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I work for a non-profit. A man who is visually impaired works here. I provided him a computer with Vinux.
Vinux is set to start in the shell rather than in X (not terribly helpful/simple to a visually impaired person learning to use a computer for the first time). This has allowed this man to learn the keyboard.
To give you an idea of this man: he is ~50y old, a Veteran. He has learned to operate braille typewriters and read braille backwards and forwards. He is capable of further learning now that he has learned the keyboard.
He wishes to learn more about how to use the computer, in general.
I am looking for suggestions on what to give him. Should I have him learn basic linux shell commands? If so, which ones and in what way?
I think that one of the biggest things to do would be to teach him how to create files and save typing in them.
There are lots of command-line text editors out there, but most of them rely on stuff like blinking cursors and having the cursor jump around (try ESC : in vi or vim). The ed editor would be easiest for him to learn (it is the only non-visual text editor I know of) but unfortunately also the hardest editor to learn. Google around for some ed tutorials or read the man page and install ed.
Teach him about the 'man' command and tab-completion too, and let him play around a bit.
He might also be interested in computer games, most distros provide a package called bsdgames or bsd-games, which contains the games advent and battlestar. These games are interactive fiction, where you basically read a book and tell the protagonist what to do. If he likes them, search your package repos for a 'z-machine' and get some more games from ifdb.tads.org.
If he's a real fanatic, teach him C (there are a lot of good text-only tutorials on the net) and make sure you have gcc installed.
Hope this helps.
Frankly, had someone suggested that I attempt to learn C when I first started using a computer, I would have been a little nervous about approaching a computer again unless I was given a ton of hands on lessons. While it is doable, I am the only one that works here that is capable of teaching C, and I have many, many other tasks that I must attend to despite the interest that that particular task would hold for me.
So, learning C will have to wait.
I obtained a list of basic shell commands together with a brief description of their use and gave them to the man. His son will read the list aloud. I have not heard from him yet- tomorrow he will be back.
Unfortunately, he does not have an internet connection. So anything that is taught must be able to be downloaded to his computer here, then explained to him on how to access it.
I have contacted Jonathan, but I welcome further suggestions.
Just for info. The Knoppix creator married a lady with sight impairment. His last few disto's included many tools just for her. Might look at it for some ideas. You or others could download it to help. They can be ordered too for maybe $5 or so.
It is my experience that programming deepens your understanding of what you are doing with the computer, so once he has learned the shell commands and ed, he might want to start writing shell scripts, maybe some python after that and then c.