Thursday, December 6, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer and SA Mobile Network Browser

This update consists largely of behind-the-scenes changes, especially in the virtual buffer. Please let us know if you encounter any new problems when browsing the Web.

  • Improved support for WYSIWYG editors used by sites such as Blogger.

  • Improved access to the Organize Favorites dialog.


  • When moving through a document line by line, System Access now announces indentation changes after reading the current line, not before.

SA Mobile Media Library

  • The "Play or Copy a CD" feature now contacts FreeDB2 rather than FreeDB for information about the CD, since FreeDB is down. If you have recently had trouble playing or copying a CD through the SA Mobile Media Library, please try again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Changes in System Access

Text to Speech

  • Fixed a bug introduced in the previous update which caused speech output to be unreliable when using NeoSpeech VoiceText.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Fixed a problem that prevented users from reading and selecting text in some read-only text controls.

  • System Access no longer announces that a link is visited if you navigated to it using Tab or Shift+Tab.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Changes in System Access

Important: Windows Vista users must use the old SA Mobile Network browser to install this update. Please contact Serotek technical support if you have any trouble installing this update.

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Added support for drop-down menus on sites such as

  • Added announcement of visited links as an optional message.

  • Fixed a bug which prevented the Napster web-based player from working in our new browser.

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused Internet Explorer to crash.

  • Eliminated a sometimes long delay that occurred when windows closed, especially browser windows.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

Several of the bugs listed below were found at the Code Factory web site, especially in the product selection wizard.

  • Fixed a problem with same-page links on some sites.

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused SA to get stuck in an infinite loop when trying to read a form field label.

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused SA to present a link twice.

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused SA to say a button name twice.

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused SA to present check boxes or radio buttons as push buttons when doing a continuous read, but not when using the tab and arrow keys.

  • Improved the rules for finding the content of a page when the page is loaded.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Changes in System Access


  • Fixed a bug which prevented formatting attributes such as boldface and italics from being spoken when moving by word or character.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Fixed a problem that prevented SA from updating its virtual buffer when changes occur on some DHTML-based pages.


  • Fixed a problem that prevented SA from detecting U3 smart drives on some machines.

New Pricing Explained

We have received several calls and emails that indicate some confusion about one of our new pricing packages. Let me take a second to explain it.

If you choose to pay $24.95 per month for 48 months, you are actually buying System Access Mobile and network access on forty-eight month terms. You are paying for:
1. System Access Mobile – a $499 retail value.
2. Neo Speech -- a $49.95 retail value
3. And four years of System Access Mobile Network complete with all software updates at a cost of $129 per year, retail value.

Note: We do not offer this package without network access. Because users would not have access to features like SAToGo and remote computer access. Not to mention our tons of content.

After your fourth year of service, you have completed the purchase of System Access Mobile and Neo Speech. That means starting in year five, you have the option to continue with product updates with no SA Mobile Network services for $60 per year for life or to purchase System Access Mobile Network Services complete with product updates for $129 per year for life.

What do we mean by “for life?” These prices continue for you as long as you maintain an ongoing business relationship with Serotek. If your account misses more than one 30 day billing period, your per year pricing reverts to whatever current users of Serotek products are paying for SA Mobile Network or product updates. If you should decide, after four years, that you don't want System Access Mobile Network or updates, but later decide you do want them, we will only charge you what a current user pays for SA Mobile Network and/or updates. You will not be required to pay in any way for updates you have missed or chosen to skip.

I hope this clears up any misunderstandings you might have about our new pricing option. As always please feel free to call our customer service department at (866) 202-0520 if you have any other questions about this exciting new way to own System Access Mobile with Neo Speech.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Changes in System Access

Outlook and Outlook Express

  • Modifier+A now activates the list of attachments again.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Added the auto-labeling feature of C-SAW which was previously only available in the old SA Mobile Network browser. To auto-label a page, press Modifier+A. In the new SA Mobile Network browser, you can also use Alt+A, which was the command for auto-labeling in the old browser.

  • Fixed a few bugs which made the form for posting a comment on a Blogger-based blog, such as the Serotek blog, somewhat confusing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two Exciting New System Access Subscription Opportunities

Serotek Corporation, the Accessibility Anywhere people, is proud to announce two exciting new options to extend accessibility to everyone. Serotek now makes its complete product offering available to people on a budget with two Software As a Service (SAS) options. For those who feel uncomfortable making any commitment, the entire Serotek offering including System Access Mobile with Neospeech and the System Access Mobile Network is available for the low, low price of $39.95 a month with no obligation. You can discontinue usage at any time and owe no cancellation fee. For those willing to commit to a forty-eight month relationship the price is just $24.95 per month. After forty-eight months you will have a paid up license to System Access Mobile with Neospeech. On-going use of the System Access Mobile Network (SAM Net) and continuing software updates will cost just $129.95 a year, guaranteed beginning in year 5 and beyond.

If you or someone you know has been caught in the dilemma of not being able to afford the accessibility tools you need and want because government agencies will only fund screen readers that are too complex and require too large an investment of your time to achieve minimal proficiency, this offer is for you. System Access Mobile is more than a screen reader, providing all the standard accessibility functions including access to the major Microsoft Office productivity tools including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and Outlook Express, and many other popular applications like Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer, Skype, Windows Media Player and much, much more. And, with System Access Mobile you get Neospeech, delivering naturally sounding voices. In addition, System Access Mobile, in conjunction with the System Access Mobile Network delivers connectibility as you’ve never experienced it before. Access your home computer from work or on the road; exchange files; interact on-screen with friends and colleagues. System Access Mobile takes social networking to a whole new level.

Best of all, System Access Mobile is easy to use. In minutes you’ll be up and running, browsing the Internet, sending and receiving e-mail, and accessing your favorite productivity tools. Additional training is available for those who want to really put the software through its paces.

You also get full access to the System Access Mobile Network (SAM NET), the world’s most complete compilation of accessible sites for news, entertainment, shopping, information, and social networking. With SAM NET you can launch your own Web site, create and participate in Blogs, customize your news and entertainment. SAM NET puts you right in the center of the digital lifestyle, helping you enjoy the independence and productivity you crave. On SAM NET you’ll find a community of like-minded individuals who are taking control of their lives.

So if you’ve been hesitating because of the cost, now is the time to act. You can enjoy the digital lifestyle for less than a dollar a day ($.82/day actually). You’ll save that and more just by using an Internet telephone service like Skype, which is fully accessible to Serotek SAS subscribers. Why not give yourself (or someone you know) the digital lifestyle for the holidays. It will be the most liberating gift you’ve ever received.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Changes in System Access 2.30.137

New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • On some machines, PDF files would be opened in the browser window and would not be readable with System Access. This problem is fixed.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Living the Digital Lifestyle

This week I am in our Minneapolis office and was able to work with my computer at home, my Serotek intranet, and even hear music. I did all this without even plugging in a thumbdrive. Using SAToGo I did it all. I got to thinking about this digital lifestyle.

We’ve been seduced into it, often without even knowing that it is happening to us. In our pocket we have a cell phone that does an amazing number of things besides make voice calls. Quite likely we have some sort of music-playing device – an I-pod or MP3 player. We have a computer or two or three, probably wired together (or today, connected via a wireless network). Maybe we have a personal digital assistant or other type of note-taker. It’s a lot of gear, but we don’t think of any of these as gadgets anymore. They are necessities. We can’t imagine functioning without them.

Welcome to the digital lifestyle. But it’s more than devices.

We are also members of a variety of online services for social networking, entertainment, education, information. We order our movies and music online and maybe pizza. We “Google” anything we need to know. We are “wired” into any number of online communities and exchange information on our blog or podcast or comment on other people’s blogs or podcasts. We have a Website where people can view our family or do business with us. When something goes wrong they can log on and follow our progress in the hospital or say nice things about us in our obituary.

And then there are our software tools – word processors, picture editors, Web page editing tools, browsers, screen readers or other accessibility tools – whatever we need to be involved and stay involved.

It doesn’t look very much like the Jetsons or any other futuristic conception from the last century. It’s a whole lot more practical and common place than that and yet, if you look, much of the gee whiz stuff is in everyday use – picture phones, tracking devices, robots.

The future snuck up on us and we didn’t even notice.

For a blind guy this is sort of heaven. Today I can do a hundred things without thinking about them each of which would have been a major production ten years ago. Think about it: shop, fill out a government or business form, write my congressman, text or talk to my wife while I’m standing in line ready to board my plane, get the plane ticket, reserve the hotel room, pick up the information off of my home computer that I forgot to load onto my laptop, listen to ten tunes my best-buddy told me I’d like, scan a dozen articles, order groceries, amuse myself playing an online game, pay my bills, get paid, invest in stocks, find out why my guide dog Jacksan is scratching himself silly. I can make this list as long as you’d like. I do it all using my computer, cell phone, or Personal digital assistant and I do it wherever I am.

