Thursday, December 18, 2008

Serotek Leads The Way In 64 Bit Support

Someone has well said: "Do what you enjoy and you will never work a day in your life." A talk radio host said it this way: "I am having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have." "So what am I doing that is so much fun?" Well, to start with, I am associated with Serotek. Even if I were not being paid, I still would be hanging around here. Having been a part of the community for more than five years and the organization for a few months, I have observed as this company has redefined and reinvented itself countless times, never losing its vision in an unwavering commitment to make not only computers, but also portable devices more useful and fun for blind and low-vision users.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I am usually a pretty positive person. From a computer geek standpoint however, I found it frustrating that more gadgets and computer applications that I wanted to use didn't just work. Let me give you an illustration. Computers running 64 bit versions of Windows have been quickly becoming the industry standard. For at least the last couple of years or more, the line from the adaptive technology companies has been: "We have no plans to support 64 bit Windows in the foreseeable future." Okay, so I made one phone call to my friend Mike Calvo. I jokingly asked him if he would like to make a million dollars tomorrow. He laughed and asked me how. I simply said: "Fast-track 64 bit Windows support." A week later, he called to ask me if I would help Serotek test it. I went and bought an OEM Vista 64 bit Windows machine. The rest, as they say, is history.
In an announcement to the Serotek users forum somewhere around October 31, 2008, I had the pleasure and privilege of being assigned the task to put together a new features list for the soon to be released System Access 3.0 revision. Like many other users, I had been previewing the public beta for more than a month. One of the most exciting innovations to me personally was the inclusion of 64 bit support for all versions of Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. In the announcement I wrote the following from the perspective of a user:
"Beginning as early as June 2008, many of the computer stores and office supply vendors have begun to stock their shelves with only computers running OEM versions of 64 Bit Windows. Many an unsuspecting customer has gotten home with a brand new computer only to discover that they cannot install and use their access technology on it. With the release of System Access 3.0, this is no longer an issue. Go out and buy a new computer, bring it home, install System Access 3.0 and you will be ready to go with your talking computer."
I experienced a moment of déjà vu as I listened to the December podcast from a leader in the adaptive technology industry. It was almost as though the Vice President of Business and Software Development of this company had read my words and paraphrased them to his audience. It made me realize again, not only how far Serotek has come, but also how far we have brought the adaptive technology audience in understanding what is possible and what they can and should expect from those with whom they do business. I don't know about you, but I don't believe in coincidences. Does it seem interesting to you that less than two months after Serotek introduces 64 bit support that another industry leader follows? Well, may I say to all in the adaptive technology pool: "Come on in: the water's fine!" Let the users of the products decide who does it best. Users always benefit by more choices.
In conclusion, would you think with me for just a moment about the leadership Serotek has provided?
1. Serotek lead the way in USB thumb drive support and we still do it best with U3 technology installing nothing on the local machine.
2. Serotek lead the way in remote access and we still do it best supporting not only our own products, but also everyone else's technologies.
3. Serotek lead the way in 64 bit support for all Windows XP and Vista versions including server 2003 and 2008. Our magnification and scanning is also supported right now.
4. Serotek is leading the way in providing a free web application that makes any Internet connected PC in the world talk. Will anyone follow?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dollar General Adding Point of Sale Terminals to All Stores Over the Next 15 Months

Dollar General, a national discount retailer with more than 8,000 stores in 35
states, announced On Dec. 10, 2008 that it will be installing tactile point of
sale devices in all its stores over the next 15 months, so that customers who are blind and visually impaired can independently enter their PIN when using a point of sale device. The announcement is the result of an agreement the company negotiated with the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and a blind Dollar General customer from Texas. The settlement was reached without litigation using Structured Negotiations and was negotiated by Linda Dardarian and Lainey Feingold. Direct links to the agreement and the press release:
Dollar General Settlement Agreement

Dollar General Press Release

Dollar General is the seventh national company to engage in Structured Negotiations about the issue of tactile point of sale devices with ACB and AFB, and with the CCB when the retailer does business in California. A list of all POS agreements, as well as all thirty two agreements signed using Structured negotiations is available at
Law Office of Lainey Feingold -

E-mail Lainey Feingold -


Accessibility Anywhere Braille Display Petition

A petition has been started by George McDermith, asking Braille display manufacturers to base their drivers on the human interface protocol, found on all Windows computers. Such a design philosophy will ensure that users can be certain of having support for their Braille display on any computer, not just one which has been custom-configured for such access, and will eliminate the need to depend on specific screen reader drivers. The text of the petition reads as follows:
"To: Braille display manufacturers
We, the undersigned, who are Braille display users, friends and family of Braille display users, and teachers of the blind,
*: Believe that accessibility to information for the blind on a par with their sighted piers is a right. Believe that due to this right, and due to the cost of Braille displays, accessing Braille through the use of Braille displays should not be limited by the type of screen reading solution used by the blind.
*: Strongly request that all manufacturers of Braille displays cease basing the drivers of their Braille displays off of particular screen reader drivers, but rather base all Braille display drivers off of the Human User Interface Protocol, which can be found on all Windows computers.
*: This will allow true portability and equal access to information for the blind, as they will be able to use their display with any computer. This will create greater competition in the market for the best Braille display to stand out, grant greater literacy in Braille through greater access to electronic Braille books and other materials, and support the right of all blind people to have accessibility anywhere."
Visit the petition web page to add your support to this worthy cause.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008


For Immediate Release


Media Contact: 




Technical Contact :


Serotek First to Offer 64-Bit Support

System Access 3.0 Sets New Standard in Assistive Technology


MINNEAPOLIS, Minn – December 3, 2008 – Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, today released version 3.0 of its award-winning System Access software. With this release, Serotek now offers the first full-featured screen access product with support for 64-bit operating systems. This is a breakthrough for blind and visually impaired consumers and IT professionals alike.

Blind information technology professionals have long struggled with the issue of being a step behind their sighted counterparts due to a lag in access technology and its inability to support the latest mainstream developments. With the release of System Access 3.0, the only existing screen access support for 64-bit Windows operating systems on the market, Serotek has leveled the employment playing field for skilled IT professionals. Without it, blind IT professionals would be locked out of administering 64-bit servers and work stations which are prevalent in most corporate environments. With it, a blind IT professional can plug in a USB drive containing the System Access 3.0 software and instantly provide technical support services to anyone in the world.

Increasingly, retailers are stocking computers running 64-bit versions of Windows so blind consumers were facing a similar dilemma. Now, new computers, from the smallest Netbook to the most powerful server, that are running OEM versions of 64-bit Windows, are instantly accessible with System Access 3.0.  Consumers who are blind or have low vision can purchase a computer product without wondering if it will be accessible.

            “Consumers and IT professionals alike no longer need to concern themselves with whether a computer is running a 32 or 64-bit operating system,” said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, “System Access provides easy access in either scenario.”

Version 3.0 also features voice over IP, speech and refreshable Braille output, and the most compelling support for iTunes 8 on the market.

            “With this release, Serotek continues to raise the bar in the assistive technology industry” said Calvo, “and exponentially boosts the digital lifestyle for the blind and visually impaired while at home, work or traveling.”

             The update to version 3.0 will happen seamlessly for existing System Access customers with no need for user intervention. New customers can begin a free trial or purchase the product by visiting For a complete list of features and enhancements, visit


Serotek Corporation

Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions under the System Access brand. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek began with the launch of the first online community specifically designed to meet the needs of people with visual impairment. Since then, Serotek has introduced several powerful, affordable solutions that require minimal training and investment. For more information, visit


Monday, December 1, 2008

Serotek Extends offer of $200 off the purchase of $399 or more Through Dec. 3RD, 2008

 Due to popular demand, we are extending our offer of $200 off the purchase of $399 or more through Wednesday, Dec. 3RD at Midnight Eastern. Get $200 off System Access screen reader version 3.0, System Access Mobile Network, Neospeech, Document Scan, additional machine licenses, or a Netbook computer with System Access. Call toll-fre 866-202-0520 or visit the

Serotek Purchase Page

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Second SeroTalk Podcast Holiday Special

Listen to the second SeroTalk podcast holiday special

Mike Calvo announced the official release of System Access 3.0, and $200 Black Friday discount from Nov 28 thru Dec. 1st. For more access for less, call 866-202-0520 or visit

Mike Calvo recommends the ultimate coffee, tea and hot chocolate maker technology called Tassimo. He recommends getting the Bosch brand TAS10 for $99 if you have filtered water, or the TAS45 for $129 if you need your water filtered

Michael lauf spoke with Tom bozikis with the
Better Business Bureau at

They discussed reading U.S. and Canadian business reliability reports at

filing a complaint at

online safety and the very informative

Tri-State BBB Consumer Education Blog at

Seven people recommend their favorite websites for purchases.

