ChirpVI LiveUSB Radio Channel Programmer Accessibility
for Blind and Vision-Impaired Hams

    ChirpVI LiveUSB enables blind and vision-impaired hams to edit radio channels using the popular KK7DS CHIRP program.

Features include:

     • CHIRP is pre-installed.

     • Automatic text-to-speech.

     • Magnification.

     • Automatic identification of the data cable USB port.

     • Remembers program settings (persistence).

   This article describes the accessibility of ChirpVI LiveUSB. The accessibility of CHIRP installed on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux computers (instead of a LiveUSB) is discussed in a separate HamRadioAndVision article.


CHIRP is free radio channel programming software developed by Dan Smith, KK7DS. The Web site has a list of radio models the program supports. Version 0.4.0 works with VHF/UHF radios from 13 companies.

Chirp LiveCD

Chirp LiveCD is a SourceForge project by bgiff158 that launches CHIRP and led to his ChirpVI LiveUSB project. From the Web site: "[Chirp LiveCD] is designed to provide a known working software to load or otherwise troubleshoot loading of any radio supported by CHIRP."

   Chirp LiveCD is based on the Xubuntu operating system, which does not work with the Orca screen reader for Linux.

ChirpVI LiveUSB

ChirpVI LiveUSB is free software by Bgiff158 for blind and vision-impaired hams. ("VI" stands for vision-impaired.) Installed on a USB flash drive, it can boot most PCs regardless of the native operating system on the computer.

   The operating system is a customized version of the Ubuntu-based Zorin distribution. CHIRP, the Orca reader, and magnification plug-ins are pre-installed. No previous Linux experience is required to use ChirpVI LiveUSB.

Using ChirpVI LiveUSB

   After the PC boots using the LiveUSB, it takes about a minute for the software to load. The Orca screen reader starts automatically and reads a pop-up message explaining how to enter radio information. (There are icons on the Desktop to turn off Orca autorun and the startup dialog.)

   If the program recognizes the USB programming cable, it automatically enters the USB port ID of the cable in the configuration file. Then CHIRP launches automatically. Figure 1 shows the Desktop with CHIRP and Orca control windows open.

Figure 1.  ChirpVI LiveUSB Desktop.



   There are two magnification options:  (1) With Enhanced Zoom (Figure 2) the magnified area fills the screen. (2) Magnifier (Figure 3) displays the enlarged view in a small rectangular area like a magnifying glass. The commands for these utilities are summarized in a later section.

Figure 2.  Full screen view with Enhanced Zoom.



Figure 3.  The Magnifier window.



   Orca automatically reads channel data—eg, "Tone Column 103.5"—as you navigate in the CHIRP table with arrow keys. Orca keyboard shortcuts are not required. Notes for screen reader users are in a later section.

Installing ChirpVI LiveUSB on a Flash Drive

   The Chirp LiveCD Wiki applies to ChirpVI LiveUSB as well. It explains how to install the ISO file on a USB flash drive using the free UNetbootin software for Windows or Linux. Screen reader users will want sighted assistance for this, as UNetbootin is not accessible.

   UNetbootin does not recognize new flash memory drives that are certified to work with Microsoft "Windows To Go." The firmware in these devices is configured at the factory to identify them as a fixed drive rather than removable storage. You can use UNetbootin to check whether a USB flash drive is listed in the pull-down menu at the bottom of the window.

Booting with ChirpVI LiveUSB

   Screen readers and magnifier software will not work when a (BIOS or UEFI) boot menu is displayed, so sighted assistance might be necessary to discover how to boot your PC with a USB drive.

   For some PCs the USB flash drive can be moved to the top of the boot order, so a LiveUSB will start automatically when the computer is powered on. Other PCs require you to select the flash drive manually from the Boot Devices menu each time you use a LiveUSB. When you have learned the sequence of keystrokes to select the boot device, it is not necessary to use the screen.

   On some PCs the ChirpVI LiveUSB audio is muted by default. The first time you run the program, click on the Speaker icon in the upper right corner of the screen to open a menu for turning Mute off and setting the audio level. Your settings are stored in flash memory.

   The keyboard commands for using the Audio Controls Menu are as follows:  Windows Key + S to open Device Menu > Left Arrow twice opens Audio Menu > Down Arrow to the Mute item > Enter to turn muting off > Down Arrow to the audio level slider > Left/Right Arrows to adjust the level. Orca voices each step.


To use Enhanced Zoom:

     Zoom In:        WIN + Up Arrow.

     Zoom Out:      WIN + Down Arrow.

     (WIN is the Windows Logo key.)

To use the Magnifier:

     On/Off:       WIN + m.

     Larger:        Shift + WIN + Scroll Wheel Up.

     Smaller:      Shift + WIN + Scroll Wheel Down.

     For a touchpad replace "Scroll Wheel" with "Two finger swipe."

   As described in a separate article about magnification plug-ins, the size of the Magnifier window and other details are adjustable via the CompizConfig Settings Manager (ChirpVI Applications Menu > Other).

Orca Screen Reader Notes

   Orca automatically reads channel data as you navigate in the CHIRP table with arrow keys. Orca keyboard shortcuts are not required.

   Keyboard shortcuts for navigating on the screen are listed in the "Keyboard Navigation" text file on the ChirpVI Desktop. For example, there are shortcuts for using the CHIRP menus, selecting Desktop icons, and shutting down.

   To read the Navigation text file:  CTRL + Windows Key + D moves focus to the icons > Down Arrow to Keyboard Navigation icon > Enter to open the text file > NumberPad Plus to read the file.

   The Orca Help manual describes how to change Preferences for a keyboard without a number pad. To move between the CHIRP and the Orca Screen Reader windows:  Hold down ALT > Press and Release TAB > Release ALT.

   The CHIRP Radio ID Menu is accessible. It pops up when "Download from Radio" is selected in the Radio Menu:  ALT + R to open the menu > Enter selects the Download item > TAB moves the cursor through the three data fields (Port, Manufacturer, and Model). For each field, Right Arrow > Enter opens a pull-down menu > Up/Down Arrow to hear the options > Enter to select an item.

   To move to the channel data in CHIRP after downloading from the radio, TAB until "Table Location Column Header" is spoken. That is the first column of the row for Channel 1.

   To edit an item, press ENTER. In the Frequency and Offset Frequency columns a data entry box opens. ENTER completes the edit. In the other columns a pull-down menu opens. Up/Down Arrow to hear the options > Enter selects the item.

   After you enter an item in the table the cursor returns to the top of the CHIRP window. TAB down until Orca says "Table." The focus is on the last-edited item.


   ChirpVI LiveUSB gives blind and vision-impaired hams a convenient and portable way to edit radio channels using the popular CHIRP program.


   Thanks to Bob, SourceForge ID bgiff158, for developing ChirpVI LiveUSB and for the opportunity to beta test the software.

Author Information

   Peter DeNeef, AE7PD, is an Extra Class amateur radio operator in the U.S. This Web site has no ads or conflicts of interest.

Email:  HamRadioAndVision "at" gmail "dot" com.

rev. 8/18/2014

HamRadioAndVision Review of CHIRP

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