I’m no longer dependent. I’m in charge. I am completely blind but my blindness is rarely more than a minor inconvenience. How did that happen? It’s the digital lifestyle. It makes molehills out of mountains and the impossible pretty simple. It puts an entire universe of people and services at my beck and call. And together we can do almost anything.

There is a problem, though. Of the millions and millions of blind people in the world there are fewer than five hundred thousand living the digital lifestyle today. And that isn’t fair. Anything this good and simple, immediately available to every sighted teenager in the world, should be available to every blind person as well.

That’s what my company, Serotek, is about. Our motto is Accessibility Anywhere and you can add to that for everyone. Our mission is to give every blind person everywhere an equal opportunity to participate in the digital lifestyle.

Of course we can only make it available. Then the choice is up to the blind person. He or she can put on the digital lifestyle and live free and independently in the modern world, or not. But we are rapidly approaching a time when no blind person can say that they don’t have the opportunity. The digital lifestyle is within almost everyone’s reach from grade school kid to grandmother. It’s there, it’s easy to use, it’s inexpensive. Adopting the digital lifestyle will take cost out of your life.

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Changes in System Access

Internet Explorer

  • When doing a continuous read in a multi-line HTML edit box, such as when compsing an email message, the cursor now follows the speech.

New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • On machines where Windows Media Player is the default for MP3 files, Windows Media Player no longer preempts the SA Mobile Media Player when you activate a link to an MP3 file in the new browser.

  • The spell checker now works regardless of the length of the text being checked.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Problem with Open-Source Access Technology

I recently read an interesting blog post by Chris Hofstader, which is in part inspired by Mike Calvo's recent article The Coming Crisis. He argued that open-source access technology is starting to gain traction and that open-source AT might be a viable solution to our industry's current problems. In response, I believe it's extremely unlikely that an open-source or non-profit project would match the usefulness and usability of commercial AT. In this post, I will try to explain why.

Let's consider this statement from Chris's post:

"It would also be useful if Microsoft made Narrator open source, slapped on GPL and let the bazillion Windows hackers around the world take a crack at it. There are a ton of blind programmers who program for Windows who would enjoy the opportunity to hack away at a stable, albeit feature poor, screen reader."

(end of quote)

Does this strike anyone else as naive? Sure, there are a bazillion Windows programmers around the world, but how many of them would have any interest whatsoever in Narrator? Moreover, who would coordinate all of those contributions to produce something that's useful to non-geeks? NVDA seems to fit the description of "stable, yet feature poor"; it's not as feature poor as Narrator, but it's still feature poor in comparison to its commercial counterparts. So if a ton of blind programmers would enjoy hacking away at such a screen reader, then why doesn't NVDA even have all of the features of System Access 1.0?

Before I attempt to answer that question, let me defend the assertion I just made, that NVDA doesn't have all of the features that System Access had at version 1.0. My intent is not to belittle the efforts of Michael Curran and the other NVDA developers. In fact, Serotek has contributed code to the NVDA project in the past. However, I believe that the open-source development model is not well-suited for developing a screen reader. I make the comparison between NVDA and System Access 1.0 for two reasons. First, as sole developer of System Access thus far, I know its history very well. Second, even we at Serotek considered System Access 1.0 feature poor; though we marketed its strengths aggressively, we knew the product needed more work in certain areas. Yet System Access 1.0 had a few important features that NVDA does not. It seems, then, that this is the best possible comparison I can make between an open-source AT project and a commercial one. So let's zoom in to a level of detail that has been missing from this discussion thus far, to compare NVDA and System Access 1.0 on a few points.

First, System Access 1.0 had an off-screen model (OSM). To be sure, the OSM was in its infancy at version 1.0; it needed much work for version 2.0. Still, the OSM was very useful in some situations. It enabled access to some menus which don't expose item names through MSAA, such as those in RealPlayer. It was able to detect highlighted text, such as in custom list views. It made owner-drawn status bars, such as the one in Skype, accessible. It helped us provide access to the spell checker in Word 2002. In short, an off-screen model is a very important feature that's missing in all of the current free screen readers for Windows. System Access 1.0 had one because we knew it was a must-have, and we realized that even a primitive OSM was appreciably better than no OSM.

Second, System Access 1.0 provided automatic access to the Microsoft Word spell checker. I remember well the time that I spent making System Access work well with the spell checker in different versions of Word; the aforementioned Word 2002 was especially problematic. We knew that the spell checker is one of the most important features of Word and that any serious screen reader alternative for Windows needs to support Word well. In contrast, NVDA doesn't seem to support the spell checker at all. If you press F7 in a document with a misspelled word, you will eventually hear the content of the "not in dictionary" edit box, after NVDA reads the rest of the dialog with a level of verbosity comparable to Narrator. However, as far as I know, NVDA cannot spell the misspelled word. This feature isn't nearly as difficult as the OSM, so why hasn't one of the blind programmers hacking away at NVDA attacked this feature yet?

Third, System Access 1.0 generally presented information in a more intuitive, efficient way than NVDA does. I realize that this is the most subjective of the three features I've mentioned, but I also believe it's more important than the other two. As I mentioned before, NVDA's verbosity is comparable to Narrator's. The result of such verbosity is that users must either listen through a lot of extraneous speech to hear what they want, or master the keyboard commands that are needed to obtain the desired information. Thus, System Access has always aimed to present relevant information automatically while not being too verbose. This is a delicate balancing act, but it's necessary for a product that aims to be useful to a large number of people.

So why doesn't NVDA have these important features of System Access 1.0, which was developed in about three months and released in January 2005? Jamie Zawinski, one of the original programmers at Netscape, gives us a few clues in his rant "Resignation and Postmortem." Among his list of common excuses for why the Mozilla project didn't even release a beta in its first year is this one:

"People only really contribute when they get something out of it. When someone is first beginning to contribute, they especially need to see some kind of payback, some kind of positive reinforcement, right away."

(end of quote)

Unfortunately, many of the features that are most needed in a screen reader, especially a Windows screen reader, are not the kind that can be casually hacked together with an immediate payback to the contributor. Consider the off-screen model. It took me at least a week of full-time work to develop even the primitive OSM that shipped in System Access 1.0. Thus, after a large number of easily implemented features are done, it becomes much harder for casual contributors to help the project, and the features that remain undone are the hard but important ones.

Elsewhere in his rant, Zawinski said:

"There exist counterexamples to this, but in general, great things are accomplished by small groups of people who are driven, who have unity of purpose. The more people involved, the slower and stupider their union is."

(end of quote)

Oddly, he wasn't talking about the Mozilla project here; he was talking about Netscape the company. Still, though he may not have realized it, I believe the same principle applies to open-source projects. What we need is not a large number of volunteers hacking away at an open-source screen reader; we need a small team of dedicated, motivated programmers. And to be sufficiently dedicated to the project, said programmers probably need to be paid to work on it full-time.

We need to consider, then, who currently funds work on open-source AT, and what effect the source of the funding has on the outcome. The most obvious example is Sun. Based on the rate at which Sun's work on GNOME accessibility has moved forward over the past seven years, it's safe to say that Sun's GNOME accessibility team isn't sufficiently "driven," with "unity of purpose," to use Zawinski's words. Considering that Sun is a large hardware and software company whose core business is not accessibility, it's safe to suppose that their chief motivation for funding work on GNOME accessibility is to be compliant with certain legislation, in order to increase sales to government agencies. Thus, those who make high-level decisions about accessibility probably don't care much about producing something that's actually useful to blind and low-vision people.

Consider the history of screen reader development for the GNOME desktop. As Chris rightly noted, the Gnopernicus screen reader failed quite miserably. Yet as of mid-2003, Sun could claim that GNOME was accessible to blind users, albeit barely so. As far as I know, the situation didn't change substantially until mid-2004, when my good friend Marc Mulcahy, who worked for Sun on GNOME accessibility at the time, took the initiative to start developing Orca on his own. He had to get through much corporate red tape just to get Orca released. I've seen evidence that there's still too much bureaucracy in the Sun GNOME accessibility team; refer to the Orca Documentation Series to see what I mean. Perhaps bureaucracy is just another name for what Zawinski describes as a slow, stupid union of too many people. The history of Gnopernicus and Orca is an example of what happens when AT development is funded by a big corporation that has no incentive to deliver truly useful results. Incidentally, Marc left Sun in late 2004 to start working on what is now the LevelStar Icon PDA.

Chris suggests that development of open-source AT could be coordinated by a foundation or consortium with support from corporations and governments around the world. But would the results be any better than what Sun has produced thus far? Would such an organization attract the right people, that is, great programmers who are driven to produce better AT that really improves people's lives? We must also wonder what kind of leadership such an organization would have. I suspect that especially if many large sponsors are involved, politics would get in the way, resulting in less than optimal leadership, which can be at least as harmful as bad or mediocre programmers.