Four sites mentioned by two or more people were:


Three sites for comparing prices were mentioned: from Google


Other sites mentioned for computers, electronics and tech toys included:


For custom built computers and parts,

For audio gear like mixers and mics for musicians and DJs:


J&R Music -

Two sites for radios, antennas and communications gear:

C. Crane Company -


Daily special sites offering only one product per day updated at midnight:


For cell phones, GSM phones unbranded or also referred to as unlocked:


For fragrances: 


For books, music and movies:

For smaller and personal items:



Friday, November 14, 2008

SeroTalk Podcast

Hello, my name is Michael lauf. Some of you may remember me from the internet radio show called Handi-Talk back in 1999. I met many great peple from doing that program, including Mike Calvo.  I am excited to now be a part of the Serotek team as of November 3, 2008. In addition to taking the variety of content on the System Access Mobile Network to a whole new leverl, I will also be creating two podcasts each month.

SeroTalk is both a podcast and blog discussing ways people use access technology to improve the quality of life. The web site is

The website, podcast and blog will offer a wealth of information on new technologies, useful websites, cool software, education, information and entertainment. User comments will be read from those sending us e-mail.

Voicemails will be played from those calling a dedicated toll-free number which is 866-997-2522.
Persons can instantly recieve the latest podcasts and blog postings by adding the following URL to their web browser, RSS news reader or podcatcher

As I write this, we just posted our first podcast, showcasing ten new and exciting features in System Access version 3.0. You can hear our absolutely awesome voice chat technology in action as I talk with six other staff members including Mike Calvo, Ricky Enger, Matt Campbell, richard Wells, Brian Kevelighan and Raymond bishop.
Topics included: 64–bit support, simplified user menus, awesome voice chat technology, support for FireFox Web Browser Version 3, Microsoft Internet Explorer 8, refreshable braille support via the ALVA BC640 Braille display,
automatic updates and auto-repair, new and more-responsive Neospeech voices, 75 percent smaller and subsequently 75 percent faster start time for

support for iTunes 8.01, AllInPlay, and offline document scanning.
We also discuss the variety of new
economical and powerful Netbook computers.

We will play selected voicemails, and read selected e-mails during each podcast, as we are all about interaction. We hope you will sign up and provide feedback to our posts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Serotek CEO Announced as Tekne Award Finalist

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:

Technical Contact :

Calvo recognized as one of Minnesota’s top technology innovators and leaders

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn – September 30, 2008 – Mike Calvo, founder and CEO of Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of Internet and digital information accessibility software and services, was named as a Technology Executive of the Year finalist for the 2008 Tekne Awards. The awards recognize Minnesota companies and individuals who have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. The Technology Executive of the Year category honors an individual member of an executive team who is responsible for the advancement of technology and technology strategy within a company or organization. Leadership within the business as well as civic and community level involvement are considerations.

Born blind, Calvo committed to making a difference from a young age and today, hundreds of thousands around the world, including the elderly, visually impaired, and those with limited mobility, are using Serotek products to operate computers and access the Internet. Calvo conceived of and led the delivery of several industry firsts including the first Web 2.0 based accessibility software, the first Microsoft Vista-ready product line, the first accessible software-as-as-service offering, the first remote incident and remote access management systems for corporate technology support personnel, and he was the first to remove financial barriers by providing world-wide computer accessibility free of charge by donating Serotek’s screen reading product to a foundation he helped found. Additionally, Calvo established and co-sponsored with Lenovo and Microsoft the Serotek Technology Camp for Children, and launched a program for K-12 students in the United States to obtain free accessibility software for their schools. “Recognition for accomplishments that required the cooperation of so many is humbling,” said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, “but I’m honored to represent those who have influenced and changed the lives and careers of so many through technology access.”

Presented by the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) in partnership with Enterprise Minnesota and LifeScience Alley, the Tekne Awards annually recognize Minnesota’s leading technology users and developers in innovation, development, education, commercialization and management of technology in Minnesota. A list of finalists is available online at “Every finalist should be proud of this accomplishment,” said Kate Rubin, president of MHTA. “For nearly a decade the Tekne Awards have shined a spotlight on our state’s best and brightest technology innovators. Great leaders and innovators like Mike Calvo give us hope that we’ll be in good hands for years to come.” On Oct. 30, one recipient from three finalists will be named in this category at the Awards ceremony. Award categories recognize leaders and technology businesses that are emerging (with annual revenues under $50 million) and established (with annual revenues of $50 million or more). This year’s Tekne Awards ceremony will be emceed by Kerri Miller, host of “Midmorning” and “Talking Volumes” on Minnesota Public Radio.

Serotek Corporation

Serotek Corporation is a leading technology company that develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions under the System Access brand. Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek began with the launch of the first 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 and investment. For more information, visit

Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA)

MHTA accelerates the growth, sustainability and global competitiveness of Minnesota's technology-based economy through public policy advocacy, member collaboration and education, and community outreach. MHTA is the only membership organization representing Minnesota’s entire technology-based economy. MHTA members include organizations of every size involved in virtually every aspect of technology creation, production, application and education in Minnesota. MHTA works in partnership with AeA, which represents Minnesota's technology organizations nationally. Find out more online at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ipod and Itunes are now accessible to the blind!

This was an important week for blind people. Apple, a company that has long ignored the need for accessibility in it’s consumer devices brought out a new 4th generation version of the Ipod Nano that, when combined with Itunes version 8,is accessible. GW Micro took Apple where no other AT company has been able to lead them. It is a wonderful success and a gift to blind people everywhere.

Us blind folks are tough critics and the ink will be hardly dry on the announcement before people will be griping that the new Ipod doesn’t do one thing or another. Hush. Something more important than features happened here. Thanks to GW Micro, Apple made the digital lifestyle accessible. In doing so, Apple recognized that accessibility is not about compliance. It’s not about some minimal legal requirement to grudgingly make it possible for a blind person to have some small taste of what’s available to the general public. It’s about making fun accessible. It’s about eliminating barriers and making fun an eyes-free experience.

Think about it.

Ipod is the ubiquitous companion of the young and the young at heart. It is everywhere. In just a few short years this device has completely disrupted and reinvented the music industry; it has added a huge new dimension to social networking; it has become a delivery mechanism for information and entertainment of all kinds.

And now it’s accessible. Now it speaks and you can find what you want and enjoy what you want to enjoy without looking. As the New York Times describes it: “The Nano can now speak its menus, song names, and on-screen messages as you navigate. That should assist anyone who’s blind and anyone who insists on fiddling while driving.”

Let me add: “Or while jogging or biking or reading a book or painting a picture or…the list goes on.” Anyone whose eyes are otherwise occupied is no longer hampered in finding the tune or other feature she wants to hear.

What do you think our multi-tasking kids from grammar school to graduate school are going to do with that capability? I’ll bet they spend half of their navigating time eyes-free.

This one announcement is a giant step towards full, ubiquitous accessibility. Because if we can find our tunes eyes-free, we are going to want to do many other things eyes-free. And that means a future where blind people like you and me no longer have to struggle for accessibility just moved a whole lot closer.

GW Micro did the spade work, Serotek and hopefully other AT companies will pile into the hole and start shaping it into something bigger and better. I know we are on that path. Our upcoming product release will be just an opening salvo. Now that GW Micro has broken ground in the Apple space we’ll all be there competing for the Ipod user’s attention. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it better. That’s what competition is about. You’ll be the judge. But let’s all admit we wouldn’t even be on this playing field without GW’s heroic work.

