Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Passing of Richard Costa

It is with a great deal of sadness that we must share the news that Richard Costa passed away from a heart attack on December 12 2009. Richard was one of the first Serotek customers to sign up for Freedombox (now SAMNet) in 2002, and he was truly a blessing to the entire blind community. Richard always had a kind word for everyone, and he had such a passion for technology. Richard could be counted on to ask great questions during ACB Radio's Main Menu and BlindLine, Handi-Talk and Accessible World. His friends and family remember him as the computer wizard who could always be counted on to help with computer issues. The Serotek team remembers him as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic person who was always a pleasure to chat with.

When Richard wasn’t focused on technology, he enjoyed horseback riding, and won several ribbons at horse shows in Houston and Long Island. Richard did much of his riding at HorseAbility on Long Island, and if you’d like to donate in memory of him, you may do so here.

If you would like to send cards, flowers, or condolences to Richard’s family, their contact info is:
Anthony and Teresa Costa
52 Hayrick LaneCommack, NY 11725

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Richard’s friends and family at this time. Richard, you were a light and a joy in our lives and we won’t forget you. You will be missed. Rest in peace.

The Entire Serotek Team

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Season's Meetings from Serotek

Accessible Event makes meetings, lectures, and webinars fully accessible to all participants, and no meeting is too large or too small for
Accessible Event
to handle. We understand that important meetings don’t just happen in huge corporations. To that end, we’ve made a few changes that make it easier and more affordable than ever to bring accessibility to even the smallest group event.

First, any personal Accessible Event day pass or subscription now covers up to ten attendees. We’ve doubled the number of allowed attendees, but we haven’t doubled the price. For $9.95 for a personal day pass, $39.95 for a month subscription, or $29.95 per month for a year’s subscription, you can ensure that all your meeting content is accessible, including MS-Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and web pages.

And while Serotek embraces the spirit of giving during every day of the year, we wanted to present you with something extra special during the holiday season. From now through December 31, you can sign up for a free, basic Accessible Event subscription entitling you to up to three attendees per meeting. Are you a blind student who needs access to classroom presentations? Do you hold a small group meeting every month and you’ve been looking for a way to make it accessible? Do you attend meetings which utilize an inaccessible meeting platform and you’re tired of not having the same level of access as the other meeting attendees? Whether running as a standalone product or alongside other meeting solutions, Accessible Event is perfect for your needs. Use your free, Basic Accessible Event subscription to become a full participant in every meeting you attend. And the best part is: while the ability to sign up for this free subscription ends on December 31, your access to it lasts a lifetime. If you sign up between now and December 31, your basic Accessible Event account will never expire.

So give yourself or someone you know the gift of Accessibility Anywhere and
Sign up for Accessible Event today.

To learn more about Accessible Event, including the basic subscription for up to 3 attendees, personal day passes and subscriptions for up to 10 attendees, and corporate day passes or subscriptions beginning at 25 attendees, visit .
or call (612) 246-4818.

Happy Hollidays from the Serotek Team!

And the Winner is

Thanks to everyone who purchased Serotek products between Black Friday, November 27 and Cyber Monday, November 30. We were excited to see so many people joining the Serotek community for the first time, and we were happy to see so many long-time customers purchasing SAMNet subscriptions, new text-to-speech engines, and lots more. And for one lucky person, the excitement doesn’t end with the purchase of a Serotek product. Access to digital talking books, music, and content from the System Access Mobile Network will soon be in the palm of this person’s hands. The winner, who will receive a choice between the
Victor Reader Stream
and the PLEXTALK Pocket, is …

Audrey Farnum from Warr Acres, Oklahoma! Congratulations to Audrey, and we’ll contact you soon to determine which portable device will be delivering excellent content to you at home or on the go.

If you didn’t win but would still like access to all your content in one small and affordable package, you can still purchase either of these devices without breaking the bank. Purchase the Victor Reader Stream for $329, or the Plextalk Pocket for $349.

For more information about these devices or any other Serotek products, call us at (612) 246-4818 or
visit .

Happy Holidays from the Serotek Team.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Save With Serotek and win!!