Another problem with the notion of no-cost AT as the norm is that it would take power away from blind and low-vision people as consumers. In a free market, where companies compete for the consumer's business, the consumer wins. If no-cost AT, open-source or otherwise, were the norm, then most blind and low-vision people would have no say in the development of the available products, because there would be no natural incentive for any particular company or organization to rise to the top. In this light, one might argue that even a temporary monopoly is better. Chris observes that FS and AI Squared have obtained virtual monopoly status in their markets. But they got there by developing great products. And why did they develop great products? To increase their sales during a period when the AT industry was fiercely competitive. Of course, now that they have monopoly status, these companies have apparently stopped innovating. But monopolies won't last; even empires fall. Perhaps the strongest motivation to develop an excellent product is the prospect of a temporary monopoly in an industry fueled by strong competition for the wallets of consumers. If this is so, then no-cost AT as the norm would be bad news indeed for blind and low-vision people, as it would kill the catalyst for innovation: competition for sales.

Yet another problem with the notion of no-cost AT backed by a non-profit organization or government agency is that it perpetuates a sense of entitlement among blind and low-vision people. No, it's not our fault that we're blind or low-vision. But it's not society's fault either. We shouldn't depend on governments, philanthropists, or anyone else to solve our problems. They don't have our best interests at heart, anyway; only we do. Remember that by and large, politicians and philanthropists care most about what's in it for them, be it publicity, power, or an appeased conscience. There are exceptions, of course, but this is the rule. It stands to reason, then, that politicians and philanthropists wouldn't really care about providing technology that best meets our needs. No, it's up to us to buy and use technology, assistive or otherwise, that improves our lives.

Mind you, I'm by no means an advocate for the status quo. It's widely accepted that because most current AT products are so expensive, they're purchased mostly by government agencies. This, too, deprives blind and low-vision people of the power that normally belongs to consumers, and perpetuates a sense of entitlement, as discussed above. Furthermore, as Mike Calvo points out in The Coming Crisis, the community of blind and low-vision people at large is grossly underserved by current AT. Yes, FS and AI Squared dominate their markets, but these markets certainly don't represent blind and low-vision people at large. It's odd, then, that the most commonly cited reason for the high cost of AT is the small size of the market. If AT is developed for more than just a niche market, maybe competition will be effective again.

The solution is neither high-cost AT that has a virtual monopoly on a small market, nor no-cost AT that isn't widely useful because it lacks the drive of competition for consumers. Rather, the solution is low-cost AT that competes for the business of a large and mostly untapped market. If this happens, then blind and low-vision people all over the world will ultimately win.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Changes in System Access

This update contains bug fixes related to Internet Explorer 6.

  • The "Browse" button in file upload controls is now accessible with IE 6.

  • List boxes, particularly multiple-selection list boxes, now work in IE 6 as in IE 7.

  • In our new browser, HTTP authentication, sometimes called "realm authentication" to distinguish it from the more common form-based login, now works with IE 6 as with IE 7.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Changes in System Access

This update fixes a few bugs with regard to password fields. In particular, key echo now works as expected in password fields.

Changes in System Access

New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • You can now activate numbered links using the numeric keypad, as long as Num Lock is active.

  • In the dialog for setting the location of a download, changed the "Save Here" button to "Set Location Here and Close", to make it more intuitive.

The Coming Crisis

Doom and Gloom! There, we got it out.

Actually this article is about hope and promise and a better life for everyone, but the background is not very encouraging. And without the background, the discussion doesn’t make much sense.

Here’s the basic premise. Vision loss and age are inextricably linked. There are eight million visually-impaired people in the U.S. and 80% are age fifty or greater. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. As we age our bodies deteriorate and the eyes are specifically vulnerable to diseases like:
• Macular degeneration
• Diabetic Retinopathy
• Glaucoma
• Cataracts
• Corneal opacity

The current assessment is that 800,000 people age 65 and older in the U.S. are totally blind. By 2015 it will be 1.5 million and by 2030 it will be 2.4 million.

The cause is simply the aging of the population. As the “Baby Boomers” hit retirement the graying population will increase dramatically and the prevalence of blindness will likewise increase. We can and are making great strides in attacking various causes of blindness, but we can’t stop people from getting older.

Certainly everyone knows this “graying” is occurring. From AARP to Social Security there is a great deal of planning and marketing going on relative to the sharp growth anticipated among the nation’s elderly. But there has not been a lot written about what this means to the nation’s blind services structure. For the most part, and in most states, different organizations manage issues regarding the elderly and those pertaining to vocational rehab. But when it comes to dealing with the newly blind, many of the issues are the same and the resources in place are not sufficient to respond to the coming need.

As things stand today, seniors losing their vision are going to be hard-pressed to maintain their independence. And this is a real shame because today, with the availability of resources of all kinds over the Internet, there is no reason for a blind person not to live independently. The digital lifestyle means liberation for people with blindness and low vision and baby boomers, like no aging group before them, are well versed in its benefits. Yet the supporting agencies are not prepared to help them make this transition.

What are the benefits? Here’s a list we’ve compiled:
• Community: individuals can interact and share information and experiences with other like-minded individuals at will
• Awareness: The Internet provides nearly instant access to news and information of all kinds. People using this source of information are significantly better informed and aware of world events than those who do not have access.
• Information: The Internet is the best single reference source for information of all kinds. With the aid of a search engine, a user can access the vast library of government publications plus an even larger library of private information sources. There are few, if any, subjects that cannot be successfully researched via the Internet.
• Employment: Computer usage is virtually essential for any meaningful employment in the modern world. Via the Internet, persons can not only be employed but often work from their homes.
• Entrepreneurial activities: The Internet makes it possible for any individual to sell goods and/or services to a worldwide market.
• Education: A computer and computer skills are essential for modern education. Via the Internet, a person can pursue a wide range of educational opportunities ranging from acquisition of technical skills to completing high school, to acquiring a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and/or Ph.D. from accredited online universities.
• Entertainment: Via the computer and Internet one can enjoy virtually any desired entertainment from described DVS’s or downloads of popular movies to thousands of Internet radio channels, to games of all types, and all manner of hobby-related forums.
• Health services: Self-care, healthy living programs, health coaching and ask-the-doctor information is all available on the Web.
• Shopping: From necessities to luxuries, one can buy anything via the Web, all without leaving the comfort of one’s home.
• Finance: Online banking, investing, loans – almost any financial activity can be carried out over the Web
• Creative arts: Writing and music are two creative activities that the blind can enjoy using digital technology.
• Counseling: Online support groups are available for a wide range of issues from grief-management to depression to cancer survival.
• Spiritual: Whatever your path, the Web has resources to support you ranging from virtually all conventional religions to a huge array of less conventional spiritual paths.

The simple ability to stay connected to family and friends via e-mail is enough to make being online worth it to most seniors. Add Internet-based telephone services like Skype and people can stay connected to loved ones around the world, for peanuts. But today, in the world of conventional assistive technology, it costs the elderly person (or the supporting agency) several thousand dollars and weeks or months of study – with all the necessary transportation – just to be able to send and receive e-mail. That’s insane.

And it’s unnecessary.

Nationwide, blind services organizations march lockstep to the beat of conventional screen reader technology. That is their sole solution to blind accessibility and no matter the situation they apply it. As the saying goes, “when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

But as good as conventional screen readers are, they are without exception complex and difficult to learn. They are expensive and they require weeks or months of training to achieve proficiency. Once proficient, a blind person can do amazing things. But most elderly people or new users lack the core technical skills to master conventional screen readers and agencies lack the resources to purchase the high priced software and training required.

But in fact, for the cost of rehabilitating a single blind person with conventional screen reader technology, an agency can deliver full accessibility to four to six blind people who are not looking to become computer professionals. Assuming a conventional screen reader cost about $1,000 and requires about $3,000 in training for the user to achieve proficiency, Serotek’s System Access Mobile cost $499 and a user can be trained in about two to ten hours. You do the math.

Moreover, using Serotek’s RIM (Remote Incident Manager) or Remote Training and Support the user can be trained over the Internet, with no need to travel and take up class room space. The service agency can provide one-to-one, on-screen tutoring with the trainer and the student both working from the comfort and convenience of their own homes.

Logic would suggest that state agencies and local rehabilitation organizations would welcome tools like System Access Mobile and RIM with open arms. With them they can help more blind people for less money. How can they not be excited?

But logic doesn’t take into account inertia. The entire organization is structured for conventional screen readers. That’s how budgets are developed; that’s where training skills are concentrated. There may even be a vague fear that if it is that easy to give newly blind people accessibility, training jobs will be in danger. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Even with the six-fold (or greater) multiplier effect that System Access delivers, the demand will continue to exceed the supply as the population ages.

