you see but still have one or more favorite Windows programs that you just have to keep? Again, no problem. Linux can be installed alongside Windows on the same hard drive using a dual-boot feature. When you start your computer you will be given an option of which Operating System you want to run. For the very adventurous there is also a virtual alternative using Virtual programs such as VirtualBox which allows you to run either Windows inside of Linux, or Linux inside of Windows. An in-depth explanation of what a Virtual Machine is and how it works can be found at WikiPedia. Information on the Vinux project, Linux for the Visually Impaired, can be found here DistroWatch.com.

The accessibility features of Vinux are screen readers and screen magnifiers for the vision impaired. The default screen reader is Orca. Orca is very similar to JAWs.
The default screen magnifier is Compiz.
There is also a package for document scanning and reading using Speedy-ocr. This allows you to scan printed material such as books and your postal mail and have it read to you.
For a good list of devices and other hardware that is supported by Linux, check out the database page; Linux supported hardware.
Do you know that many Salvation Army and GoodWill stores often sell devices such as used document scanners? Sometimes for as low as one dollar! Check out this site that lists most of the current devices that Linux works with; linuxcompatible.org
Want to find if a particular computer will handle Vinux? Since Vinux is built on Ubuntu, here's the Ubuntu compatible computer database of supported processors.

There is one problem we've run into. These computers are of course used. There is no guarantee or warranty with these computers. It's possible for one to run for years with no problems. On the other hand, as soon as one is received and hooked up it could go to that great processor in the sky!

To date, we have received five computers from Penelec, a division of FirstEnergy which is an electric utility company servicing Pennsylvania and New York state areas. Penelec's Information Technicians erased the hard drives of all files and the original Operating System, and a supervisor from Clearfield hand delivered them to us. Of these, Vinux has been installed on four. One processor needs some work, it won't recognize any boot media, so I can't install anything. One other processor is very slow, so we have two that need to be checked over by a repair shop. We've contacted two local Vocational schools to see if they had computer repair courses and if they would work on these computers as a class project. That route has turned into a bust, one school doesn't take outside work, they're computer science department is not big enough. The other school doesn't have any computer repair classes. However, we have three working computers! The processors came with only keyboards and mice, there were no monitors, speakers or other hardware. One is going to be sent to a member of the Red Rose chapter near Lancaster, the remaining two are going to two of our chapter members who do not have computers. I'm learning how to set up the screen magnifier along with the screen reader and how to make a few settings to optimize each processor before shipping them out. I've also received word that the problems with the two computers that don't work are all fan trouble. The bad news is that this model of computer that we got from Penelec doesn't take off-the-shelf fans. They are specially customized and in very limited quantities. These Dell clam-shell model computers were not designed to be serviceable for an extended period of time.

Susan Frazier, an Assistive Technologies Instructor here in DuBois, has been studying Vinux that was installed on her laptop and on a desktop. She has been drafting some documentation and preparing for creating some tutorials for new Vinux users and for new computer users starting out on Vinux. Any one interested in pursuing this project on your own either to just experiment for yourself or a friend, or as we are doing, making this a chapter project, can download suitable installation files from the Vinux repository on this site; vinux.org/downloads. Carefully follow directions for making your own installation media and begin your own campaigns to collect used computers and give to others. And if you need the assistance of this accessible project for yourself and have a computer of your own, jump right in. You don't have to get a computer from us to use. If you would like to help with the documentation and the tutorials as you gain skills, you are more than welcome. Besides, as you learn and take notes, those notes can be used to add to current documentation and if you are working on a program package that no one else has tackled yet and you get it figured out, that will help others when they start on that program or let them know that it's not accessible.

Many businesses and organizations regularly replace their computers in order to lower maintenance costs. These computers are normally erased of all files and programs for simple security reasons. These blank computers are perfect stock for this project. You can also collect computers from the general public, but try to be sure that the donor has taken the computer to someone knowledgeable in erasing files so that they can't be retrieved. Any hardware not included with the donations can be purchased by the recipient, as well as any special hardware such as Braille displays. This still brings the cost of a fully accessible computer down to a much more affordable range.