The day after Thanksgiving, now known as "Black Friday", has become an annual tradition, marking the beginning of the holiday season. Retailers slash prices on the year's must-haves, and bargain hunters stampede the doors in a mad dash to get that last great deal,.
At Serotek, every day is Black Friday, except without the crowds. With low prices on assistive technology, 365 days a year; and with no SMA (software Maintenance Agreement), you’ll save at least $100 per year, for the rest of your life!

From 12:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Black Friday, November 27, through 11:59 PM on Cyber Monday November 30, 2009, you could win your choice of either a
Victor Reader Stream, valued at $329
or the PLEXTALK Pocket PTP1, valued at $349. To become eligible to win, simply purchase one or more Serotek products listed below.

System Access Mobile Network For $129 per year or $14.95 per month.
includes audio tracks of described movies, thousands of Internet radio stations,
personalized news, podcasts, books, music, voice chat, blogging, your own web site, forums, email, instant messenging and remote computer access.
Use with System Access or any other screen reader you prefer.

System Access Screen Reader: on up to 2 computers for just $399
Get full access to Microsoft Windows 7, Vista and XP operating systems, and use all your favorite Windows applications for productivity, entertainment, and much more.

System Access Mobile For just $499
Harness the power of System Access on up to two computers, plus carry accessibility in your pocket on a U3 thumb drive. Plug the thumb drive in to any computer running Windows XP or later, and get instant access, with your own preferences and settings. When you're done, simply unplug the key and be on your way. No traces of System Access are left behind on the host computer.

System Access Atom Edition ($149)
License one netbook or any computer using the Atom processor for only $149.

NeoSpeech VoiceText with Three Human-sounding voices for Just $74.95
Kate, Julie and Paul are three voices to make your computer sound as human as possible.

Get the Most Popular Eloquence speech from Nuance for Only $25
For the most accurate pronunciation, and for those who like to read fast, Eloquence is it!

System Access Software As a Service, full buy-out with 48-month commitment
Get two screen reader licenses, network access, all voices, and take it on the go for $24.95 per month.

System Access Software As a Service, no strings attached
For just $39.95 per month, get two System Access computer licenses,
a third portable U3 license to use on any computer,
access to the SA Mobile Network, Eloquence and DECtalk text-to-speech,
Remote access to your home computer, and other users for training and support.
There are no long-term contracts, so you can cancel your subscription at any time.

Document Scan For just $159
Scan, read, save, and email printed material on any computer with a scanner.
Take Document Scan with you on a U3 drive, to make any computer a reading machine.
For $80 plus shipping, add a light, portable CanoScan USB scanner.

Surfboard all-in-one computer with System Access and 1 year of SAMNet starts at $999
At about the size of a PC keyboard, the unit is 18.25 inches long, 9 inches wide, 0.5 inches high in the front, and 2.5 inches high in the back, and weighs 7.4 pounds.
6 USB ports, 2 1394 FireWire ports, up to 3.2 GHz processor, up to 2GB main memory, and up to 250GB hard drive. Comes with System Access installed.

Netbooks Start at $799 with Speech, or $599 Without
Netbooks currently offered include: the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 and the MSI Wind Netbook

The winner will be announced Tuesday, December 1st at 10 AM Eastern U.S.

If you have an account with either or, go to

If you have never created an account with or, go to

To order by phone, call either Friday, November 27, or Monday, November 30 between the hours of 10 AM and 10 PM Eastern U.S. at 866-202-0520.

So give yourself, or someone you care about the holiday gift of accessibility anywhere!
And while doing so, you might just win your choice of either a Victor Reader Stream, or a PLEXTALK Pocket; from Serotek corporation, where low prices and great support make every day Black Friday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