Unfortunately, the person with the least say in this decision is the newly blind person. He or she basically gets what’s he or she is given as decided by the professionals. The result is that people in need of accessibility tools are hugely underserved. A mere handful of blind people (perhaps eight to ten) end up with the ability to access the digital lifestyle out of every hundred or so who need accessibility help. And that is extraordinarily costly. A blind person without accessibility consumes far more resources in terms of personal care, medical care, social services, and welfare than a blind person with full access to the digital lifestyle. And, sadly, the person without access lives a much more enclosed life and is more apt to fall prey to depression. Without accessibility, blindness is a prison sentence; with it, it’s a minor inconvenience.

There is, of course, no incentive for the producers of conventional screen reader technology to make their products less expensive and easier to learn. This isn’t a “free market” where they must compete head-to-head against alternate solutions. Rather it’s a captive market where the buyer has no choice. The in-place infrastructure has a bias towards maintaining the status quo, even at the expense of the nation’s ever growing population of newly blind elderly people. We on the outside can call for a level playing field, where consumers can make their own informed choices, but those who have control of the playing field have no interest in making this a fair contest.

At Serotek we believe that when you can’t win through evolution, it’s time to start a revolution and we have one in the making. When an infrastructure does not serve the people it was created to serve, it’s time to look for ways to make the infrastructure irrelevant. We have been pushing the technology envelope for six years and our latest product, System Access to Go, available directly over the Internet on demand, may be the catalyst for change.

We are working with a number of people who have the interest of the individual blind person at heart. We are close to making an announcement that we believe will simply change the way accessibility happens – to the benefit of all. We invite you to stay tuned. But in the meantime, don’t hesitate to rock the boat. Change won’t happen unless we work to make it happen. “Information without accessibility is tyranny!” Where the heck is that tea?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

Windows Live Messenger

  • The accent grave key, which reads the most recent message, works again; it was broken in the previous update.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

This update introduces a new beta version of the SA Mobile Network browser. When you choose to connect to the SA Mobile Network from the System Access menu, System Access will ask if you want to use this browser. For now, you may still use the old browser if you wish, unless you're using SA to Go, for which the old browser was never available. However, we encourage you to try the new browser and provide feedback.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

SAToGo Beta – Phase 2

Thank you for participating in the first phase of Beta testing for Seroteks amazing online accessibility tool, SAToGo. We are reviewing your many comments and making adjustments to the product in response. The initial reaction from beta users is that SAToGo is an astounding success.

Effective October 15, 2007, the public beta phase is ended. We are now moving into the second phase of Beta testing which focuses on interaction with features of the System Access Mobile Network. subscribers can continue their use of SAToGo indefinitely. Those who are not yet subscribers but would like to continue to use SAToGo are invited to subscribe. A one-year subscription to costs $229 for the first year and $129 for every year of continuous service after that for life. Or you can purchase System Access Mobile, for $499 Seroteks award winning screen reader alternative for PC access at home, on the job, or at school, including a license for a U3 compatible thumb drive. Purchase this package and get a years subscription to at no additional charge. Offer is valid until December 1st 2007. In either case, you will be able to continue to use SAToGo and exercise some of the unique features of the SAMobile Network. In particular, you can use SAMobile.Nets Remote Training and Support feature, connecting to your home or office system directly through the network from anywhere, operating your home system remotely as if you were sitting at the keyboard, accessing your files and using your home systems resources even if you have another screen reader installed on the remote computer. Similarly, on invitation, you can share the desktop of any other SAMobile.Net user, helping a friend fix a system problem, showing someone how to use an application, or collaborating on a key document, again even if they have a different screen reader installed.

If you thought SAToGo was a powerful stand-alone accessibility tool, wait until you try it in its full glory, with access to and the largest concentration of accessible content ever assembled with the visually impaired user in mind. Create your own website, shop, blog, e-mail, access described videos, news, and much more.

And stay tuned to see where SAToGo goes next. Accessibility anywhere. Isnt that the way it should be??

Monday, October 1, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

Internet Explorer

  • Fixed a bug that sometimes caused SA to crash IE on a page with read-only text fields.


  • Fixed a problem that occurred when using Caps Lock or NumPad 0 in the normal way and not as an SA modifier.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.


  • Added a work-around for the "stuck SA modifier" problem.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

This update consists largely of behind-the-scenes work. Here are the most notable user-visible changes.

Internet Explorer

  • Added support for file upload controls in forms.

  • Made behavior in list boxes more consistent with what System Access does for non-HTML list boxes. Most notably, System Access now announces changes to the selection when you select multiple items.

  • Changed the behavior of Up Arrow, Down Arrow, Page Up, Page Down, Control+Home, and Control+End in multi-line edit boxes to more closely match the behavior of our Mozilla-based browser.

  • Changed word echo behavior in edit boxes to more closely match the behavior of our Mozilla-based browser.

  • Changed the results for determining when a page has finished loading, again. Please let us know if you find any new problems when loading a page.


  • Fixed a bug that sometimes caused System Access to crash Word when moving through a document with graphics.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who's to Blame?

Recent blame-storming blog posts have had a lot to say about the state of accessibility on the Web and who is at fault. Candidates include the major AT companies, Web developers, mainstream software providers, society at large, and the blind community itself. I would suggest "all of the above."

The fact is that there is plenty of blame to share, and everyone has had a hand in it. The AT industry is most visible because the established AT software providers are charging very high prices for their software and not delivering accessibility to state-of-the-art applications and environments. Web developers get kicked because they ignore accessibility issues in their Web design. Mainstream software companies which could easily include accessibility within their products are guilty. They can't be bothered because there's no money in it. Society assuages its guilt by funding the purchase of expensive accessibility software, and this well-meaning program creates a significant barrier to development. The established AT providers are able to charge very high prices for their wares with impunity, and they are reluctant to displace these cash cows. Instead they build on their legacy codebase and milk the public funding for all it's worth. The result is that only a small percentage of blind people achieve access, and the whole AT industry is so small that it attracts little or no venture funding. In this day when two guys with an idea can create a mega-billion-dollar social networking site, no one much cares about an industry that may achieve $200 million, overall, in revenues in a good year.

But we, the blind community, have to shoulder the majority of the blame. We are expert complainers, but not much good at supporting those few venturesome souls who try to do us a bit of good. We are hooked on the handout and loathe to reach into our pockets and pay our very own dollars for any technology, no matter how it might improve our lifestyle. In our collective wisdom, no good deed goes unpunished. If a venturesome soul provides us with a new product that costs half of what the traditional products cost but delivers 95% of the capability, we complain about its lack of functionality and its price, and we let the government shell out another $1,000 or so to give us an upgrade of the traditional software that we despise. We play the victim and heap scorn on any of our members who shun the victim's role and attempt to compete in the sighted world.

Well, here's the truth. It doesn't matter who's to blame, and it doesn't matter what the current state of adaptive technology is. The fact is that the world is changing, and accessibility will be part of that change. Accessibility is a right, not a privilege, and the very idea that the government has to shell out thousands so that a single individual can have access to a few bits of data is ludicrous. And it will go away.

In Darrell's ten things we must demonstrate, he missed the most important one. What we need to demonstrate is that accessibility works for everyone. Every person is blind some of the time -- or at least has other uses for their vision. Exclusively visual mobile Web access from cell phones, IPhones, and Blackberries is ridiculous because people are squinting at tiny screens. They have a choice of seeing the actual information without the context or the context without the information. Driving a car, you can't see the screen at all if you want to stay on the road. The fact is that aural transmission of information works. And with the watershed improvements in speech recognition, browsing and social networking can be both eyes-free and hands-free.

One of our problems is that we blind people treat aural access much like readers treat the printed page -- that is, just a stream of words that we make sense of in our heads. We supply all the enhancements with our imagination. But in the sighted world, graphic novels are becoming popular because readers want more. They want the artist's picture along with the writer's word. They want enhanced presentation. We should be thinking along the same lines with regard to accessibility. We've come a long way with synthesized voices in the past couple of years, but it's lost on most of us because we listen at more than twice the normal speech rate. In a mainstream accessible mode the aural presentation needs to be enhanced -- dramatic voices, background music, sound effects. We need to "experience" the designer dress coming down the runway, as described by a top fashion reporter, not hear a twelve-word size, color, style catalog listing. You tell me that Target won't get behind accessibility if it means advertising its products better to their core consumers?

The entrenched AT suppliers face a real challenge. As Web applications come forward, accessibility is simply going to be there. And that means whole areas of the Web will be fully available to blind folks -- the social networking sites; the shopping; the news, information and entertainment. We know because we are working with this information every day at the System Access Mobile Network. True, there are still millions of inaccessible and poorly accessible sites around. And we've addressed that with technologies like C-SAW, where community members make inaccessible sites more accessible. It's noteworthy that when we offered C-SAW free of charge to the other AT vendors, they said, "Thanks, but no thanks." There is not a lot of cooperative spirit for the betterment of the community out there. I would submit that it isn't going to get much better, since a majority of the AT industry is now owned and operated by bean counters and not blind people.