GW Micro and Apple have combined to make every blind person’s future brighter. As a competitor I salute you. As a blind man, I thank you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Since its announcement in early June, eager contestants have entered and anticipated the drawing for the Serotek Summer Sizzle, a contest offering $2000 worth of products comprising a Digital Lifestyle Makeover for the lucky winner. Nearly 2000 people from some 30 countries entered the online drawing, simply by completing a survey identifying personal styles and preferences as blind computer users.

As anticipated, the winner was announced on the Marlaina Show, a program of ACB Radio, Sunday evening, September 7. The lucky winner, Amy Ruell, is known to many in the blind community for her work in the areas of technology and braille literacy. In addition to her work distributing materials through the ReadBooks program for National Braille Press, Boston, and hosting webinars for parents of blind children for that agency, Ruell is also passionate about her work as president of a Boston area computer users group, VIBUG (Visually Impaired Blind Users Group.) Either directly or indirectly, her Summer Sizzle prize will benefit the VIBUG community, which is dedicated to demonstrating new products and providing information on both mainstream and adaptive technology.

“I’ve been a user of SA To GO for a long time,” Ruell commented, explaining that she often uses the free online version of System Access when traveling. It is so much easier to use the computer offered in a hotel business center, she said, than to carry her own somewhat heavy equipment.

“It will be wonderful to have the System Access software available to me all the time now,” she said, “and to demonstrate it to others.”

As winner of Serotek’s Summer Sizzle, Ruell’s prize included An ASUS 8G 2 pound Netbook PC with 1 gigabyte of main memory and an 8 gigabyte hard drive fully equipped for accessible, wireless networking A complete Serotek SAS package including System Access Mobile; four years of System Access Mobile Network; and Neo Speech
Victor Reader Stream audio book player Zen Stone MP3 Player
And choice of any MobileSpeak screen reader courtesy of CodeFactory.

Serotek CEO Mike Calvo also surprised ten lucky runners-up in the Summer Sizzle contest, each of whom received a one-year subscription to the System Access Mobile Network. The runners-up are: Pat Lenahan, John Manchester, David Taylor, Mike Nicol, Roger Fordham, Jay Pellis, Jessica Miller, Shawn Bever, Brandon Bracey, and Marjolijn Terlingen.

“We’ve learned a great deal from the Summer Sizzle survey,” Calvo commented, “but primarily what this proves is that blind people want the digital lifestyle and accessibility anywhere that is Serotek’s mission.”

For more information about Serotek and System Access products, go to

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dr. Mark Maurer’s letter encouraging rehab centers to give their blind clientele their choice when it comes to selecting accessibility tools

I am a little tardy responding to Dr. Mark Maurer’s letter, at the end of this post, encouraging rehab centers to give their blind clientele their choice when it comes to selecting accessibility tools, such as screen readers. We agree with Dr. Maurer wholeheartedly. There are two considerations, however, that the letter did not address:
1. To make an informed choice, blind consumers need access to all their options and valid, easy to access information about the plusses and minuses of each possible choice. They need to understand the functional capabilities and they need to understand how much time they will have to invest to become proficient using each potential tool. Not all rehab centers are currently able to present this information on all products.
2. Choices have different costs. In a free market scenario the client would make his or her own cost-benefit choice. But if the product is being purchased by vocational rehab funds or other public sources, the client never sees the cost side of the equation. The vocational rehab center does, though. And a client who chooses an expensive product that has more capability than he or she needs, may be limiting the rehab center’s ability to serve all of its clients. Conversely, forcing a low-cost decision on the client when the product falls short of his or her needs is clearly not an acceptable answer. Rehab centers can and should guide clients towards products that fit their needs and make the best use of center resources.
I believe Dr. Maurer’s letter should be a clarion call to vendors of accessibility products to:
1. Make sure every rehab center has full access to product functional specifications; sample products; and demonstration materials that professionals can use to help clients evaluate which tool best meets their needs.
2. Provide accessibility capability at the lowest possible total cost (hardware, software, and training).
3. Structure products in a fashion where users can select a product that meets their specific needs on a cost/benefit basis.
Our hat is off to Dr. Maurer for making the call. Now it is up to Serotek and other vendors to make sure rehab centers can follow through with both the knowledge and the resources to both give their clients choices and serve their entire constituency.
Now Here's the letter:
August 20, 2008

To All Rehabilitation Agencies in the United States

Dear Colleagues:

Sometimes I am told that rehabilitation officials have formed the opinion that they should decide for the clients what products or services may be offered to them. Sometimes I am told that the opinions of rehabilitation personnel are put into effect despite contrary opinions expressed by the blind. As an example, I am told that there is no choice offered the clients regarding the screen reader that may be selected by clients for use in the rehabilitation process.

It is desirable to give the clients a choice in the rehabilitation products these clients receive. This is true for two reasons: 1) The clients who participate in selecting their own products are more likely to use the ones they select; and 2) The right of choice is part of the Rehabilitation Act. It is good for the client, and it is good for the rehabilitation programs to encourage free choice. Should Window-Eyes be used, or should Jaws be used? Should HAL be used, or should System Access To Go be used? The answer to these questions is yes. The client should participate in the choice, deciding which screen access program is preferable in the circumstances. Access to information is of vital importance to the blind. Rehabilitation can enhance access to information, assisting blind people in vital ways. I encourage you to incorporate these thoughts in the process of rehabilitation.


Marc Maurer, President

Cc: GW Micro
Freedom Scientific
System Access To Go

Friday, August 1, 2008

CEO Joins Students at Technology Camp

Students everywhere are enjoying the last few weeks of summer before the school year begins. When asked to describe how they spent their summer vacation, 12 lucky students in Cincinnati, Ohio will undoubtedly have quite a story to tell. The students attended the first technology camp hosted by the Clovernook Center for The Blind and Visually Impaired.

Mike Calvo had the opportunity to join in the fun this week as the children learned to send email, download audio-described movies, and explore web sites such as Bookshare and NLS.

You can read this excellent article about the camp which appears in the Cincinnati Enquirer. You can also view the news story which aired on WXIX Fox 19 and see footage of Mike, the campers, and the Clovernook staff as they discuss this year’s camp experience.

The students will return home from a week of immersion in technology carrying with them not only a greater understanding of how to use a computer, but with a tool allowing them to put such knowledge in to practice no matter where they are. The students are participating in the Keys for K-12 program, which provides any child in the United States enrolled in grades k-12 with a free, annually renewable license to install System Access on a U3-enabled USB thumb drive. Any windows-based computer becomes instantly accessible when plugging the drive in to an available USB port. As the students at this year’s technology camp will attest, having accessibility anywhere is not only practical, it’s lots of fun as well.

If you know of a child who is eligible to participate in the program, we encourage you to check out the KK12 page for more information.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Isn't It Ironic?

IBM gained a bit of press with its recently announced Social Accessibility Project which promises to broker a service that makes Web sites accessible to users of Jaws and Internet Explorer. Almost immediately thereafter, WebVisum was touted for its tools that make sites accessible via Firefox. Both of these efforts are stragglers, wandering onto the field some four years after Serotek announced C-Saw, which enlisted the blind and low vision community to help itself by making not-so-accessible sites more accessible with graphics tags, form fields, links, etc. Serotek has a library of over 4,000 heavily trafficked sites that have been made fully accessible via C-Saw.
When we created C-Saw we approached every AT vendor and offered it to them, free of charge with the goal of making the Internet more accessible for everyone. We got no takers. So the work that has been done is the result of volunteers using Serotek’s System Access and/or the System Access Mobile Network. And these volunteers have done very good work indeed.
It is disheartening to introduce a capability that benefits the community, offer it to everyone, and get the cold shoulder only to see a behemoth like IBM waddle in and make a half-hearted gesture along the same lines and get considerable favorable press. All so they can market tools for accessibility to website designers. It’s disheartening, but not unexpected. This sort of thing happens all the time in the technology industry. Everyone pays attention when the eight-hundred pound gorilla scratches.
More disheartening is the fact that the IBM effort is unlikely to make important things happen for the community. It could, like Sprint’s voice dial capability, be discontinued tomorrow and no consideration given to those who have come to depend on it. Those who contribute to the database will be professionals, doing their part, but not invested in the outcome. C-SAW volunteers are from the blind and low-vision community. They represent the blind community doing for itself – an independent attitude we kind of like here at Serotek.
We’d like to suggest that the three efforts be merged and that the AIR Foundation become the repository for the accessibility database. We imagine there are good things to be learned from IBM and Visum and Serotek can offer up its current data base of accessible sites and our cadre of experienced volunteers. By taking the site accessibility database out of the hands of any company, we protect against the corporate retooling that can (as it did with Sprint) wipe out a non-profit service without a thought as to the consequences.
Let’s make Web site accessibility a community right! Please post your comments and try your best not to be anonymous.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mike Calvo Presents at the General Session of the 47th Annual ACB Convention

Mike Calvo gave a well-received talk at the July 9rd morning General Session of the 47th Annual Convention of the American Council of the Blind. Everyone is now invited to listen to an archive of this special event.