PLEXTALK® Pocket (PTP1) Digital Talking Book Player now enables transfer of SAMNet™ content.
Los Angeles, CA – November 17, 2009 – Shinano Kenshi Corporation-LLC (SKC) has aligned with Serotek Corporation, a leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, to enable Serotek’s family of System Access products to be used with Shinano Kenshi’s PLEXTALK® Pocket (PTP1) digital talking book player/recorders (DTBP). The alliance allows content from the System Access Mobile Network (SAMNet™) to be transferred to the PLEXTALK® Pocket.
The PLEXTALK® Pocket is a lightweight, pocket-sized, DAISY-compliant music, voice, and book player/recorder that offers revolutionary mobility and ease of use by nearly anyone in business, education, and leisure. SAMNet™ is Serotek's renowned Internet Community that delivers the widest and most complete content ever assembled for the blind. With access to email, news, described video service for thousands of movies, blogs, podcasts, streaming radio and more, subscribers can connect with other subscribers as well as remotely access their own computers from anywhere in the world. SAMNet™ represents just one of Serotek’s System Access branded products that is now compatible with the PLEXTALK® Pocket. “We are very pleased to be able to partner with Serotek,” said Rex Bergsma, CEO, Shinano Kenshi Corporation—North America. “Serotek’s software solutions enable many who are visually impaired to have wide ranging access to the Internet. That access is further enhanced by the fact that Serotek’s powerful family of System Access software products are compatible with Shinano Kenshi’s PLEXTALK® Pocket.” “We are very excited about our new alliance with Serotek,” said Deana Valdez, Sales & Marketing Manager for North America—PLEXTALK®. “This new opportunity provides additional benefits to PLEXTALK® Pocket users, because they can now enjoy expanded usability of their device.”
“The mobility of this product is what first interested Serotek in the alliance,” said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, “Shinano Kenshi shares our commitment to accessibility anywhere and we’re excited to offer the marketplace even greater compatibility among products from both organizations.” PLEXTALK® Pocket is available online at
The System Access family of products and services is available online at
or by calling 1-866-202-0520
About the Companies
Shinano Kenshi Co., Shinano Kenshi Corporation & PLEXTALK®Shinano Kenshi Co. Ltd. is responsible for the development and manufacture of digital talking book players and other products sold under the brand name of PLEXTALK®. Shinano and PLEXTALK® assistive products are created to improve the quality of life, self-reliance and independence of their users. Shinano Kenshi Corporation is the North American subsidiary of Shinano Kenshi Co.,Ltd. For More Information Contact:
Deana Valdez, Sales and Marketing Manager for North America—
PLEXTALK®Shinano Kenshi Corp.
Phone: 310-693-7629
Shinano Kenshi Corporation
6065 Bristol Parkway
Culver City, CA 90230
Phone: 310-693-7600
Fax: 310-693-7599
Serotek Corporation
Committed to the mission of providing accessibility anywhere, Serotek Corporation develops software and manufactures accessibility solutions that make it possible for anyone, regardless of sight or physical limitation, lack of Internet savvy or access to a mouse, keyboard, or screen, to not only have access to and command of all of the resources of the Internet, but also, to operate most any digital information device with minimal training and investment. For more information, visit
Media Contact:
1-866-202-0520, extension 105
Serotek Corporation
1128 Harmon Place, Suite 310
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403, USA

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What I think About the Intel Reader

Yesterday marked the release of a product which, according to Intel, would revolutionize the way the blind and others with reading disabilities accessed printed materials. During those few fleeting moments between hearing of the announcement and reading the actual press release, I had high hopes that a mainstream company would demonstrate its dedication to accessibility and innovation at an affordable price. And with backing from companies and organizations such as Humanware, Lighthouse International and the Council for Exceptional Children, I felt certain that the device I was going to read about would be very impressive indeed.

The Intel Reader, a device about the size of a paperback and weighing approximately 1 pound, is equipped with a camera and text-to-speech allowing print documents such as newspapers, menus, and signs to be converted in to a readable form by the blind and others with print disabilities. With the addition of a capturing station, sold separately, the device can be used to scan and convert more lengthy materials such as textbooks and novels. It can also read existing etexts in Daisy format as well as play standard MP3 and Wav files. This feature set reads quite a bit like other mainstream and custom-built solutions on the market. In fact, the only jaw-dropping aspect of this product is its price. The device itself can be had for a mere $1499, and you’ll pay an extra $399 for the privilege of using the capturing station.