Despite the tone of despair in the recent blog posts, I'm actually very hopeful. I see the early signs of change everywhere. I see a lot more people stepping up and choosing to go with a more user-friendly, technically up-to-date accessibility technology even when they have to pay for it out of their own pocket. I see a community that does come together around accessibility issues -- and which has made over 2,600 Web sites more accessible using C-SAW. That's real people helping other real people. That's community.

I see the past ten years in the AT industry as a technological eddy -- a stagnant place in the stream. But technology is flowing on, and the digital lifestyle is expanding every day with thousands of new applications. Accessibility is going to take hold in the emerging technologies. Maybe this is a pipe dream, but let me predict that in ten years there will not be an AT industry as we know it today. Accessibility will simply be a component of every application. And the current players need to focus on what their business will be then.

We have some exciting ideas; stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From Street Kid to CEO: An Interview with Mike Calvo - AccessWorld® - September 2007

We invite all of you to check out this interview of Mike Calvo, Serotek's CEO, in the September 2007 issue of AccessWorld, the assistive technology newsletter published by the American Foundation for the Blind.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Job Posting: Marketing Assistant

Serotek Corporation is seeking an outgoing, organized individual to assist the Senior Marketing Executive in identifying qualified prospects for the company's enterprise accessibility solutions (Remote Access Manager (RAM), Remote Incident Manager (RIM) and site licenses for System Access, the company's premier accessibility software). The Marketing Assistant will contact organizations which have already been pre-qualified as prospects for one or more of these products; and, following a prepared script, identify the right people in the target organization, setting up an appointment for the Senior Marketing Executive to present and demonstrate the company's products.  

The successful candidate will have superior phone skills, be comfortable seeking out the proper contacts within an organization, and able to present the prepared materials in a fashion that results in a scheduled meeting with Serotek's Senior Marketing Executive. Use of Microsoft Word, Outlook including the calendar, and Excel are a must. If the applicant is blind, proficient use of adaptive technology to complete tasks is also a must.

The position is offered at a base salary plus commission structure on any scheduled meetings that result in a successful sale. The Marketing Assistant has an opportunity to earn several times the base salary by assuring that the Senior Marketing Executive's time is used productively.  

Please submit all resumes for consideration to Qualified applicants will be contacted by phone or email for a follow up interview.

Serotek Corporation is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

Internet Explorer

  • On the Gmail home page, System Access no longer constantly re-reads the amount of available storage, which is constantly increasing.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.


  • Fixed a recently introduced bug which prevented System Access from working on the PassKey.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

Internet Explorer

We've made some significant changes to our Internet Explorer-related code in this version. Please let us know if any web pages become unusable or are not read correctly.

  • Changed the rules for determining when a page is done loading. Now System Access can provide access to some web pages that it couldn't before.

  • Optimized the virtual buffer creation code. This should result in faster page loads as well as faster buffer refreshes on pages that use dynamic HTML.

Outlook 2007

  • System Access no longer announces indentation changes when you move through a message line by line.


  • Fixed a bug that caused System Access to crash PowerPoint when opening some presentations in PowerPoint 2003.

Adobe Reader

  • When you up or down arrow beyond either end of a list box, System Access now navigates to the previous or next line of text.

  • Eliminated redundant announcements when entering list boxes and combo boxes.

  • Edit combo boxes are now consistently announced as such.

  • When you navigate past a form control in the virtual buffer, System Access now takes the actual focus away from that control.

  • Added code to force focus back into a drop-down list or edit combo box after the list is closed. This is a work-around for behavior which we consider a bug in Adobe Reader; this bug is only seen when an assistive technology is in use.


  • Fixed a bug whihc prevented System Access from saying "list opened" and "list closed" in edit combo boxes.

  • System Access now announces the signal strength of a wireless connection when you move over the Network icon in Windows Vista's system tray.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Excellent Podcast Covering System Access on Flying Blind, LLC Newsletter

Check out the Flying Blind E-News site for an excellent podcast covering our System Access products.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages.

Internet Explorer

  • Fixed a bug that prevented System Access from updating its buffer as changes occurred on some dynamic pages.

  • Fixed a bug that prevented SA from responding to cursor movement keys and other keyboard commands in some situations, such as on Orbitz.

Monday, August 6, 2007

New Audio Demo: Windows Vista Speech Recognition

We've just posted a new audio demo on System Access's built-in support for Windows Vista Speech Recognition. If you have any questions about this new feature of System Access, please post them to the Users Forum. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.


  • Fixed a bug introduced in the previous update which affected some edit controls, such as the ones in Excel and Windows Live Messenger. Moving through these controls character by character works again.

  • On Windows XP, when Notepad comes into the foreground, System Access once again announces the edit control; this was broken in the previous update.

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Windows Vista Speech Recognition

  • Eliminated a crash which previously occurred if you started Speech Recognition while System Access was running.

  • Added automatic reading of the voice training wizard, including a progress indication before each new phrase. You can press the accent grave key if you need to hear the current phrase again.

  • Added echo of dictated text. We have tested this in Notepad, WordPad, and Word; we expect it to work in any edit control for which Windows Vista supports dictation.

  • Made the alternates panel (also called the correction box) and the spelling panel accessible.


  • Undid a change that we made about two weeks ago in an attempt to improve responsiveness; this change was causing problems for some users of Word 2003, particularly under Windows Vista.

  • Improved responsiveness when moving through a document line by line.

  • Eliminated extraneous "end of line" messages when moving through an Outlook message character by character, when Word is the message editor for Outlook 2003.

Windows Mail

  • Added code to make sure that the message list view receives focus when Windows Mail starts up. This was a problem when the inbox contained many messages.

Document Scan

  • Eliminated security warnings which were shown when running Document Scan inside System Access.

SA Mobile Network Media Library

  • Fixed a mistake which caused the Media Library to hang if you chose Play or Copy a CD.


  • Eliminated unusually long pauses during continuous reading of documents.

  • Improved automatic reading of dialogs, especially wizards under Windows Vista.

  • Improved reading of status bars.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Ranger Station Blogs About System Access Product Line

I am just humbled at this posting on the Ranger Station blog about Serotek's products. Words can't describe the feelings that came over me as I read word after encouraging word Ranger wrote about products that take up a majority of not only my life, but people like Matt Campbell, Brian Kevelighan, Casey Mathews, Michael Lauf, Bill Sparks, and so many others that are working behind the scenes to bring Seerotek's Accessibility Anywhere from our collective imaginations to reality.

I understand that I have undertaken a huge responsibility at Serotek. one that sometimes scares the pants off of me, because we are asking people to trust us with access to their entire lives. Not just at work but everywhere.

I can be a person of many words when I want to be, but for the first time in a long time, the only words I can say are Thank You God for allowing Serotek to give people a hope for universal accessibility. My only prayer is that when I fall short of the mark, and I will, that You give me the favor and grace in the community to recover and continue moving ahead. Help me to remain transparent.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.


  • Renamed FreedomBox and the FreedomBox Network to the System Access Mobile Network, or SA Mobile Network for short.

  • Renamed the "FreedomBox 2" desktop and Start menu shortcuts to "System Access Mobile Network".

  • Renamed the "FreedomBox 2" sub-menu in the Start menu to "System Access".

  • Renamed the FreedomBox HomeServer to the System Access HomeServer, still HomeServer for short.

  • Renamed the FreedomBox Desktop to the SA Mobile Desktop.

  • Renamed the Assistant to SA Mobile Network Home.

  • Renamed FreedomScan to Document Scan.

  • Replaced references to the Key to Freedom with "U3 smart drive" or "USB flash drive".

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Important: Email Address Transition to the System Access Mobile Network

As you may know, we're currently in the process of renaming the FreedomBox
Network to the System Access Mobile Network. As part of this change, all
FreedomBox Network customers now have a new email address. Old
"" email addresses will remain valid for a short time
during the transition. Your new email address is
Replace username with the same email name you have been using on the
FreedomBox Network.

Whenever you send email using our service, this new email address will be
used by default. However, you can still send email from the old address;
you may need to do this to remove the old address from any mailing lists or
newsletters to which you may be subscribed. To send email from your old
address, follow these steps, which assume that you're using our browser:

1. From the email menu, choose "Send a Message".

2. Choose the type of message you want to send.

3. Press Control+Home to go to the top of the page, then press Tab until
you get to the Accounts drop-down list.

4. Press Alt+Down Arrow, then press Down Arrow until you hear "FreedomBox
(old address)", and press Enter.

5. Press Tab to move to the To field and send your message as usual.

Please start telling your family, friends, colleagues, and other contacts
about this new email address right away. Please also update any mailing
list subscriptions, newsletter subscriptions, or online accounts which use
the old address. We will soon provide a tool which will make it easy to
send an announcement of your new email address to everyone in your address
book. We will also set up an auto-responder so that when people write to
your old email address, they will be told to use the new address instead,
though the email will still reach you.