This Year's Convention Adventures

So I am now getting ready to go home after 2 long weeks on the road. Wow! What a rush it's been. From Dalis to Louisville I have had a blast hanging out with many of you and being humbled with your good wishes and encouraging support.

I had so many things to say and for several reasons just decided to speak to the people I had in front of me, from the heart, and post my actual speech here. Should I have stuck to the script? I don't know really. Quite honestly I am just way to tired to even have an opinion. But hey, here it is, you decide.

It is truly an honor to have this opportunity to address you from the podium today. …

Maybe you’ve never heard of Mike Calvo or Serotek Corp., or SA To Go or System Access.

I’ll try to bring you up to speed.

I am one of you. I grew up in the schools and streets of Miami as a blind kid. (If you want to know more details, you can read an article in AccessWorld by Deborah Kendrick, called from Street Kid to CEO. That article tells you where I came from – and where I’m definitely going.)

In the interest of time, though, I’ll tell you that I’m a blind guy who had a dream seven ears ago. I love technology. But I didn’t like the fact that we, as blind people, needed to pay more for it, use tools different from everyone else’s, and always seemed to be playing catch up with the sighted world wanting to accomplish the same tasks. My dream has grown and grown and is now spreading around the world. I used to say it’s something like AOL meets WEB-TV for blind folks – and that’s still true, but now, System Access is so much more.

Have you ever wished you could just sit down at your sighted friend’s computer and show them how to do something – but there’s no screen reader? Have you ever wished you could use the computer in the library or an internet café or your sighted child’s school? With SA To Go, you can have an instant screen reader on any computer, anytime, anywhere – and have it there in seconds. If the computer is used by sighted people who don’t like the sound of synthetic speech, you don’t have to worry, because it goes away when the computer is turned off.

System Access and the System Access Mobile Network are the flagship products we sell at Serotek. I could spend all my time just telling you about the news, entertainment, movies, music, and more you can find and find easily on the System Access Mobile Network. But I’m talking today about access for everyone, free, everywhere.

In January we partnered with a new foundation (headed up by your own Art Schreiber) called Accessibility is a Right: AIR. Because of the partnership between Serotek and AIR, any blind person anywhere in the world who has access to any computer with an internet connection can download SA To Go for FREE, and have speech and magnification on that computer to make it accessible in the way so many of us in this room have come to associate with using. Technology.

(And yes, Braille access is part of our plan as well….”
With the newest release of System Access Mobile, everything on the screen can be read with the Alva BC640 Braille display. Why is this the only display added at this time? Because it meshes with the Serotek philosophy that we, as blind people, should not have access only with limited, specialized tools that are available in limited settings.

Our intent is to do for accessibility what Google did for Web searches. That is, make the idea of accessibility fundamental to using the Web. We want to make accessibility second nature.


We believe that blind and low vision consumers have a right to be on a par with sighted consumers in enjoying the full benefits of the digital lifestyle. But we have a problem. Only a tiny portion of the blind and low-vision community is “access-enabled.”

Microsoft commissioned a study by Forester Research in 2004 to look at the opportunity in accessibility. The reports (there are two of them) are available on Microsoft’s Web site. The reports showed that only 1% of people who could benefit from screen readers were using them and only 5% of people who could benefit from screen magnification were using magnification. That means that 99% of blind and 95% of low-vision people were being excluded from access to the digital lifestyle. There are only a few hundred thousand “access-enabled” blind and low-vision consumers worldwide – and everyone here is undoubtedly counted among that elite group. But there are many millions of blind people in the world who are not “access-enabled.” And that number is growing.

When you’ve spent your life in the digital world, you become aware of how fast change happens. I’ve got some old timers in my company who remember when computers weighted tons and took up whole air conditioned buildings to deliver a few kilobytes of memory at processing speeds barely faster than a mechanical adding machine. These so-called old timers – and there are some in this room -- are only in their sixties. The time they are remembering is only about forty years ago. Computer technology has undergone nearly forty generations in that time. We are watching evolution on fast-forward. The conventional approach to access-enabling blind and low-vision users cannot come close to keeping up with the pace of technology innovation. Thus even access-enabled blind and low vision people, like you and me, are falling behind the state of the art if we are locked into current screen reader technology.

The blind community is falling further behind with each new generation of digital products and services. And as the gap increases we become less and less visible.
And there is no need for there to be a gap at all. The very nature of digital information makes it easily accessible. Whether it is presented as text, as voice, as Braille, music, graphics, or in multimedia combination is all a matter of how digital information is displayed. The intrinsic truth – the word, the note, the picture – is there, represented by 1’s and 0’s, arranged in well-known code structures. With almost no effort at all, every bit and byte of mainstream digital information could be inherently fully accessible allowing the user to choose how he or she would receive it.

But mainstream software companies and Web designers don’t recognize that they have a potential user base of millions who are being excluded. We, the blind community, are invisible to them and even as our numbers grow, we will become less rather than more visible unless we take dramatic steps to increase the percentage of us who are access enabled.

That is what System Access to Go is about. It is about enticing thirty or forty million blind and low vision people into the digital mainstream by making it possible for them to have access any time they are connected to the Internet. It’s about getting those people into the digital lifestyle, using the social networking tools, enjoying the music and entertainment, staying current with the news, and buying products in sufficient numbers for mainstream companies to take notice.

Our goal with System Access to Go is to make accessibility software obsolete. There is no reason whatsoever for accessibility not to be embedded within every software product, every Web site; every digital player and device.

SAToGo is our gift to the blind community and we ask nothing for this gift except that people make a small effort to be access-enabled. We believe an access-enabled blind community will be a vibrant market with ample opportunity for many businesses to prosper serving the community’s digital lifestyle needs. Will we achieve the ubiquitous recognition of Google? Well we could probably have chosen an easier to use name. You hardly ever hear anyone saying “SAY-TOGO that for me, will you?” Nonetheless, thousands of users are downloading SAToGo every day. We are making it possible for today’s blindness professionals to reach out to more people and meet the growing demand.

Look for Serotek to continue along this path – bringing easy, affordable access to the digital lifestyle for all blind people. Come by the Serotek booth to learn more about SAToGo and the SA Mobile Network and to enter our Summer Sizzle to win a digital lifestyle prize worth $2000. And thank you for allowing me to spend this time with you this morning.
Thank you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mike Calvo Presents at the General Session of the 68th Annual NFB Convention

Mike Calvo gave a well-received talk at the July 3rd morning General Session of the 68th Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Everyone is now invited to listen to an archive of this special event.

Monday, June 16, 2008

In Memory Of Clarence Whaley

I am saddened by the passing of Clarence Whaley. He is one of the special people you meet from time to time in the adaptive technology industry whose only interest is making life a little fairer for blind people. I just saw him and Raul at CSUN. He’s one of the people who helped convince me that a guide dog would make my life a whole lot easier.
Clarence was a great role model showing us that you don't have to have a chip on our shoulder to get noticed. I remember when Serotek was the new kid on the block that he and all the other folks at GW Micro made us feel like part of the adaptive technology family. This was important to me because we were new in an industry that was really skeptical of any new player.
Clarence always had a kind and encouraging word even though we were competitors in the field.
Clarence Whaley was always a gentleman. The industry will miss him.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Serotek Summer Sizzle: Win a Complete Digital Lifestyle Makeover

Serotek’s Accessible Digital Lifestyle is a hot topic and getting hotter. Here’s your chance to add some sizzle to your life by participating in our online survey and enrolling to win a complete digital lifestyle makeover.