After the initial shock, I and many others in the blind community began looking more closely at the information available about the device, just to ensure that we hadn’t overlooked anything truly awe-inspiring. After all, for its price, there had to be something which set the device apart from existing solutions such as the KNFB Reader for performing OCR on documents on the go, the forthcoming free e-reader from Kurzweil to read existing Daisy documents, off-the-shelf solutions like a PC, scanner, and ABBYY FineReader for more involved projects like scanning textbooks, or even the $259 Amazon Kindle, which isn’t currently accessible but could be made so with a little effort and encouragement from the community.

As we learned more about the Intel Reader, there was plenty to make this device unique. First, while most portable scanning solutions like the KNFB reader for mobile phones or a scanner/Netbook combo are equipped with wi-fi access, the Intel Reader can’t make that claim. In this article from VentureBeat it is stated that wi-fi is absent from the product because web-connected devices aren’t allowed in some classrooms. Far be it from us to suggest including wi-fi and leaving it up to school IT professionals to handle whether or not to grant wi-fi access, as they must do for all other wi-fi-equipped mainstream devices.

In addition to having no wi-fi capabilities, the device is also unable to handle HTML content natively. Rather, a user must first convert the HtML document to plain text before it can be read. This doesn’t bode well for a device whose major goal is purportedly to take the hassle out of reading for the blind and print-disabled.

Given that this device appears to boast no significant features setting it apart in a positive way from existing solutions, we must ask why the device was created in the first place. Ben Foss, the Intel representative spear-heading the project, has a lot to say on this. Foss states in a press conference: “A metaphor for this are the ramps that make buildings wheelchair accessible. This reader is like a ramp.” Unfortunately, this particular metaphor is far from apt. While wheelchair ramps are an example of smart universal design principles in action because they’re just as useful to a walking mother with a stroller as they are to a person in a wheelchair, the Intel reader has been manufactured and marketed exclusively for the blind and print-disabled without a thought for universal design. Foss goes on to acknowledge that the price is not cheap, but guess what, folks? It’s ok. You see, the device contains several custom components. Never mind that the essential components are a 5-megapixel camera, flash memory, and Intel’s own low-cost Atom processor which can all be had for under $250 as parts. Are you questioning the price yet? No, don’t do that. Intel can explain. Braille reading devices can cost upwards of $10000, so $1500 is really easy to swallow in comparison to that, isn’t it? Never mind that comparing Braille displays and text-to-speech readers makes little sense.

In essence, Intel is unapologetically asking us to accept this device’s hefty price tag for no other reason than that it was designed specifically for the blind. Are we going to accept being blatantly charged a premium because of our blindness, especially by a company who claims to have a philanthropic bent? Remember Intel’s Classmate PC, whose aim was to provide a low-cost and rugged netbook to students, especially those in developing countries? How can we take initiatives like that seriously when with this device Intel clearly shows it isn’t interested in providing low-cost solutions to the blind students in its own back yard?

Still, Intel didn’t create this device in a vacuum. “Intel has done its homework on the device,”, says Dorrie Rush, who serves as the marketing director for Lighthouse International. This signifies that Intel received input from blind and print-disabled individuals as it designed the product. So why is it that no one from these groups questioned Intel’s decision to reinvent the wheel, and in a completely lackluster way at that. Why did no one from these groups encourage Intel to combine existing components to create an innovative and affordable product that could be beneficial to all?

No matter how stunning a product Intel created, it still needed the backing of influential groups within the blind community in order to be taken seriously. For Humanware, who is among the companies distributing the product, partnering with one of the most lucrative and well-known mainstream companies was a huge accomplishment. Did Humanware leverage this relationship to educate Intel so that at least one mainstream company would design its products with accessibility in mind from the ground up? No! It did not! Humanware thanked Intel for producing yet another overpriced, sub par blind ghetto product, and jumped on the chance to convince millions of blind and print-disabled people that they need look no further than this bulky and expensive device to further their independence. When a mainstream company like Intel employs such tactics it is shameful. But from Humanware, a company who should by all rights have the interests of blind consumers at heart, these actions are nothing less than despicable.