These five computers were donated as a result of a small ad placed in our DuBois Chamber of Commerce's weekly email newsletter.

I may have discovered an easy way to physically install Vinux from CD. I need to practice this a bit more but roughly, you still have to know how to initiate a boot from a peripheral drive, so a bit of sighted assistance is needed if you don't know what key or keys to hold down while your computer starts. If you know the proper key(s) then just sit back and the default load from the CD is the Live Install, which doesn't physically install Vinux on your hard drive but only loads it into your computer's memory instead. Part way through the Live Install Orca will start up and begin speaking. Wait until the Live load has finished and then search for the Install Vinux icon on the desktop. Start the physical installation from here and just sit back and answer a few questions and when Vinux is done, it'll either be physically installed on your hard drive, erasing everything else or if you choose, installed alongside your other Operating System giving you a dual-boot arrangement.

A Picnic in the Dark.

We are going to partner with one of the local Lions clubs and have a picnic in the dark event, hopefully this summer. The DuBois Lions chapter has a lodge on 27 acres near DuBois. We are going to work on plans to have at least a half day affair of blindfolded games followed with a blindfolded picnic meal. Some games will be outside games, others will be indoor games. We'll cover the bases in case it rains. We're collecting ideas and offers for games for adults on through to children's games. Skits to present to the public showing actual situations that blind and low vision people have encountered in public are being considered. We are going to contact and hopefully get help from local scouts and church youth groups for the skits, as possible guides during the day, game planners and directors, and of course to join in on the fun. Can you imagine three-legged races with either one runner of each team blindfolded, or both blindfolded? How about wheelbarrow races with the driver blindfolded and the rider directing? Ring-toss, Washer-toss, Beanbag-toss, the classic blindfolded game Pin the Tail on the Donkey and feeling through boxes of sawdust to find and identify objects. We've gotten some great ideas from Susan Lichtenfels about games and we have found a rather inexpensive source for battery operated buzzers or beeper.

Hey! We are looking for volunteers. We could use some ideas for games, setting them up, skit writing, performing and video taping the skits and games and of course advertising with papers, radio, television and social websites. Got any ideas for us? Contact us with them. Want to help organize? Contact us. Need a school project? Need something to put into your resume? Need some job experience? Contact us, if you can help us, we can help you! Help us out and we will give you recommendations that you can use for your resume/portfolio and your future.

Some pictures of our past events;

For some ideas about what the blind can do;

Thank you!

We would like to thank our first donors, the Penelec division of FirstEnergy for donating five computers to us on February 24, 2011. Three of the computers were in very good condition, one runs slow and one doesn't recognize any boot media. These last two will go to a shop for examination and repair evaluation. The others will be going to lucky recipients in the Pennsylvania area. As was previously stated, there are no warranties or guaranties with these computers. They may operate for many years to come or, they may crash and burn as soon as they are hooked up. Sometimes the physical shock to the hard drive of erasing all data and reinstalling a new Operating System will finish off hardware weakened by age and hard use. It happens, but we feel this project is well worth those risks.

By the way, our fund raising efforts help to support these computer repair needs, so any donations, including money, are greatly appreciated. We don't want to have to pass any amount of unrecoverable costs on to any of our recipients. That goes against the dream of getting AFFORDABLE computers into the hands of as many vision impaired people as possible. Many elderly who have lost or are loosing sight and those who have lost sight due to injury or illness and those who were born with vision impairments live day to day on limited income. Many simply can't go out and buy a $300 computer, add over $1000 in special accessible software and, if needed, add more big bucks for Braille displays and any other specialized hardware for their needs. That's why we're doing this.

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We are accepting used computers for the Vinux project. Any businesses or organizations that routinely replace their computers to reduce maintenance costs may donate them to us. We will take computers from individuals, but we require that the donor take every possible precaution to make sure that their hard drive is adequately erased of all personal information and preferably all files and programs and the Operating System. We need only a blank slate, not your personal information! For procedures to securely erase a hard drive see here at EHow.com and again at EHow.com.
Or take your computer to a professional.

Donate your computers to the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.