Here’s what you can win:

  • ASUS 8G 2 pound Netbook PC with 1 gigabyte of main memory and an 8 gigabyte hard drive fully equipped for accessible, wireless networking

  • A complete Serotek SAS package including System Access Mobile; four years of System Access Mobile Network; and Neo Speech

  • Victor Reader Stream audio book player

  • Zen Stone MP3 player

  • 1 copy of any Mobile Speak screen reader courtesy of Code Factory

The digital lifestyle makeover is worth more than $2,000 and all you have to do is answer a few really easy questions. What’s to lose? Now is your chance to get hot and warm up your life with Serotek’s fully accessible digital lifestyle.

The winner of our Summer Sizzle contest will be drawn on September 7, the Sunday after Labor Day, on ACB Radio's Marlaina program, and the winner must be at home to win.

Of course you don’t have to wait to win to get access and be accessible. You can start your makeover now. This summer we’re putting the Sizzle in accessibility. If you’re one of the first 100 people to sign up for Serotek’s four-year software as a service package, for only $24.95 per month, in addition to System Access Mobile for two computers and a memory stick; a four-year membership to the System Access Mobile Network, and Neo Speech, we’ll send you a ZEN Stone MP3 player at no charge. Who says accessibility is just about your job? Serotek provides you Life Access With Speech.

For more information please visit Serotek on the web at and click the Summer Sizzle link.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Changes in System Access 2.5.0

Accessible Digital Lifestyle

  • Fixed a problem which prevented the SA Mobile Network browser from starting the Amazon MP3 Downloader.

  • Eliminated an error message which was appearing when logging into Napster from the SA Mobile Network browser. Note that other error messages still appear when using Napster with the current beta of Internet Explorer 8; this isn't a problem with System Access or the SA Mobile Network browser, but we're still working with Microsoft to remedy it.

  • Fixed problems with the log-in form on

Internet Explorer and SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Improved access to pages such as the home page that have areas which frequently update themselves.

  • Improved access to Google applications, especially Gmail and Google Docs.

  • Fixed a bug in the new SA Mobile Network browser which prevented the browser from coming to the foreground on startup.

Windows Live Mail

This update introduces support for Windows Live Mail, Microsoft's latest desktop email software for home users and the successor to Outlook Express and Windows Mail. As well as providing access to Windows Live Mail itself, System Access now provides fully automatic speech output in Windows Live Installer, making it easy to install and start using Windows Live Mail.


  • If you tap the Control key twice quickly, System Access will stop automatic speech in the current foreground window, such as reading of progress bars and status indicators, until you switch to another window.

  • Improved access to the Microsoft rich edit control, resulting in better access to the freeware Jarte word processor, among other programs.

  • Your SA Mobile Network notes will now be stored on SA Mobile Network servers instead of your home machine and/or U3 smart drive. This means that you'll have access to all of your notes in one place whether you're using your home machine, a U3 smart drive, or SA to Go.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Open Letter To Independent Living Adult Blind Professionals

Independent Living Adult Blind (ILAB) service organizations face a unique challenge as baby boomers become seniors and many experience vision loss. The impact of a rapid loss of vision can be devastating. In very short order, a person loses every point of reference. They feel cut off, isolated, disoriented, and afraid. A once-friendly world is suddenly an alien place with everything that was once familiar, now strange and threatening.

We who are blind know that with time, a person can find a new equilibrium – well-oriented and secure. Millions of blind people live independently and there is no inherent reason why a newly blind senior can’t recapture an independent lifestyle. But it requires the help of caring and skilled organizations and individuals to make that transition.

ILAB’s job is to be a lifeline, offering support in re-achieving independence and helping newly blind seniors find a path to:

  • Orientation
  • Mobility
  • Safety
  • Home and personal management skills such as identifying money, cooking, cleaning, and labeling foods and medications
  • Employment skills such as typing and computer use
  • Quality of life skills including talking books, Braille, writing guides
  • Self-actuating skills such as assertive communications, goal setting and coping

The duty of an ILAB organization is to help individuals discover a way to find new reference points, reconnect to people, relearn basic living skills, and roll back the fear.

Accessible computers, the Internet, and a whole raft of digital devices and services can be important tools for making that path smoother and with fewer obstacles. That is only true, however, if the tools themselves are not a challenge beyond the newly blind person’s ability. Fortunately, the baby boomers experiencing age-related vision loss are more computer savvy than seniors were just a few years ago. A majority have used computers in some fashion either at work or at home before experiencing vision loss, and while they are not computer geeks by any stretch of the imagination, neither are they completely intimidated. The number of computer savvy individuals will continue to grow among the senior population as each succeeding wave is more attuned to the digital lifestyle than the preceding group.

When Serotek created the first accessible digital lifestyle products back in 2001, we were focused on the needs of the newly blind who were even less sophisticated than the baby boomers. We realized that accessible meant more than simply reading a screen or a document. Accessible meant being usable by anyone, no matter how much or how little computer background they might have had. We believed then and now that accessible means accessible to anyone, anywhere. It is that belief, and how we put it into practice, that makes Serotek the perfect partner for ILAB services.

Living Better Digitally

While it is intuitively obvious that digital technology is essential to vocational rehabilitation, it may not be so obvious that the computer, the Internet, and the wide variety of digital tools are even more important to independent living. Consider the challenges listed below:

  • Orientation - or where am I? Cell phone global positioning will become widely available within the next few months. That means a blind person can get step by step instructions on how to get from here to there, wherever they are on the planet.

  • Mobility – or how do I get where I need to go? Mobility is always an enormous challenge for the newly blind, but the accessible Internet can greatly reduce the need to travel. With access to the Internet, a person can shop from home, work from home, attend classes from home, and enjoy a wide range of entertainment without ever setting foot outside the door. That takes a lot of pressure off the mobility challenge and makes it much easier to deal with the occasions when staying home isn’t an option.

  • Safety – When you lose your sense of where you are, the world is a frightening place. Again, the Internet allows a person to deal with challenges of being newly blind, while staying in the relative safety of his or her own home until he or she gains the confidence to become more mobile.

  • Home and personal management – Shopping, banking, access to medical information, managing personal finances, accessing home maintenance services, recipes and more are all available via the Internet and by using a computer.

  • Employment – Work from home using voice over Internet protocol and the computer. The computer and Internet make it possible to work anywhere in the world and never leave your home.

  • Quality of life – Arts, entertainment, social interaction – all available via the broadband connection including talking books, described videos, infinite radio channels, and more. Connect to family via e-mail and old and new friends via an ever growing variety of social networking sites.

  • Self-actuating skills – It is easier to be assertive online than in person.

The truth is, our society is completely connected today using the Internet, cell phones, and the growing Wi-Fi network. The majority of life experiences are available regardless of whether or not a person is sighted. The Internet, the computer, and the many other digital devices are great leveling tools. Across a digital connection, everyone is the same regardless of the quality of their vision, provided they have a fully accessible connection.

Unfortunately, however, accessibility has not been an easy thing in the past. The tools offered by traditional adaptive technology vendors have been expensive and complex. A person might require 30 or more hours of class room training to become competent on a traditional screen reader and even after 30 hours, not everyone succeeds. License fees for accessibility software have been high and bundled with a string of conditions that assure the vendor a steady revenue stream. While the tools are adequate for most vocational rehab applications they often fall far short when being used to surf the Internet and enjoy the wide variety of products, information, services and entertainment available on the web. Many Web sites have been designed with little regard for screen reader requirements and are thus totally inaccessible to traditional screen readers.