Because of Intel’s status and high visibility, its new product rated mentions in mainstream publications as well as those which are more blindness-oriented. In this somewhat flippant article from Engadget, the authors posit that a device like the Intel reader could be created for under $500, and I suspect they’re right. But the interesting reading isn’t so much the article itself, but the comments. One post says in part: “Sure, you could build something that did something similar for less money, but would you then be able to give it to a nearly blind person to use all day, everyday? Completely implausible for $500.” This same poster goes on to say: “besides, the target audience for this device is disabled -- it should be paid for by 3rd parties because it meets the requirements to be classed as an aide for the disabled.”

And there you have it -- everything that we despise about this product’s existence all wrapped up in a smug, condescending little package and tied with a bow. Essentially, this poster believes that nothing which wasn’t created specifically for the blind could possibly work well in a day-to-day situation. Not only that, but there are apparently an abundance of tax dollars to go around for purchasing overpriced devices. And luckily, the blind person need not ever make a decision as a consumer since there’s a benevolent 3rd-party agency to take care of such things, rendering the process of making choices for oneself unnecessary.

So, are we, as a community, going to let this stand? Are we going to throw our support behind Intel, who spent countless hours and research funds to offer us a third-rate product which is priced out of our reach? Are we going to put our hard-earned money in the pockets of Humanware, who squandered their one chance to truly shape the direction of accessibility in mainstream technology in favor of making a quick profit? Do we want to continue accepting the pronouncement that blind ghetto products are not only necessary, but worthy of our everlasting gratitude? Or are we going to tear down those ghetto walls and demand our rightful place as the smart and savvy consumers that we are!

And before you say that you’re only one consumer, that your voice will never be heard, I will tell you that you’re wrong. You can make a choice to be educated about what you buy before you make a decision. And once you embrace the power to choose, you’ll want to share that power., and you won’t want to stop with just one person. You’ll tell every blind person you know to stop and think before choosing a product which has no claim to fame other than being designed for the blind. You’ll tell the blindness agencies and school systems who already struggle with tight budgets to stop and investigate before accepting the party line and purchasing something which does half as much at twice the price. And to those companies who are banking on your willingness to accept anything less than the best just because it’s been given the stamp of accessibility, the sound of your wallet slamming shut an the realization that you are actually “a consumer” with a functional brain and an opinion will convey your point quite eloquently indeed!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Access to iTunes 9.0 is here!

This past Wednesday, Apple held a media event to showcase new products. With a musical theme, Apple announced many exciting developments, particularly of interest to people who are blind. With the introduction of the Voiceover screen reader for the iPod Touch and an updated Voiceover interface for the iPod Nano, as well as accessibility updates to the iPhone OS utilized on both the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple clearly demonstrated its commitment to universal access across its product line. In an ironic twist, in fact, the blind community got much of what we have been asking for in terms of access to these devices, while the larger sighted world did not get what they most expected--a camera for the iPod Touch. To my knowledge, this has never happened before.

It isn't all roses and candy, though. Apple also released iTunes version 9.0, which, while introducing many desirable features, such as the ability to share tracks from several computers in the same household and an expansion of the genius playlist options, also broke accessibility to the iTunes store. Access to the iTunes store has become more difficult and cumbersome on the Mac platform, and it has become all but unusable under Windows.

I have personally been a mac user for a while. (I got a Mac when Tiger first came out with Voiceover, then had some time away, then returned with my current MacBook in 2007.)  I in particular, and Serotek in general, have been very excited by Apple's commitment to universal access across their entire product line. Those of you who follow our blogs and podcasts know that we are thrilled that access for the blind has reached nearly every Apple product. We aren't talking about just token access either, but real access that allows blind Mac, iPhone, and iPod users to be very productive with these very high profile and very mainstream devices.

That said, accessibility has taken a back seat in this release of iTunes. To say the least, we are disappointed that iTunes has taken an accessibility hit, especially on the Windows side, and especially in light of Apple's otherwise excellent commitment to universal accessibility.

Just like Apple, Serotek believes that the blind community deserves access to the modern digital lifestyle. We have, over the course of our existence, steadily broken down the walls of our blind ghetto and championed the cause of universal access to mainstream digital products and services. With such a similar philosophy, it's easy to see why Serotek has been beating the Apple drum since the release of the 4th Generation iPod Nano.

