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 cafĂ© 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.