Serotek made the accessible user interface its design priority. Our System Access product family has won accessibility awards from the MS Foundation and the American Foundation for the Blind. Typically a user can be trained and fully functional using System Access with about two hours of instruction. Many computer savvy users can function with System Access with no training, just relying on its extensive Help menu as necessary. We do recommend that users take advantage of training when it’s available. The more familiar the user is with the computer and the Internet, the easier it is for them to use System Access because in general System Access uses the same command structures they are used to, without layering on special “screen reader” commands.

Serotek has also made accessibility completely mobile. System Access Mobile can be loaded on a thumb drive and plugged into any computer, making it instantly accessible. If a computer is connected to the Internet, System Access To Go (SAToGo) is available at no charge to be instantly downloaded and used while the computer is connected to the Internet. SAToGo is made available to anyone, anytime at no cost through The AIR Foundation, which believes that “accessibility is a right.”

When cost is a major issue, ILAB organizations can train the newly blind using SAToGo. There are good reasons, however, for the user to invest the small amount necessary to have the full complement of Serotek Products. We make available System Access Mobile for two computers, NeoSpeech, and the System Access Mobile Network for a monthly service charge of $24.95, with a four-year commitment. That includes all software updates and maintenance. The user can connect a work and home computer using System Access Mobile; and load System Access on a thumb drive to plug into any computer anytime. Access to the System Access Mobile Network (SAMNet) gives the user e-mail, a powerful search engine, access to the largest assembled collection of accessible content anywhere on the Web including news, sports, Internet radio, described video and more; accessible shopping, blogs, forums, etc. SAMNet is a key to independent living. The online community delivers immediate connection to family and friends via e-mail; it connects the newly blind person to the world via news and entertainment channels; the newly blind individual is welcomed into a caring community of others who are happy to share experience and advice over forums and chat groups. SAMNet provides full access to online shopping using, for example, the family of shopping services providing everything from groceries to electronics and other gifts – and they still do audio books. The SAMNet community uses a Serotek tool, called C-SAW, to make Internet sites more accessible. Every SAMNet user automatically benefits from the improved accessibility when they connect to any of the thousands of C-SAW improved sites. Being online gives users access to a growing supply of online applications for business and personal use. We have recently made Quicken Online accessible for users to manage their personal finances.

Reaching and Teaching

One of the biggest challenges for ILAB organizations is simply reaching the newly blind seniors and accommodating the ever increasing numbers. Serotek is the only adaptive technology company that seems to have given any consideration to the huge workload that these baby boomers represent and the limited resources ILAB organizations have to deal with them.

Our solution, being used in state organizations successfully, is called Remote Incident Manager (RIM). RIM is a fully-accessible distant learning and technical support tool that lets the trainer or technician share the student’s computer desktop over the Internet. The trainer can make technical adjustments if the student is having difficulty with his or her machine. The trainer can download software or call it up from the student’s machine and work directly with the student on the application being trained, whatever it is. This one-on-one training is very powerful and students grasp much more quickly than they do in a classroom setting. Using the phone or Voice over Internet protocol, the trainer and student have a full hands-on learning experience and neither needs to travel to make it happen. This saves precious travel time and cost and multiplies the number of successful training sessions a trainer can have per day. Trainers and students both claim that when using RIM, they are enjoying at least a three-to-one advantage with one hour of RIM time being worth at least three hours of class room time. RIM can be used to train conventional screen readers, but when it’s used to train the System Access accessibility anywhere tools, the time from start to full independent living is shortened by an order of magnitude. The $1,000 annual license pays for itself several times over.

It’s All About Independence

When a person loses his or her eyesight to macular degeneration or any of the several age-related conditions, their world crashes. To be newly blind is to be alone and afraid. There is a huge gulf between how life was and how it seems now and independence seems like an unreachable goal. Fortunately, for many, there are ILAB organizations that are ready and willing to reach across that gulf and bring the newly blind into a new dimension of independent living. The digital lifestyle is a big part of the transition and Serotek Corporation has not only made the digital lifestyle accessible, it has delivered the tools to help trainers and students bridge the gulf more quickly.

For us, the reward is that newly blind baby boomer’s independence. An independent blind person is a potential customer for other accessible digital lifestyle products and services and that’s where we see our future. Independently living blind people bring their appetites for all the exciting digital lifestyle tools and toys that their sighted peers enjoy and Serotek intends to be the leader in making these products and services accessible.

Losing one’s sight is life changing, but thanks to ILAB organizations and companies like Serotek that support them, it need not be the end of the world. It can be the beginning of a whole new, rewarding and productive life.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Serving More People, Better, And For Less

“The baby boomers are coming! The baby boomers are coming!” You can hear the cry ringing out in agencies and organizations that work with blind and low vision people throughout the country. And, just when they need more money and resources to deal with the influx of newly blind seniors, the Federal and state governments, feeling the crunch of a poor economy and a raging Federal deficit, are scaling back. Our brave, blind services militia is standing exposed, running out of ammunition, and seeing the hoard descending upon them. Wise people know that if this first line of defense fails and cannot contain the influx of newly blind seniors helping the majority of them to live independently with a high quality of life, society will feel the impact several times over with Medicare and Medicaid costs soaring and a huge demand society cannot fill for specialized housing, transportation, personal attendants, and more.

You might think that the adaptive technology industry and the vendors who have, for years, made a healthy profit selling traditional screen readers, hardware, and services to this community, would now step up to the plate and help the home team meet the challenge. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. So far it looks as if traditional screen reader vendors will simply sit back and profiteer with little concern for the social impact of failure.

Guerrilla Tactics

When conventional forces cannot prevail the only option is to use guerrilla tactics. Fortunately guerrilla tactics are what Serotek knows best. And we’ve created the tools our blind services militia can use to reach out to more people, provide them with an almost instant ability to live independently, and do it even as budgets are being squeezed.

First, Serotek has given the home team an unlimited supply of free accessibility software. That’s right. System Access To Go (SAToGo) is Serotek’s award-winning access tool available at no charge to anyone connected to the Internet. Compare that to licenses costing $1,000 or more from traditional vendors. How many more customers can you serve on your budget? As many as you can introduce to SAToGo – that’s how many. Your organization doesn’t need to spend scarce resources buying software and maintenance licenses for your clientele.

Not everyone will want to use an Internet-based accessibility tool For those who want the software resident on their machine and want the ability to interact between their home and work computers you can point them to Serotek’s software as a service offering (SAS). For less than $25 per month they can have it all: System Access Mobile, NEO speech, and four years of System Access Mobile Network. This is a cost within almost anyone’s budget (less than a cup of coffee per day).

Even with free software, though, your agencies resources will be taxed to the max. How can you physically serve the number of people who will be begging for help in the coming decade? The answer is Remote Incident Manager (RIM). RIM is Serotek’s powerful distance learning tool. Your trainers can work from the office or from home directly contacting clients at home. RIM allows the trainer and client to share the client’s “desktop.” The trainer can adjust the client’s computer, if necessary and then either using a separate voice line or Voice over Internet Protocol, teach the application in a hands-on fashion. Everything the client sees, the trainer sees. The trainer can intervene as necessary, point out errors, and gently steer the client to right process. Any application can be trained remotely including those overweight, overpriced conventional screen readers that some people insist they need.

Does it work? Joe Devine said, “In my experience, the one hour a week [remote] session was a more effective and efficient use of the instructor’s time. I was able to progress much more rapidly than in the three hour classroom session. My proficiency has greatly improved. I am happy and relieved to have improved enough to be functional on my computer.”

How about System Access? Can it handle real screen reader duties? Larry Klug of Clovernook in Cincinnati reports: “I am proud to announce that my consumer Jim Keller, who uses System Access, received the Blind Employee of the Year award last Friday at the annual Clovernook Center for the Blind Annual Banquet.”

And we just heard from a user who walked into a job interview at a company where the systems were not accessible. She accessed SAToGo, demonstrated that she could do the work, and got the job.

The fact is that thousands of users are now looking to System Access and System Access to Go for at least some of their accessibility needs. Major institutions, like Ohio State University, are making their entire network accessible using Serotek’s enterprise solutions.