Our slogan, "Accessibility anywhere", isn't just a great tag line. It's something that we at Serotek believe passionately, and it's what gets us up in the morning. We use this stuff ourselves every day. We understand that our computers and music players aren't just used for work anymore. The digital lifestyle is more and more pervasive, and if we are to truly be a part of the larger community and finish breaking down those walls, it is imperative that we have the ability to participate fully in our modern digital world. As a company passionate about our right to accessibility of the digital lifestyle, we believe that access to the market leader in the digital music player space is essential. It's even more essential because Apple's accessibility philosophy so closely parallels ours.

We wanted access to iTunes under Windows, just as we had before version 9.0 was rolled out, and we wanted it as soon as possible. So, rather than waiting for Apple to fix the problem, we fixed it ourselves. We have done this by providing the accessibility framework for the iTunes store. Beginning now, any blind person has the ability to access the iTunes store using the latest version of Apple's media management software, with complete access to its entire interface. The ability to use the iTunes store under iTunes version 9.0 is available to any user of System Access or System Access To Go. So, whether you own our stand-alone product or use our free, Internet-based solution, you can take full advantage of all that iTunes has to offer. We therefore invite and encourage all blind people to use our services to access the iTunes store. And with, you can even use it free--just like any sighted person can.

As exciting as this is on its own, our work hasn't stopped there. The work we've done for iTunes actually goes far beyond solving the iTunes problem. It has the potential to be much more far-reaching.

The new version of the iTunes store is built with Webkit, the engine that runs Apple's Safari browser. As you may be aware, Webkit (and, consequently, any Webkit-based browser, such as Google Chrome or Apple's Safari) has been conspicuously inaccessible on Windows. In adding accessibility for iTunes, we have put the pieces together to make Webkit accessible. We will furthermore be contributing this accessibility code to the Webkit community. This means that Webkit- based browsers for Windows have the very real potential to be accessible to us with only a minimum of effort by browser developers. This means more choices for us all, and more choices are never a bad thing.

We at Serotek are happy that the walls between our community and our specialized products, and the sighted world at large, are tumbling down. It's an exciting time to be blind, and we see real, radical, and wonderful changes in what accessibility means. We are excited to be at the forefront of these changes, and we are enthusiastically tearing down the walls that divide us from our sighted brothers and sisters.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Who Says? You Can't Build It and They Will Come

Knowbility blogger Desiree at Universally Designed gives us a wonderful tutorial in Webinars in her September 2nd posting along with an introduction to Serotek’s Accessible Event, which makes this phenomenally useful tool completely accessible to the blind, deaf, and deaf-blind. Desiree gives our AE team a lot of well-deserved pats on the back. That’s the way it should be because our people are out there changing the world, one demonstration at a time. Once again Serotek has blasted the barriers and brings the latest in social networking technology to everyone.
I call Accessible Event a social networking tool because online meetings are really a dimension of social networking. The one-on-one stuff is great and we make that available in many different ways, but some information is best provided to a group, all at the same time. That includes corporate meetings, webinars, university classes, sermons and presentations of many kinds – really any time one person or a group of people play show and tell to a larger group in real time. Thanks to the Internet and tools like GoToMeeting and WebEx virtual meetings or webinars have been with us for a while now. But, as Desiree pointed out, the blind were not invited to be full participants. And neither were the deaf and deaf-blind.
Serotek changed that. We did it in a way that is very low cost and absolutely easy to use. We brought in the deaf and deaf-blind with closed caption capability and Braille interface. There is really no excuse now for any organization to offer a Webinar or even a presentation in an auditorium and not include full participation for the blind, deaf, and deaf-blind.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is what we do best. Make the world accessible with little or no hassle. We provide the accessibility tools people need to fully participate in today’s society. We make them easy to use and easy to own. We don’t wrap people up in expensive maintenance agreements or force them to own only our software in order to take advantage of the accessibility. AE, for example, works with any screen reader. And, of course, you don’t even need to purchase a screen reader for online use. System Access To Go is available free of charge to anyone.
When ADA was enacted there was always the built-in excuse that it was too costly or difficult to make certain activities accessible. Unfortunately, before we came on the scene, the Adaptive Technology Industry seemed to be doing its best to prove the ADA backsliders’ point. Serotek’s mission is to eliminate that excuse and with Accessible Event we’ve virtually eliminated it from presentations, online meetings and forums.
So speak up. If you are attending classes, webinars, going to meetings, or otherwise involved in presentations that are not fully accessible to you, it’s time to demand your rights. Any organization or individual can use AE at very little cost. The tools are available to tear down the barriers to accessibility, but only you can demand the people you deal with use those tools. Accessibility really begins with you demanding your right to it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three Great Convention Week Specials

