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This page describes a bootable CD / USB image customized for blind users. The modified version is mostly equivalent to the official "netinstall CD", but the system should start speaking as soon as you boot with it. Speech is provided via the sound card, using the eSpeak software synthesizer and the Speakup screenreader. It is also possible to use a braille display, via brltty. You can obtain the images here.

Images are available for both the i686 and the x86_64 architecture. These are hybrid .iso files, so they are suitable for either a recordable CD or a USB flash drive. Just download the image required for your architecture, and write it to the medium of your choice.

Detached gpg signatures are provided for all of the images. The signatures are made with the gpg key associated with the address chris at the-brannons dot com. The key ID is 6521E06D. The fingerprint is 66BD 74A0 36D5 22F5 1DD7 0A3C 7F2A 1672 6521 E06D


The images are produced and hosted by Chris Brannon. Thanks to the following people for submitting valuable feedback regarding this project: Chuck Hallenbeck, Julien Claassen, Alastair Irving, Tyler Spivey, Keith Hinton, and many others. Thanks also go to Tyler Littlefield, who previously hosted the files.

Installing from the CD

The following list of steps is a brief guide to installing Arch Linux using this CD. The instructions assume that your root partition will be mounted on /mnt.

  1. When booting, the bootloader provides a very long timeout. Press Template:Keypress once the drive stops spinning.
  2. You are strongly encouraged to read the Arch Linux documentation, especially the Beginners Guide. There is also a shorter installation guide on the CD, found under /usr/share/aif/docs/.
  3. Use the installer on the CD, to install and configure the basic system.
  4. You will need to install some additional packages with pacman. Unfortunately, the mirror that you selected during the install process is not used after you exit the installer. So copy the mirror list from your installation using this command: cp /mnt/etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist
  5. Install the alsa-utils and espeakup packages: pacman --root=/mnt --cachedir=/mnt/var/cache/pacman/pkg -Sy alsa-utils espeakup
  6. Customize /mnt/etc/rc.conf: Add speakup and speakup_soft to the MODULES array. Add alsa and espeakup to the DAEMONS array.
  7. You also need to save the state of the sound card, so that it will be retrieved on reboot. Execute the command alsactl -f /var/lib/alsa/asound.state store and copy the file /var/lib/alsa/asound.state to /mnt/var/lib/alsa/asound.state. Alternatively, alsactl -f /mnt/var/lib/alsa/asound.state store
  8. When you boot the system from the hard disk, it should start speaking.

Handling Dialogs with Speakup

The Arch Linux installer, /arch/setup, makes extensive use of the dialog program. Users may experience some difficulties when navigating several of the menus and dialogs. This is not specific to Arch Linux. Other text-mode installers often have similar problems. The following discussion is a compilation of suggested solutions from members of the Speakup community.

First, set the DIALOGOPTS environment variable to the value "--visit-items", before starting the ArchLinux installer.

At a shell prompt, type the following command:

export DIALOGOPTS='--visit-items'

Enable highlight tracking. Press the star key on the numeric keypad. If you use a laptop that lacks the numeric keypad, press the sequence capslock control 8.

Speakup will say "highlight tracking".

Setting DIALOGOPTS and enabling highlight tracking mode should be sufficient for navigating most menus.

Partitioning Hard Drives

You may wish to use an alternative tool for partitioning your hard drives. Both parted and fdisk work very nicely with the screenreader. If you choose to use one of these tools, do so before starting the installer. Then, skip the partitioning steps.

Setting the Date and Time

You should have no trouble with the timezone dialog. After you select your timezone, the installer provides several options for setting the date and time. The easiest is NTP. Simply select it from the menu, and be done with it. Your clock will be synchronized via the network.

Braille Support

The latest image includes brltty, for those who own braille displays. The brltty package available on the CD was compiled with as few dependencies as possible. It is packaged as brltty-minimal in the Arch User Repository. If you wish to use braille, you will need to supply the brltty parameter at the boot prompt. Alternatively, you can start brltty from the shell, after the system has booted.

The brltty boot-time parameter consists of three comma-separated fields: driver, device, and table. The first is the driver for your display, the second is the name of the device file, and the third is a relative path to a translation table. You can use "auto" to specify that the driver should be automatically detected. I encourage you to read the brltty documentation for a fuller explanation of the program.

For example, suppose that you have a device connected to /dev/ttyS0, the first serial port. You wish to use the US English text table, and the driver should be automatically detected. Here is what you should type at the boot prompt:

arch brltty=auto,ttyS0,en_US

Once brltty is running, you may wish to disable speech. You can do so via the "print screen" key, also known as sysrq. On my qwerty keyboard, that key is located directly above the insert key, between F12 and scroll lock.

This section may be incomplete. Unfortunately, the author doesn't own a braille display, so input from those who use this feature is desired.

Maintaining Your Speech-enabled Arch Linux Installation

You shouldn't need to do anything extraordinary to maintain the installation. Everything should just seamlessly work.

Mastering Speech-enabled ISO Images

This process is now fairly straightforward. Just grab and install the talkingarch-git package from the AUR. It depends on archiso-git, so you need that as well. See /usr/share/doc/talkingarch/README for full instructions.

Further Resources

Michael Whapples made an audio tutorial demonstrating the process of installing ArchLinux using this CD. Click here to listen to it!


This is not an official release. It is not endorsed by anyone other than Chris Brannon. It is provided solely for the convenience of its creator and other blind users, and it comes with absolutely no warranty.