If you are sitting in a state blind services organization or a vocational rehabilitation training facility and wondering how you are going to survive this imminent crush of baby boomer demand, look no further. The Serotek team is on your side with solutions that work, that are far less costly, and that allow you to do so much more with the precious resources you have.

You see, at Serotek we view the challenge differently. Conventional AT players see accessibility as their only opportunity to make money from blind folks and the current government subsidized software approach works just fine for them. But Serotek sees the opportunity as selling fun, digital lifestyle products to people who already have accessibility. And that means anything we can do to increase the number of people with accessibility makes our opportunity grow. You may be groaning when you see the hoard of newly blind seniors on your doorstep. We’re licking our chops. As soon as we can help you get these folks online, we can reach out and sell them devices that will improve their quality of life ten-fold. Your success is our opportunity.

And together we can make it happen.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Retooling for Baby Boomers: Helping Vocational Rehab Organizations Meet The Coming Surge in Demand

Retooling for Baby Boomers:

Helping Vocational Rehab Organizations
Meet The Coming Surge in Demand

There has always been a strong link between age and blindness. Numerous diseases and conditions we associate with aging that result in impairment or loss of vision. This year, the first of the baby boomers reach retirement age and what follows will likely be a rapidly increasing demand for rehabilitation services for the blind. This should not come as a surprise to anyone in the blind services field. This NCSAB conference is a direct recognition of the impending increase in demand.

If state agencies were limited to the tools of the past, the impending boom in demand would be a crisis. Traditional, one-size-fits-all screen readers are hugely expensive and notoriously difficult to train. While baby boomers have some computer literacy, they are still mostly neophytes when it comes to dealing with the technical awareness required by most screen readers. If they are newly blind and just beginning to learn the basics of independent living, the screen readers can be overwhelming. Yet, if they are to achieve independence and full communion with their families, they need to have access to the computer and the Internet. Digital access is fundamental to living independently and to attaining and enjoying a quality of life that compares to their lives before they lost their vision.

If state agencies could count on an enormous increase in funding, commensurate with the growth in demand, it might be possible to assemble reduced-functionality training programs using conventional screen readers. Increases in funding, however, are generally wishful thinking. Reality will likely be an increased workload and little in the way of additional resources.

Strange as it may seem, with its initial business plan in 2000, Serotek started out to address precisely this issue. The plan recognized both the challenge and the opportunity in the “graying of America.” Its fundamental strategy was to treat blind and low vision Americans and others throughout the world as customers rather than welfare recipients.

This was not a popular position because conventional wisdom in the investment community said that blind folks don’t have any money. If you want to sell them products, you have to get the government to pay. Over time, our original vision has proven true, but it hasn’t been easy.

We took this position for a number of reasons:

Conventional screen readers had a vast amount of capability but were packaged with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality. People come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and needs, and for most people, particularly elderly blind people, conventional screen readers are far too complex and difficult to master.

The complexity of conventional screen readers exists in part because they are built on a legacy of past investment. No one wants to reinvent the wheel. It’s easier, faster and cheaper to pretty up the old one. Best of all, by dressing up the existing model, it will still fit with all the old hardware and software. Unfortunately, it also means that the most current screen reading technology is still a generation or so behind the state of the art in mainstream software. Thus in addition to paying a huge price for accessibility, blind folks are forced to run on the previous generation’s operating system. Companies that make their software accessible are similarly hindered by having their corporate technology held back in order to remain compatible with current conventional accessibility tools.

There is a whole host of neat toys – digital candy if you will – that make life more fun. These PDAs, MP3 players, games and such are totally forgotten by the conventional accessibility industry. We like these toys and we know other blind people would like them too. This is particularly true of the newly-blind baby boomers who have been huge consumers of such digital lifestyle products.

In effect, there is an accessibility barrier that keeps the blind and low vision community at a disadvantage in the workplace and from enjoying the lifestyle advantages of the digital age.

There is another problem with the conventional screen reader technology. It is difficult to teach and depends on the network of vocational rehabilitation organizations to train people in its use. The training process is long and expensive both in dollars and in trainer time. Bringing a newly-blind, non-computer user to competence is no easy matter using any of the major conventional screen readers. Despite the dependent relationship between adaptive technology vendors and vocational rehabilitation personnel, the vendors have done precious little to make training easier and more consistently successful.

We took on this barrier from two perspectives. First, we created System Access to Go and made it available free of charge to anyone who wishes to use it. We did this in cooperation with The AIR Foundation, which promotes accessibility as a fundamental human right. For those who aren’t aware of the da Vinci-award-winning System Access, it is highly intuitive and easy to learn. Although we do not position it or market it as a vocational rehab tool, it handles most of the major off-the-shelf business applications like Microsoft Office and delivers a host of special capabilities. One such capability allows a user to access a home computer from the road and run it just as if he or she were sitting at the keyboard. System Access to Go, which just won the 2008 AFB Access Award, is a web-based version of System Access that can be used anytime a person is connected to the Internet, at no charge.

Our second program is called Remote Incident Manager (RIM) and it is a tool designed specifically for trainers and technicians. Using RIM, a vocational rehab trainer, working from her home or office, can conduct one-on-one training of a blind or low vision person with a computer and access to the Internet wherever they might be. The trainer can be on the trainee’s desktop sharing the same application and providing direct instruction, using voice over Internet protocol. He or she can help adjust and install new software on the trainee’s system and help the trainee work through applications in real time. The trainer can teach any application including conventional screen readers. The whole interactive process is fully accessible.

Serotek is basically changing the economics of blindness. The SAToGo accessibility tool meets one hundred percent of most people’s needs for accessibility – at least in their everyday lives. It’s available anywhere, costs nothing, and it is relatively easy to learn and use. The software includes a screen reader, braille access and text magnification. This is the perfect tool for newly blind baby boomers and for many others. Many of the people who use SAToGo may choose to purchase System Access Mobile and have an accessibility tool permanently installed on their home system and on their portable systems. Many would also enjoy the benefits of being part of the online community, System Access Mobile Network. Priced as a service, this costs the user less than $25 per month for everything. That’s well within most budgets. And for those who require state assistance for this payment, it is still far less expensive than any other accessibility solution.

Remote Incident Manager (RIM) is priced at $1,000 per seat. This software pays for itself many times over by saving commute time for clients in rural areas. It also allows vocational rehab trainers to reach and successfully train more people in a larger geographical area at less total cost. RIM eliminates the burden of travel – always one of the biggest barriers for the newly blind.

Combining the two products, System Access (including SAToGo) and RIM, makes it possible for a vocational rehab center to take on the added burden of newly-blind seniors and to provide them with the tools for independent living and a high quality of life. Equally important, the tools allow the vocational rehab center to spend less of its precious resources providing products to their clientele and to focus resources on delivering service.

The coming boom in demand for vocational rehab services is inevitable as baby boomers age. Serotek gives vocational rehab providers the tools to meet this surge and to continue delivering the high quality services that give newly blind seniors a path to independent living.

For more information on how Serotek’s award-winning products and services can enhance the way you interact with your consumers, please contact:

Ricky Enger
Serotek Corporation
(612) 246-4818 Ext. 104
Toll free: (866) 202-0520 Ext. 104

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Changes in System Access 2.4.8

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Fixed a bug which caused System Access to hang the browser when tabbing through some pages, such as the results page on Froogle.

SA Mobile Media Library

  • You can now play WMA files in your media library and transfer them to a ZEN Stone.