It’s convention time again, and whether you’re headed to the
Motor City, enjoying time in sunny Orlando, or relaxing at home, Serotek has everything you need to stay connected wherever you are.
The following specials are available beginning Friday July 3 and ending Friday July 10 at noon Eastern.
Enter to win a Lenovo IdeaPad S10 Netbook with SA Atom License
Are you ready to jump in to the accessible digital lifestyle in a big way? Now is the perfect time to do just that. Purchase Serotek’s award-winning System Access screen reader for $499, and be entered in a drawing to win the Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook. System Access Mobile provides a license for two computers, plus the ability to install System Access on a U3 thumb drive for the ultimate in portability and accessibility anywhere life takes you. And when you purchase System Access Mobile
between midnight EST Friday July 3 and 12 PM EST Friday July 10, you’ll be automatically entered in a drawing to win the sleek and stylish IdeaPad S10 notebook. With a 1.6GHZ Intel atom processor, 80GB hard drive, 6-cell battery, 1GB RAM, built-in high-speed wireless and LAN access, built-in webcam and microphone, and much more, this netbook is the ideal social networking PC. The winner will be announced at 3 PM EST Friday July 10 via Serotek’s public announcements list.
Refurbished MSI Wind Model U100-641US with System Access Atom License: $399
At about 2 pounds, measuring around 7 inches wide and 10 inches long, the MSI Wind Netbook is no ordinary notebook PC. With built-in 802.11g Wi-Fi connectivity, you can access the Internet immediately. The speedy and energy-efficient Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor, combined with a 3-cell battery, enables up to 3 hours of battery life for a more mobile lifestyle. Windows XP Home Edition comes pre-loaded, so you'll have no trouble using all of your favorite Windows applications. The ergonomically designed keyboard is only 20% smaller than a full-sized keyboard, so you can type comfortably whether you're doing a quick Web search, posting to your
blog, or taking notes in class. The 160 GB hard disk provides plenty of room for your music, audio books, and other digital media. The 10-inch wide-screen LCD, with an LED backlight for extra brightness, is perfect for mobile Web browsing. The built-in webcam is ideal for video-enabled chat programs such as Skype. And with the included System Access Atom license, you'll have accessibility anywhere you go.
MSI Model AE1900–10SUS WindTop PC with SA Atom License: $699
With this revolutionary all-in-one desktop PC and built-in touch screen, you can launch all your favorite applications simply by touching the icons on the screen. Including an Intel dual core 1.6GHz Atom processor, 2GB memory, 250 GB hard drive, DVD drive supporting dual layer burning, built-in gigabit LAN and wireless 802.11b/g/n, and SRS premium sound, this unit has everything you need right at your fingertips. If you don’t want to use the built-in touch screen, the unit also comes with keyboard and mouse to access all your applications in the traditional way. The unit comes
loaded with Windows Vista Home Basic, and at 18.7 x 1.9 x 14.4 inches, this PC packs a whole lot of power in a sleek and compact design.

Begin taking advantage of these great specials.

if you are a new customer.  If you already have a Serotek account, whether as a current customer or a free SAToGo user, log in to your account.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Major Announcement to Forever Change Access Technology

June 23RD, Serotek announced the launch of Accessible Event that will forever change access technology. The press conference was held live from the National Press Club in Washington D.C..

Listen to, and/or View the June 23 Accessible Event Press Conference.

Accessible Event Demo of A Staff Meeting


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why is it that Apple always seems to get to the future first?

