Orca (assistive technology)

Initial release September 3, 2006 (2006-09-03)
Stable release
3.18 / 14 October 2015 (2015-10-14)[1]
Preview release n/a (n/a) [±]
Development status Active
Written in Python
Operating system Unix-like
Type Screen reader Accessibility
License GNU LGPL (version 2.1)[2]
Website projects.gnome.org/orca/

Orca is a free and open source, flexible, extensible screen reader from the GNOME project for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Using various combinations of speech synthesis and braille, Orca helps provide access to applications and toolkits that support the AT-SPI (e.g., the GNOME desktop, Mozilla Firefox/Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice and GTK+, Qt and Java Swing/SWT applications).

The development of Orca was started by the Accessibility Program Office (APO) of Sun Microsystems, Inc. (now Oracle) with contributions from many community members. The original idea and the first working prototype for Orca was started in May 2004 by Mark Mulcahy, a blind programmer who worked for Sun Microsystems. When Mark left Sun Microsystems and ventured out to start his own company, the Accessibility Program Office took Mark's work, continued with it and released the first official version on September 3, 2006.[3][4][5] When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 they cut developer jobs of full-time developers working on GNOME accessibility components, including Orca main maintainer Willie Walker. Since then, Orca is run by volunteers, led by Joanmarie Diggs.[6][7] In September 7, 2011, Igalia, a company specialized in Free Software, hired Joanmarie Diggs and is supporting her work in Orca.[8]

The name Orca, which is another term for a killer whale, is a nod to the long-standing tradition of naming screen readers after aquatic creatures, including the Assistive Technology product on Windows called JAWS (which stands for Job Access With Speech), the early DOS screen reader called Flipper,[9] and the UK vision impairment company Dolphin Computer Access.[10]

As of GNOME 2.16, Orca is the default screen reader of the GNOME platform, replacing Gnopernicus.[11] As a result, Orca follows the GNOME stable release cycles of approximately six-months.[12] Orca is provided by default on a number of operating system distributions, including Solaris,[13] Fedora,[14] openSUSE[15] and Ubuntu.[16]

Linux Screen Reader (LSR) was an alternative screen reader to Orca led by IBM and started in 2006. However, it was ceased the following year because IBM focused their resources in other projects.[17]


Orca's profiles allows to save and load multiple configurations and the users can quickly access to different profiles, making it far easier to access multilingual text and environments.

Maintainer list

Orca development has been led by their maintainers with the help of its community. The maintainers so far are:[18]



Other developers who made great contributions to the project are Marc Mulcahy, Rich Burridge and Scott Haeger.[19]


  1. "Orca git source code repository". Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  2. "COPYING file from the Orca git source code repository". Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  3. Burridge, Rich. "My First Blind Email". Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  4. Walker, Willie. "Announcing Orca v1.0.0". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  5. "Changelog". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  6. Walker, Willie. "Post about 2010 GNOME Accessibility Hackfest and Transfer of Leadership". Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  7. Willis, Nathan (21 December 2011). "GNOME plans an accessibility push for 2012". Linux Weekly News. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
  8. Piñeiro, Alejandro. "New Igalia hiring: Joanmarie Diggs". Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  9. "Assistive Computer Technology For MS-DOS Training Guide" (PDF). p. 33. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  10. "Dolphin Computer Access website". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  11. "GNOME 2.16 Release Notes". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  12. "GNOME's Time-Based Release Schedule". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  13. "Oracle Solaris 11 Desktop Accessibility Guide". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  14. "Fedora 16 Accessibility Guide". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  15. "openSUSE 12.3". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  16. "Ubuntu Accessibility". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  17. Parente, Peter. "Status of IBM a11y". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  18. "Doap file log". Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  19. "AUTHORS file". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
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