Victor Reader Stream Support

  • When you connect to the Victor Reader Stream, the SA Mobile Network browser will now offer to download the latest Stream software update if your Stream isn't running the latest software.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dining with Giants

We had an opportunity on Friday to have dinner with some folks who have made a difference in each of our lives. The occasion was the annual American Foundation for the Blind accessibility awards dinner and we were there because Serotek received the award for System Access To Go. My wife and I were in rare company and we were honored to be there. SAToGo has indeed made a difference in many people’s lives and will continue to do so for years to come. But I don’t want to talk about us today. I sat in a room full of giants – people making a difference every day and not getting a whole lot of press. I want to celebrate these people – both the recipients and the members of the American Foundation for the Blind who came together to recognize these contributions.
There were three recipients of the 2008 Accessibility Award. In addition to Serotek, the award was given to Code Factory and to Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian.
At the same event, Anita Aaron, Executive Director of the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind received the 2008 Gallagher Award.
My good friend Eduardo Sanchez Palazon, CEO of Code Factory, came from Spain to receive the accessibility award for making cell phones, smart phones, and PDAs accessible with Mobile Speak and Mobile Magnifier. I truthfully could not do my job without these powerful tools that let me tap into our network from my smart phone and run Serotek from wherever I am. In December, Code Factory signed an agreement with AT&T to make accessible cell phones available to the blind community at a discount. Eduardo is unique because he sees us blind folks as customers – not the agencies, not the government, but just us blind folks. And he treats us like customers, not like welfare recipients looking for a handout. Eduardo not only serves our communication needs, but he gives our self-esteem a huge shot in the arm and for that alone the man deserves all the awards and kudos that are heaped upon him.
Lainey Feingold and Linda Dardarian are lawyers who have been making the case for accessibility for several years. Lainey and her co counsel developed a process, called “Structured Negotiation” which replaces costly and contentious litigation with formal, structured negotiation as a means of solving accessibility issues. Her success rate is awe-inspiring. Thanks to Lainey you and I can access ATM’s and point of sale terminals at thousands of banks and stores nationwide. She has agreements with 7-11, American Express, Bank of America, Bank One, Citibank, Radio Shack, Safeway, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Wells Fargo and many other banks and retail operations. In our litigious, contentious society it is a breath of fresh air to see a different approach – reasonable people working together to solve an issue – and actually succeed.
Anita Aaron, who received the 2008 Gallagher Award, is legendary in San Francisco where she has been Executive Director of the Lighthouse for the Blind for seventeen years. She also serves on the San Francisco Commission on Aging and Adult Services, is on the Board of Directors of the Curry Senior Center and a member of the Blind Services Advisory Committee of the State Department of Rehabilitation. California’s and specifically San Francisco’s leadership in accessibility issues is largely due to Anita’s firm hand.
The award recipients weren’t the only giants at the affair. Our host, Carl Augusto, the President and CEO of the AFB certainly has left his imprint on our lives, extending the AFB’s scope to influence corporate America to make accessible products and acting as unifying force, bringing service organizations of and for the blind together in a collaborative way to further the common objective of accessibility and independent living. Under Carl’s tutelage the AFB is promoting accessibility for seniors who are losing their vision from age-related conditions.
The room was filled with many business and community leaders, serving on the AFB’s Board of Directors, many of them blind. They come from all walks of life: banks, universities, major corporations, law firms; and a wide variety of government and NGOs serving the needs of the blind. I am sure, however, that Mike May, our emcee was the only blind individual in the room who had both set world records as a blind downhill skier and worked for the CIA. Warm and charming, Mike was entertaining and inspirational. I have his book, “Crashing Through,” written with Robert Kurson on my list of “must reads.” Blind from the age of three, Mike is one of a small group of individuals who had some vision restored with stem cell transplant surgery less than a decade ago. Most of us can imagine his emotional and intellectual struggle whether or not to go through with this life-altering and very “iffy” surgery.
I am grateful to the AFB for honoring our Serotek team by making us part of this affair. They did everything right. It was at the same time elegant and casual; people dressed to the nines, but warm and friendly. The food and company was superb. There was no competition among the industry people. Rather there was a universal appreciation for what each had brought to benefit our community. Maybe it was the never empty wine glass, but by the end of the evening I was thinking that it is a great misperception when people complain that our blind youth have no heroes – no one to look up to and see what is possible. This room was filled with heroes – everyday heroes making a difference in peoples’ lives, not in any way restricted by the fact that they are blind or have low vision. Every one of us has an opportunity to be that kind of hero. We only need to follow our passion and believe that we can.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Changes in System Access 2.4.7

This update introduces two features related to the accessible digital lifestyle: access to the music search engine and Internet jukebox, and improved access to Major League Baseball's audio and video streams.


You can now use Songza with System Access, in either Internet Explorer or our own browser, to search for songs, listen to the songs you find, create playlists, and more. You can control Songza's music player with the same hot keys as in the Napster Web-based player; for a listing of the special hot keys in either of these Web-based players, press Modifier+F1. We're excited about the access we've been able to provide to this cutting-edge Web 2.0 application, and we hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, problems, or suggestions, please share them on the Serotek Users Forum.

Major League Baseball Multimedia

This update fixes a few problems which rendered Major League Baseball's subscription-based audio and video streams inaccessible with SA. Again, if you still have problems, please let us know.

Internet Explorer and New SA Mobile Network Browser

  • Fixed a bug which sometimes caused SA to lock up Internet Explorer when using Windows Update.

  • SA no longer interrupts continuous reading of a Web page to announce changes on the page. This is especially important for news articles which have frequently updating advertisements.

  • Added check boxes to our browser display preferences section which let you indicate that our browser should always use your preferred colors, font, and/or font size, even when visiting a site that provides its own settings. These have the same effect in our browser as the accessibility options in Internet Explorer.


  • Fixed a bug which prevented SA from speaking the new horizontal position after pressing Tab.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Changes in System Access 2.4.4

Starting with this update, you should no longer need to use our old browser, which will go away in a week or so.

Instant Messenger

  • Our instant messenger is now available in the new SA Mobile Network browser.

  • Made sign-in and sign-out alerts configurable per account.

  • You will no longer hear sign-in and sign-out alerts when the SA Mobile Media Player is in the foreground.


  • You will no longer hear SA Mobile Network email alerts when the SA Mobile Media Player is in the foreground.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Changes in System Access 2.4.0

Screen Magnification

System Access 2.4 introduces full-screen magnification. The screen can be magnified with a factor from 1.25x to 6x, adjusted in 0.25x increments. The colors can also be inverted, so black becomes white and vice versa. For more information, including magnification-related keyboard commands, refer to the System Access online help.

System Access Browser

This update also re-introduces the display preferences section which was present in the old browser, so you can adjust the font size and colors that our browser uses.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Serotek CSUN 2008 Announcement

We cordially invite you to join us at booth 357 at the Marriott LAX for the annual CSUN conference, March 12 through March 15. We’ll be showcasing several exciting new features of System Access and the System Access Mobile Network that you won’t want to miss.

First, we are proud to announce the addition of magnification to our System Access software. Magnification ranges from 1.25X to 6X, and can be increased in increments of .25. This update is available in all paid System Access packages as System Access version 2.4, and it is also part of the free online version of System Access to Go. There is absolutely no charge for the update, and it will automatically be downloaded and installed for all current users of System Access.

Serotek continues its commitment to the accessible digital lifestyle by introducing features for portable devices that will ensure that you have access to all your favorite content from the System Access Mobile Network, even when you aren’t near a computer. Supported devices include the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware using the latest firmware update, and the Icon from LevelStar. You can send your email, news, podcasts, radio dramas, and even your favorite movies right to your portable device. Just plug in to any available USB port on your computer, and any content from the network that you’ve added to your sync list will be downloaded to your device and ready for you to take with you on the road. If you haven’t yet upgraded the firmware on your Victor Reader Stream, no problem! We’ll automatically detect which version of the firmware you’re running and initiate the update process for you. Note that you will not be able to transfer content from the SA Mobile Network to the LevelStar Icon until a few weeks after the CSUN conference, but we will be demonstrating this feature at CSUN.

We are also excited to announce that we have partnered with De Witt and Associates to produce a line of TrainingWare™ designed for use by individuals and training facilities to increase independent living skills through the use of a computer. In just a few hours, users will learn how to send and receive email, surf the Internet, participate in online shopping, utilize Microsoft Office applications such as Outlook, MS Word and Excel, and perform many other computer-related tasks for personal and business needs.

Packages including a printed teacher’s manual and student workbook, along with a CD containing these materials in MS Word and Braille-ready formats will be available both for individual use and as a site license for use in training facilities. A copy of the student workbook in Daisy format will also be available for purchase, and can be downloaded for use on a computer or portable device such as the Victor Reader Stream.

To find out more about the latest from Serotek, visit us at or call us toll-free at (866) 202-0520.