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