Please email or call us at (866) 202-0520 if you have
any questions or problems concerning this change. We apologize for any
inconvenience. Thank you for using the System Access Mobile Network.

The Serotek team

Monday, July 16, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Internet Explorer

  • Fixed a bug which caused links and non-link text on some web pages to be combined into a single link in System Access's virtual buffer. As always, please let us know if you find any web pages which System Access doesn't read correctly.


  • System Access now recognizes parentheses, angle brackets, square brackets, and braces as word delimiters, so when you type one of these punctuation marks while word echo is enabled, System Access will now speak the preceding word as it should.

  • Attempted to improve performance when typing in Word, especially when key echo is on. Please let us know if Word still feels unresponsive, or if you encounter any new problems in Word.

  • Improved detection of labels on forms, especially for check boxes. Please let us know if you find any forms that are still not accessible.


  • Added automatic speech feedback in Windows Calculator.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Replay of Mike Calvo's Appearance on the Computer America Technology Show

If you missed Mike Calvo on Computer America, you may listen to this recording of his segment on the show. Great job, Mike!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mike Calvo on Computer America Tonight!

Serotek CEO Mike Calvo will be interviewed live on the Computer America
program tonight July 10th at 10pm to Midnight eastern. Computer America is
the nation's longest running radio talk show about computers. Shows include
up to the moment technology news, interviews with industry experts,
appearances by hardware and software companies, show business personalities,
special segments and lots more. Throughout the Monday through Friday
two-hour program, Craig Crossman and his co-host Carey Holzman take your
phone calls, answer questions and make computers fun. A live chat room lets
you participate online during the show. And don't forget the ongoing
contests with big ticket computer prizes! Computer America is your primary
resource to the world of computers and technology. Mike will be talking
about Serotek and it's plan to provide accessibility anywhere. Current
Serotek customers are encouraged to call in and give feedback as to how
Serotek's products have impacted their lives.

Computer America is carried across the country over the Business TalkRadio
NetworkĊ½. If you cannot find a radio station carrying the show, you can
still listen because the Business TalkRadio Network streams its signal live
over the Internet. The streaming audio is in Windows Media format only, so
you will need to have a player that supports this format. Click the
following link to listen to the show:
If that link doesn't work, then please try this alternate link from Las
Vegas affiliate K-News 970AM:

Monday, July 9, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Office 2007 Ribbon

  • System Access now announces the keyboard shortcuts of the tabs as well as all buttons.

  • System Access now automatically reads the help messages associated with buttons as if they were tool tips, unless you've disabled reading of tool tips.

  • System Access now announces groups of controls as you enter them, by saying something like "Clipboard group".

  • System Access now identifies split buttons, sub-menu buttons, and drop-down grid buttons as such.

  • When navigating a grid such as the one opened by the Insert Table command, System Access now correctly announces the item with focus instead of repeatedly announcing the first item.

Internet Explorer and Outlook Express

  • The Find Again (F3) command now works correctly.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Adobe Reader

  • Fixed a bug to cause Adobe Reader 8.1 to crash when reading an untagged document.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Text to Speech

  • Fixed problems that some users encountered with DECtalk under Windows XP because of the previous update.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.


  • Fixed a problem which caused System Access to hang in Excel when a user ran some formatting commands. Please test System Access with the features of Excel that you use and let us know if you find any other problems.

Text to Speech

  • System Access now uses the same high-quality DECtalk synthesizer on Windows Vista as it always has on previous versions of Windows.

  • Actually removed the U.K. English version of DECtalk from the list of text-to-speech engines offered by System Access to Go.


  • When System Access starts, it now moves you to the Windows desktop if no visible window is in the foreground.

  • When you toggle key echo or word echo through the System Access menu, System Access now always indicates the new setting.

  • In System Access's audio tutorials window, the Escape key once again works as described in the window's instructions.

  • Eliminated Internet Explorer script errors which occurred when navigating our network with System Access to Go. However, you will currently not be able to activate numbered links by entering the link number when accessing the network this way; this will be fixed soon. This change does not affect access to the network through the FreedomBox browser.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

BBC Access 2.0: SAToGo on the Go

Great article about System Access to Go has been posted to BBC's Access 2.0 blog.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Join Serotek at ACB and NFB National Conventions

This year we are excited to be a part of the American Council of the Blind's national convention being held right here in our home city of Minneapolis, Mn. Visit us at booth 9 to check out Serotek's latest products including Braille support for System Access, System Access To Go, System Access Mobile, Remote Incident Manager and Remote Access Manager. Meet Mike Calvo, Matt Campbell, and the rest of the Serotek team. At the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 30 to July 7, 2007. The exhibit hall will be open Saturday through Thursday; so make sure you come on by!

Our CEO Mike Calvo has accepted a speaking invitation for the 2007 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. Mike will speak about Remote Access Manager ( RAM ) for network administration, training and technical support within the enterprise, and Remote Incident Manager (RIM), for field technical support. Read the press release for additional information. The National Federation of the Blind's convention will be held in Atlanta , Georgia at the Marriott Marquis Hotel from June 30 to July 6 and Mr. Calvo will address blind and visually impaired computer technicians on July 2, 2007 . Those wanting to meet with Mike can contact the Serotek suite at the Marriott or by contacting Serotek's main office at (612) 341-3030.

Whichever convention you visit, we are sure that Serotek is going to demonstrate that you, too, can have Accessibility Anywhere.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

Windows Live Messenger

  • The command to read the status bar in the conversation window works again.

  • The typing sound is back.

  • When you start a new conversation, System Access will speak your first message, as it should.

  • When you press the accent grave key immediately after opening a waiting conversation window, System Access will read all of the messages sent thus far. Please let us know if this behavior should be changed.

  • The command to read recent activity in the conversation window is now associated with the accent grave key regardless of keyboard layout. By mistake, it was formerly associated with the apostrophe in the U.K. English keyboard layout; it was probably associated with other keys in other non-U.S. layouts.

Internet Explorer and Outlook Express

  • System Access now behaves correctly when you try to move to the previous word but you're already at the start of the page or message.

  • Eliminated unwanted mid-sentence pauses in plain-text email messages.


  • When you cross a page boundary while moving through a document with the up and down arrow keys, System Access will now speak the new page number after the contents of the line and a short pause, unless you've disabled optional messages.


  • System Access now provides appropriate feedback when you select a whole column with Control+Space, a whole row with Shift+Space, or the whole sheet with Control+A.


  • Removed the "Optional Messages" and "Read Tool Tips" settings from the System Access preferences dialog in the FreedomBox browser. These settings are now only available from the System Access Menu.

  • System Access now downloads your settings on startup and uploads them on shutdown even if FreedomBox is running when System Access starts.

  • When you change settings on the System Access menu, System Access uploads your new settings in the background, to make sure they will be available wherever you run System Access next.


  • Removed the U.K. English version of DECtalk from the list of available synthesizers in System Access to Go, since we don't include that synthesizer in SA to Go.

  • Replaced the sound that System Access plays when a tool tip appears.

  • In System Access to Go, if a firewall prompts you to allow System Access to connect to the Internet after you've logged in, System Access will speak in that dialog, unless you entered "trial" or "demo".

  • Fixed a keypress handling bug which sometimes caused the Enter or Space key to be "sticky" in the thank-you dialog after sending logs or SA to Go feedback. This bug may have also affected other applications.

  • System Access now correctly reads the fraction "three fourths" when it's represented as a single character, such as in Word.

  • When reading the window title with Modifier+T, System Access now indicates after a short pause whether the window is minimized, maximized, or at normal size.

  • The state of the check boxes in the list view of the Volume Control properties dialog is now read.

  • When using the FreedomBox Network in System Access to Go, the browser now asks if you're sure you want to leave the FreedomBox Network when you press Escape or Alt+F4.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Changes in System Access

This version is available now for all System Access packages, including System Access to Go.

  • Fixed a compatibility problem with McAfee VirusScan 8.0 which caused Internet Explorer and Word to crash.

  • Fixed another compatibility problem with McAfee VirusScan which prevented System Access to Go from speaking in Outlook.
  • Fixed a bug which prevented reading of some PDF documents.

  • Eliminated an error that some users encountered immediately after pressing Alt+R the second time in System Access to Go.

  • Fixed a bug in the SAPI 4 implementation which caused the speaking rate to revert to the synthesizer's default after some interruptions. If you had this problem before, please test this new version with your preferred SAPI 4 synthesizer and let us know if the problem is fixed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thank You for Your Support and Keep Your Comments Flowing!

The Serotek Team wants to thank you for your support of SAToGo.  We have had an overwhelming response to our beta release of SAToGo and we are methodically reviewing each and every comment.  If you haven't heard from us yet, you will.   Many of your comments have already been turned into fixes and the software is getting better in real time.  Keep those comments coming.  We are grateful for your support and help bringing about a revolution in universal accessibility.

