Fedora has been shipping with a broken screen reader for nine years but the real problem is me – Aral Balkan

Fedora has been shipping with a broken screen reader for nine years but the real problem is me

Fedora, a major Linux distribution, has been shipping with a broken screen reader for nine years1.

This can only happen in an ableist culture.

If there is one takeaway you need from this post, it’s this.

Unless you’re interested in the details or the ensuing drama, you can stop reading here and you will not have missed out on much.

What is a screen reader?

A screen reader is a core assistive technology that some disabled people need in order to be able to use computers, tablets, and phones:

Screen readers are essential to people who are blind, and are useful to people who are visually impaired, illiterate, or have a learning disability. – Wikipedia

The state of accessibility in major operating systems

Major proprietary and semi-proprietary operating systems like macOS, iOS, Windows, ChromeOS, and Android come with functional screen readers2.

Fedora, however, has not shipped with a functional screen reader by default for nine years.

And they’re not the only major Linux distribution to ship with a broken screen reader by default. Any distribution that ships with Wayland by default comes with a broken screen reader. This includes Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE Leap, elementary OS, etc.3

Again, this can only happen in an ableist culture.

And, again, this is the only real takeaway you need from this post.

This is your last chance to stop reading before we get to the ensuing drama which I’m including because I want there to be a record of the timeline and I want to be able to address some of factual errors in the personal attacks that have been levelled at me for speaking up about this.

The drama

With the above state of affairs being what they are, I saw the Fedora Project fediverse account – which I follow because I run Fedora Silverblue – announce that they were joining Week of Diversity with an Accessibility Test Week:

To which I replied:

And to which the Fedora account replied, very nicely:

To which, in parting, I said:

Which really should have been the end of it.

I raised a valid issue and whoever is running the Fedora account acknowledged it and gave a satisfactory answer with a solid timeframe for resolution.

So according to the Fedora Project’s Mastodon account, Fedora 41 will ship with a working screen reader.

Great, case closed.

Why we can’t have nice things

But some folks couldn’t leave it at that of course. I had criticised their sacred cow and I had to be told.

This is when a Fedora Marketing Team Member decided to wade into the conversation with:

“Patches welcome 👍”


Now, for those of you who might not know what that means, it’s this:

“You’re welcome to fix the problem yourself.”



So you ship an operating system with a broken screen reader and then you have the gall to tell the person who raises the issue – in response to your own organisation asking for accessibility issues, I might add – that they can go fix it themselves?

Well, that’s rich.

So I blocked him and wrote the following:

Which prompted a System76 engineer to post the following:

This is what led me to actually look up how long Fedora had been shipping with a broken screen reader by default. Was I really overreacting? Maybe they’d been working hard on fixing this issue from the moment they discovered it and I was being unfair?

Turns out, I wasn’t being unfair in the slightest.

What I didn’t realise, then, was that the source I found for when Fedora first shipped with Wayland was actually wrong. It wasn’t with Fedora 25 in 2016. It was with Fedora 22 in 2015.

It wasn’t eight years, it was nine.

Fedora has been shipping their operating system with a broken screen reader by default for NINE YEARS and here I am, being publicly shamed for making a fuss about it.


(I won’t even go into the irony of System76 actually not being affected by this issue as they’re shipping PopOS with X11, not Wayland. Clearly, this is just a hill they’re willing to die on.)

Gaslighting 101: Fedora isn’t Red Hat isn’t IBM… only it is… but only kinda, sorta.

Also, some of you might be thinking, but isn’t Fedora a volunteer effort? Why are you being so hard on volunteers? I mean, sure, they’ve done some amazing things in the last nine years to move Fedora forward by leaps and bounds (including creating an amazing atomic operating system like Silverblue) but, clearly, fixing the screen reader was outside of their ability?

Well, it turns out Fedora is the upstream to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat is owned by a tiny, resource poor, hundred-billion-dollar corporation called IBM. (You might have heard of them, they’re famous for having helped Hitler carry out the Holocaust.)

“But no, Fedora is independent and staffed by volunteers!” is the common refrain whenever I mention this. And I’m, quite frankly, sick to death of all this gaslighting:

Red Hat retains legal liability for the Fedora Project. The Fedora Project is not a separate legal entity or organization. The Fedora Project receives a tremendous amount of resources (people, money, infrastructure, etc.) from Red Hat.

Fedora Project Leader Max Spevack, 2006 (also see Wikipedia).

Then, all this culminated yesterday with a nasty hit piece on me by Jacky Alcine, which, in a nutshell, accuses me of:

  1. Being white

  2. Blocking Black and queer people on the fediverse because they are Black and queer

  3. Contributing inaccessible code myself to elementary OS

  4. Generally being dishonest in everything I state I believe and in everything I do.

So here are some facts:

  1. I’m Middle Eastern.

Both my parents are Turkish.

The Middle East, for those Americans who might not know, is that part of the world that Americans of all skin colours and genders sign up to the US military to go bomb every so many years.

So, no, I’m not American. And I’m not white. I’m white-presenting.

What’s the difference between white and white-presenting?

White people don’t get to experience racial profiling while entering the United States (oh, hello, that room) or when leaving Brussels (oh, hello, that room, again)… you get the idea.

That said, we also don’t get shot when stopped by police in the US, so is there privilege there? Yes, definitely.