Many thanks,

The Serotek Team

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On the Shoulders of Giants

System Access to Go represents a major step forward, not just in accessibility software, but in the fundamental way software is delivered. It is feature-rich, easy to use, and amazingly inexpensive. But it is in no way the end-all and be-all of what accessibility software can be. Nor was it created from whole cloth. It rests on the shoulders of accessibility giants like Ted Henter, Doug Geoffray and Dan Weirich, Jim Fruchterman, and others who broke down the barriers to the digital world and created a structure and process by which those without sight can use the computer and Internet with nearly the same ease as those with sight.

Serotek gladly acknowledges its debt to those who went before. Without them there would be no adaptive technology industry. They gave us standards and a framework that makes innovation possible. At the same time, we must point out that we are standing on their shoulders, which means we are reaching higher and accomplishing new accessibility goals that are beyond the capability of traditional tools. We can do that, in part, because we joined the party after lots of the hard work was already accomplished. We didn't have to invent what was already there; nor did we have to carry the burden of legacy software, accommodating users with older versions and a huge investment in training. We entered the frey lighter, with fewer restrictions and the benefits of 20/20 hindsight. We have used this advantage to create an even greater accessibility advantage for our customers.

If you follow the history of technical innovation you will note that it is almost always the late comer who breaks the mold and disrupts the technology pattern to the benefit of technology consumers. It was not IBM that created the personal computer; it was companies like Commodore and Apple, among others. It was not AT&T that gave us the cell phone. The fact is, the dominant player in any technology has a very difficult time innovating the next generation. Their investment in the entrenched technology -- their bread and butter -- is great, and they cannot afford to innovate at the expense of their cash cow. As one industry veteran noted, "A cash cow can be a damned heavy monkey on your back." Only new players with nothing to lose can take the risks of doing things in an entirely new way.

This is as true in the adaptive technology field as it is in mainstream technology. However, the unfortunate truth is that the dollars are a lot less in adaptive technology, so innovation is far more difficult to justify. There are no big venture players throwing billions at adaptive technologies. It's a game that has to be played for the love of rattling the cage and changing the mix. It is a matter of commitment to community and caring that each and every one of us has the same opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The challenges thrown at disruptive technologies are remarkably similar: people say that it doesn't do everything the traditional technology did, it's based on a mistake and when the mistake is corrected it won't work, it promises more than it delivers, and so on. Often the challenges are thrown by people who haven't taken the time to even use the new technology or by those who lack the vision to see how something might be done in a new way and thus open up vistas that have never been possible.

Let's look at System Access to Go versus these challenges.

First, SA to Go is simply a new delivery approach for System Access. Whether or not all System Access features work perfectly in the beta release, you can be sure that when the full product is presented to the marketplace it will be as robust as System Access. It has to be; it's the same software.

But it is also true that System Access doesn't deliver every feature and benefit that the traditional screen readers deliver. It really doesn't need to. What it does deliver are the features and benefits used most by most people most of the time. Screen readers are no different than any other technology. The vast majority of features go unused by most users. It's a comfort, to be sure, to know the features are there, but without a specific need, there is no incentive to invest the training time and dollars to become adept at something that will never be used in day to day life. System Access is an accessibility tool for the way we live, work, study, and communicate. And from the current, highly functional base, over time, other features will be added as demand dictates. (That, by the way, is precisely how the traditional screen readers evolved.) And, because System Access can do many things traditional screen readers cannot do, we expect that whole new applications that we have yet to imagine will emerge simply because they can. Think of it like the transition from rotary dialing to touch-tone dialing. Originally SA to Go technology may be just a replacement. Eventually it will spawn its own definition of what accessibility means.

During System Access development, Serotek worked closely with Microsoft, and Microsoft was fully aware of the techniques System Access uses to effectively access the Windows operating system. Not only did Microsoft not object; they have actively encouraged us and helped us to market our approach to accessibility.

Will Microsoft change its approach in the future and close some of our access methods? It's always possible. We certainly aren't so arrogant that we expect we can dictate what Microsoft chooses to do. On the other hand, there is no particular reason for them to close this path, so we do not expect it to happen precipitously. After all, some of the access methods we used in System Access have been around since Windows 3.1 and are still used even by Microsoft. Anyone that opines that Microsoft will change things about its operating system, unless they are reading documents that we aren't, is just stating an opinion. As a Microsoft partner we are just as in touch and privy to the same information as any other accessibility technology vendor.

The one thing that the industry can be confident of is that Serotek will stay right on top of the emerging mainstream technologies from Microsoft and others, and we will always be looking for ways to apply the latest mainstream features to make accessibility more natural.

If there is any criticism that really seems unjust it is the accusation that Serotek promises more than it delivers. We believe our company is unique, not only in the adaptive technology field, but in the entire software industry, for refusing to sell "vaporware." We go out of our way to make sure that every promise made is fulfilled.

That doesn't mean that we haven't had a bug or two from time to time. We have as good a track record as anyone, but not a perfect track record in that regard. But we have always fixed the bugs and brought the performance up to snuff at no additional cost to the user in very short order. In fact we'll put Serotek's release history against anyone in the adaptive technology industry and are confident that we have been faster, cleaner, and more functional, and have more consistently met expectations than anyone. One of the reasons we do public beta releases is to exercise the software fully before the first official release. It's the best test methodology we know.

Our biggest disappointment, though, is how slow our community has been to understand the implications of SA to Go. Hello? People, we are standing on the very edge of universal accessibility. We are delivering, in this beta release, software that can be accessed from anywhere and which immediately turns an ordinary Windows XP or above computer into a fully accessible device. It doesn't hack into any touchy parts of the computer creating a security risk. It simply works as long as it is needed and is then discarded like a used tissue, leaving no residue on the host machine. It's disposable accessibility. It's accessibility anywhere. Yet somehow several members of the community are more concerned about esoteric features, used by a tiny fraction of the public, than they are about the fact that with SA to Go, there need be no inaccessible computers. The shackles that have bound us to one machine, in one place, or put us at the mercy of businesses and government agencies to think that "accessibility" might be nice to offer, are gone. We don't need to fight for our right to accessibility in court. It's simply there.

The giants gave us a platform. Serotek has used that platform to leap forward into a world where accessibility is taken for granted. We are inviting everyone to come along and hoping that among them is the innovator who will stand on our shoulders for the next great leap.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Serotek And It's Disruptive Technologies

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christiansen recently wrote an article for Technology Review outlining the Rules for Innovation. Mr. Christiansen contends that bringing innovation to market is far less of a crap-shoot than venture capitalists pretend. In fact, he outlines a handful of conditions which almost guarantee success. His rules are:

  1. Take root in disruption
  2. Have the necessary scope to succeed
  3. Leverage the right capabilities
  4. And disrupt competitors, not customers.

We looked at Serotek’s products in the light of Mr. Christiansen’s rules and by any measure we are on track for success.

I would like to give you a brief tour of Serotek’s products and compare them to the factors Mr. Christiansen has identified in his research as absolute characteristics of innovation success.

Taking Root in Disruption

What does this mean? The premise is relatively simple. Companies that are leaders in their markets are almost never the innovators of the next technological revolution. This happens because they are well managed and listen to their customers who always tell them that they want better and less expensive versions of what they are currently selling. Thus these market leaders will continue to produce the best in their specific market niche but they will miss entirely the next technological wave which will sweep in from an unsuspected direction and overwhelm the old way of approaching the problem. Nowhere is this more evident than in computers with their successive waves of mainframes, minis, and personal computers . Each new wave represented a major degradation in functionality, but brought that functionality to a previously unserved or underserved market. Once it had taken hold, each wave gradually overwhelmed the prior markets in a grassroots revolution.

The attributes of disruptive technologies are:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Convenience
  3. Low cost

They appeal to a market generally considered too small to be of interest to the mainstream players. The two tests for whether a product is disruptive are:

  1. Does it enable less-skilled, less-wealthy customers to do for themselves things that only the wealthy or skilled intermediaries could previously do?

  2. Does it target customers at the low end who don’t necessarily need all of the functionality of current products?

Clearly Serotek’s products pass these two tests with flying colors. Our user interface and intuitive level of interaction allow people with little or no training and no previous computer experience and with significant physical impairments including blindness and other manual dexterity challenges to access computers. Our target market, the blind and the elderly, are most interested in the Internet fundamentals - e-mail, shopping, chat rooms, entertainment, and information. There is enormous new value to these people by having any access at all. And, generally speaking, our market has been ignored by current vendors as not representing an important economic demographic.

Furthermore, our business model allows us to earn very attractive returns serving our chosen market. We have created an extremely successful business focused only on this low-end, relatively ignored market segment and now, tier by tier we are bringing our innovations to other market segments (such as students and professionals) without losing ease of use.

The Scope to Succeed

Christiansen discusses two technological paths to success: the integrated path where companies sell their proprietary components and products across a wide range of product lines and businesses; and the non-integrated strategy where companies outsource as much as possible, promote industry standards, and use modular, open systems and components. He claims that the integrated strategy is essential where product functionality is not yet good enough and enormous advantage is gained by creating architectures that push the state of the art based on proprietary technology. The open architecture strategy fits the marketplace Serotek’s products find themselves in.

Simplicity, convenience, and speed to market dominate. Powerful technologies have been developed by mainstream companies like U3, Microsoft, and other technologies, including open source, used in our products, that can be adapted easily to our niche market. At the same time, our proprietary backbone architecture, with our patentable core technologies, give us a sustainable advantage over others who might enter this market. In essence, we have the best of three worlds. Our proprietary technologies conform to key industry standards and allow us to integrate leading-edge components and bring a highly functional product to market fast.

Leveraging the Right Capabilities

Christiansen claims that innovations fail when managers attempt to implement them in organizations that are incapable of succeeding. Three factors determine an organization’s innovation limits:

  1. Resources to succeed
  2. Processes that facilitate success
  3. Values that allow employees to give this innovation the attention it needs to succeed

The limits are surprising. Resources are management and money, but oddly enough, proven managers and lots of money are not ingredients to drive innovation. Proven managers tend to go with what has worked before, assuming that new markets will behave in the same fashion as stable markets. But that is rarely the case. New or evolving markets need new thinking. Too much money allows ventures to follow a flawed strategy too long. For example, many over-funded companies during the dot-com bubble valued advertisers above users. Having to scrape by forces the venture to adapt to the desires of actual customers. Looking for customer revenue to fund operations and development forces the venture to uncover viable strategies quickly. Too much money encourages impatience for growth and too much patience for profits. Cash-rich companies tend to take huge gambles before the right strategy can be known. A better, surer path to a solid company is to be patient for growth and impatient for profits.

The Serotek team brings together entrepreneurs and technologists who have a passion for serving this market. The leaders are blind and understand the characteristics of serving this market. They have dealt first-hand with the barriers that vision-impaired people face trying to use computers and the Internet and the huge learning investment required to become skilled in conventional assistive technology.

The company was built using a bootstrap economic model. Every possible administrative function is outsourced and automated. The company carries minimal overhead but can bring the resources together to serve demand. It is completely scalable, able to grow as demand grows, yet has been able to survive through the cash-lean start-up period.

Process can be a barrier. Good processes are essential to established companies serving stable markets. They allow continued improvements in quality and efficiency. But processes are inflexible. Innovation demands flexibility. Thus a start-up company like Serotek has an advantage over behemoth companies with rigid Six Sigma rules because it can shape itself to the needs of its market segments.

Values can be the third barrier. Existing companies have existing value networks with rigid expectations and rewards based on the type of business that has traditionally brought success. Values are even more rigid than processes and thus disruptive innovations have little chance of being given the priority they need to develop and flourish. Serotek’s value system is completely focused on the success of Serotek's products.

Disrupt Competitors, Not Customers

The final success parameter is to help customers do things they want or have been trying to do; don’t make them relearn how to do things they can already do. And don’t bother making it easy for them to do things they weren’t doing or had no interest in doing. This is a very important parameter for us.

There are members of our community who are extremely skilled at using computers and accessing the Internet. They have invested many hours in honing those skills and they may have little interest in Serotek’s products for personal use. In fact, they may resent it because it seems to give others the same rewards for little effort that they earned with great effort. Yet we are making these people advocates by positioning Serotek’s products as a supplement, not a replacement for their current technology. Serotek’s products let them use powerful Internet-based features and entertainment without forcing them to be tied to a single location. At the same time, those who have an intrinsic fear of computers and technology but are interested in the ability to use computers, connect to family and friends through e-mail and Skype, to shop, or enjoy the many entertainment features available online, can have it now, without undergoing the grueling training necessary to master traditional assistive technology. It is an easy path to major improvements in quality of life.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers of traditional assistive technology are going to face some serious challenges in the future. Where they have always made the user adapt to products and services designed primarily for people who didn’t need assistive technology but for government purchasing agencies, we have turned that strategy on its head. Serotek adapts its products to its users; it doesn’t force its users to adapt to anything but new possibilities. The analogy we use is the “electronic curb cut” which simply removes the barrier for all.

Disruptive? Heck yeah! Serotek’s products absolutely turn the tables. With Serotek’s products, people rule, not technology. And so-called disabilities are simply user characteristics that we accommodate.

We read Professor Christiansen’s analysis and pump our fists and shout “Right on!”. We may not have set out to follow these rules, but these rules describe the way we organize and execute our business strategy, out of necessity and passion for our market, rather than driven by any “formula for success.” And we have an abiding faith that this approach will carry through to success - success for our customers who, for the first time, can enjoy the full benefits of accessibility anywhere; success for our investors whom we firmly believe will be richly rewarded for their faith in us; and ultimately success for ourselves as well. We are convinced that we have just scratched the surface. Our disruptive Serotek has a whole lot more disrupting to do, before it too becomes staid and old hat.

Isn’t this fun?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

More About Home Firewalls with System Access To Go

We have fixed the home firewall issue. Well, kind of. Now, when you run SAToGO for the first time using a home firewall, you will still have to allow it to run, but that's it. No More; never again. Thanks for your challenging emails, phone calls, and comments asking us to fix that. Just goes to prove once again that when you set your will to do something, it usually gets done.

Serotek Releases the World's First Web-based Access Technology Tool for the Blind


For Immediate Release


Janelle Schulenberg

Tacet Consulting


Serotek Makes Web 2.0 Accessible to the Blind

Technology Company Introduces SA To Go

Minneapolis, Minn. - June 13, 2007 - Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of Internet and digital information accessibility software and services, announces the public beta release of a web application called SA To Go (System Access To Go), the first product to make Web 2.0 accessible to the blind and the visually impaired. SA To Go is a web-resident product stemming from Serotek's award-winning System Access software. More than a screen reader, System Access requires no installation and provides complete control of your e-mail, makes web surfing easy, and offers intuitive access to Microsoft Office productivity tools like Word, PowerPoint and Excel. SA To Go makes System Access available on the Web for instant operation and has no permanence on the using computer. Users can now access System Access software anytime, anywhere that Internet access is available.

"We believe SA To Go will revolutionize the way blind people use the computer," said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, "That's why we felt it critical to leverage the power of Web 2.0 to continue to fulfill our promise of accessibility anywhere."

SA To Go provides instant accessibility. Once online, users can visit and it appears in seconds. When finished, the user simply closes the program and any personal information vanishes leaving the host computer completely unchanged.

"Microsoft applauds Serotek's innovation with respect to access for all," said Daniel Hubbell, Technical Evangelist, Microsoft Corporation, "SA To Go is a revolution for people who need access to computers away from home."

Because of technologies like Fonix's text-to-speech and its small size, SA To Go loads within seconds giving the blind user the same access on the go as his sighted peers. And since SA To Go is a true web application, accessibility is no longer an expensive option; companies that want to provide public accessibility to customers can do so for a fraction of the cost.

"Serotek's new SA To Go application gives blind and visually impaired users quick, convenient access to PC functions," says Tim K. Hong, VP of Sales, Fonix Speech, Inc. "SA To Go incorporates Fonix text-to-speech, which is optimized to provide clear, intelligible TTS voices without using large amounts of processing power or memory. Fonix speech technology is a good fit for Serotek's System Access Mobile applications."

Serotek is putting the system out for public Beta because they are encouraging user input. The company can imagine hundreds of applications but believes users will direct its true potential.

"We think we've only scratched the surface of the potential of SA To Go," says Calvo, "That's why we're inviting users to take it for a spin and let us know how they think it might be applied."
The company will be surveying users on a regular basis and encouraging users to e-mail their ideas and comments to
To participate in the public beta, users can go to and follow the instructions. Immediate accessibility will lead the user through the registration process. For more information about Serotek and its family of System Access accessibility tools, visit

Serotek Corporation

Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek launched an online community specifically designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Since then, Serotek has introduced several powerful, affordable solutions that require minimal training, including System Access, for which it was awarded the prestigious da Vinci award for innovation in universal accessibility by the National Multiple Sclerosis Association. For more information, visit

Fonix Corporation

Fonix Corporation (OTC BB: FNIX), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is an innovative speech recognition and text-to-speech technology company that provides value-added speech solutions through its wholly owned subsidiary, Fonix Speech, Inc., currently offering voice solutions for mobile/wireless devices; interactive video games, toys and appliances; computer telephony systems; the assistive market and automotive telematics. Fonix provides developers and manufacturers with cost-effective speech solutions to enhance devices and systems. Visit for more information, or call (801) 553-6600 and say "Sales."

Microsoft Corporation

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq "MSFT") is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential. For more information, visit