Regardless, I’m not white and I don’t enjoy Americans telling me who I am, based on their myopic understanding of the world that ends at the borders of the great red, white, and blue. Maybe stop bombing my part of the world first – and stop selling arms to fuel an ongoing genocide – and then we can chat about what you think I am and how much more privilege I have than you do.

  1. I block liberally to protect my mental health.

I’ve said that publicly many times. It’s no secret. Blocking someone is not harassment or an attack. It means “I don’t want to interact with you.” You have freedom of speech. You don’t have the freedom to compel anyone to listen to you, no matter how entitled you feel.

I have never blocked anyone for who they are. Anyone who actually knows me or has followed me for the past seven years on the fediverse knows I never would.

And I literally posted this week – in response to all the personal attacks, accusations, and gaslighting I was getting – that I’d be blocking people who jump down my throat on this topic:

That’s why I blocked Chris and that’s why I blocked Danielle, along with however many other folks in the past few days.

I don’t need to hear one more person from that community tell me that I should be filing issues or fixing this problem myself or exactly what tone I should be using when addressing it when it was ignored for NINE YEARS by an entity that’s not really, but actually kinda, but not quite, but then again maybe owned by a hundred-billion-dollar corporation and has somehow had the capacity to provide nine years of development without fixing their broken screen reader.

I’m sorry but this is just plain old gaslighting at this point.

  1. My version of the alt-tab component is accessible.

I’m very disappointed in Danielle for stating that I contributed inaccessible code to elementary OS when the existing alt-tab switcher itself was inaccessible and had glaring motion sickness issues to boot.

I discovered the lack of accessibility in my own alt-tab switcher, I worked around it to the best of my abilities to provide an accessible experience, I flagged it as a blocker, I requested that my accessibility improvements - which I implemented while on holiday – be implemented in Gala and I even opened a discussion urging elementary OS to “embrace accessibility and inclusivity as a core tenet”.

At the end of the day, I had no say in what was merged into elementary OS or when. My requests for the accessibility improvements I’d made to be included in Gala were overruled. I opened an issue in 2021 asking for the version in Gala to be made accessible.

And again, my version of the component is accessible.

I really don’t know what more I could have done. They chose to release an inaccessible version in Gala and, from Danielle’s post and the issue still being open, apparently ignored it for three years.

And this, again, is somehow my fault?

(The reason that that repository, and all my other elementary OS repositories, are archived is because I no longer use elementary OS. I can’t maintain things if I’m not using them and all of my time is devoted currently to building the Small Web. And the main reason I stopped using elementary OS was because I was very disappointed by how Cassidy was treated. Cassidy and his focus on design was one of the reasons why I started using elementary OS and he was also the reason I ended up trying Fedora Silverblue.)

All in all, I spent three months contributing to elementary OS.

You can decide for yourselves whether that, too, was just me being diabolically evil somehow.

  1. I don’t know what to say.

The best thing about writing a hit piece and then claiming “I’m not a journalist” is that you can say anything, distort anything, and accuse someone of anything and you’re just setting them up to defend themselves. How long have I wasted writing this? I don’t even know. Hours. Hours that could have been spent with my partner, enjoying our Sunday evening.

There’s nothing I can say to convince you that I do what I do because I believe in it. Nothing, perhaps, other than the fact that I’ve been doing it now for the last ten years and it really hasn’t been an easy ride.

Either you can believe that I spent the last ten years working at a not-for-profit to create Small Tech – work that included Better Blocker and is culminating in the creation of Kitten and Domain and soon, Yarn as part of the Small Web initiative – because I believe in it and because I hope it will help make the world a better, kinder, more just place in some small way or, you can believe that all this has been some elaborate ruse; that I chose to sell family homes and forego a mainstream salary and spend the last decade in various levels of precarity because… well, I can’t even imagine why someone would do that.

Here’s what I do know:

And, more so, because people are being hurt every bloody day by this culture of ableism.

You need not look beyond the lived experiences that people have been sharing on related threads on the fediverse around all this. Please, if you do nothing else, read their words and try to understand why this matters:

  • I am done with the drama. It has taken up too much time away from my work on Small Web as it is. I should’ve been editing the transcript of the video of my talk on Kitten and Domain from Groningen so I can publish the video and instead here I am, writing this damn post because someone decided yesterday would be a good day to carry out a character assassination attempt.

  • I don’t know if I will stay on Fedora Silverblue long term. I hope the screen reader issue is fixed and that I can. Not least because things are tight and I can’t just move back to a Mac on a whim. On the other hand, it grates that I have to switch to Windows in a VM to test my web work with a screen reader.

How many web developers using these distributions are not testing their work with a screen reader at all because the one on their machine is broken? Not to mention the native app developers for these platforms. Free and open is one tenet of Small Tech but inclusivity is another. Which is more important? They both are.


This is tiring. It really is.

  • I am hugely excited about where my work on the Small Web is leading and I can’t wait for Kitten to hit API Version 1 and to soft launch Domain and Yarn this year.

As part of that I have to keep telling myself to pick my battles and keep my focus so my goal is to keep my social media usage mainly to updates on the Small Web.

I’m going to go and post this now and try and make the most of whatever is left of the weekend.

And to everyone who has been supportive and sent words of encouragement and love… thank you. It means more than you can imagine.