I just purchased an iPhone. I paid the same price as any other person -- $299 for the 32 gigabyte version plus tax. Like anyone else I had to subscribe to AT&T’s network – at least for a couple of months. We can see about changing phone networks later.
VoiceOver, the screen reader which has shipped free in every Apple computer since 2005, is built right into the iPhone 3G S. There’s nothing extra to purchase or install.
All I need is the iPhone 3G S, iTunes 8.2 or later, and a Mac or PC. I can activate my iPhone and enable VoiceOver without sighted assistance using iTunes with a compatible screen reader like System Access to Go free on a PC or VoiceOver included on the Mac. When I activate iPhone using iTunes, I can enable VoiceOver on the iPhone to start using it right away.
In other words, this is a high-demand consumer product developed by a mainstream company that is accessible out of the box.
Where is everyone else?
This phone not only speaks; it speaks 21 different languages including three dialects of Chinese, two flavors of Portuguese, two flavors of Spanish, Russian, Norwegian, Japanese, Korean, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Swedish, two flavors of French, Finish and both the Queen’s English plus good old American English. It has voice recognition for dialing, selecting music from your tunes list, and otherwise controlling the iPhone. It understands 21 different languages. The iphone is globally accessible.
Where is everyone else?
I don’t want to detail all the features, functions and benefits. I’m not trying to sell iPhones, though I think every blind person in the world should celebrate having the choice to own one.
I just want to point out that this is the future. An everyday, super-fun product that is accessible out of the box.
Why is Apple there first?
In my opinion Apple is here, not because they are altruistic and not because they are afraid of being sued. They are here because they understand consumers. They know people want functions and fun. People don’t really care about how something works. They just want it to work and to be easy. Accessibility is easy. It is easier than being not accessible. This is something Steve Jobs has always understood and he has created a culture at Apple that lives it.
Apple could easily have dismissed the idea that blind people would be interested in using a device with a touch-screen interface which is inherently visual. The company could have continued to develop its products without a thought for accessibility and left it to AT manufacturers to make them accessible after the fact.
Instead, Apple has given consumers, blind and sighted alike, the ability to use their devices in whatever manner they choose – voice, touch, sight. Apple has embraced the idea of universal design. Apple understands that accessibility should be about far more than developing custom solutions which pay lip service to the idea of accessibility but detract from the out-of-box experience enjoyed by everyone else. For Apple, accessibility is not about catering to a particular subsection of the market. Rather, it is about ensuring that products are usable by a diverse group of people in a diverse variety of situations.
This approach to accessibility benefits everyone. It benefits the sighted person who wants to browse his Itunes library for some great content without taking his eyes off the road. It benefits the person who has his hands too full to dial, but can still make a phone call by using his voice, regardless of which language he speaks. And it benefits the blind person who wants to enjoy all of the incredible productivity and digital lifestyle features that have made the iPhone so popular to begin with. So, while I wait to get my hands on a device which is sleek, stylish, feature-packed, relatively inexpensive, and just so happens to be fully accessible right out of the box, I will continue to ask the question: where is everyone -+else?

Friday, May 22, 2009

SErotek Memorial Day Weekend SAle!

Now through Memorial Day, Monday May 25 at Midnight Eastern U.S., save $200 off System Access Mobile. For just $299, normally $499, you get licenses for two computers, plus a third license for a U3-enabled USB key to take to any other computer. With free lifetime upgrades, and the ability for you to switch to any two computers you choose, this will be the last money you will ever need to spend for a screen reader!

But that's not all! An annual subscription to SAMNet, normally $129, can be had this Memorial Day Weekend only, for just $99. That's $30 off all the great entertainment, information, news, movies, voice chat, social networking, third party e-mail and more, for one whole year, for just $99.

Both specials can be purchased separately, or together for even greater savings. Purchases must be made online only, and this offer will not be extended beyond Midnight EST on Monday, May 25. To create a new paid account, please visit

To log in to an existing account and purchase, please visit

The Serotek Team

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If it isn’t accessible, it has no value

The other day a friend of mine tried once again to interest me in World Ventures. He had tried once before – asking me to look at their Web site and see how it could be improved for accessibility. I did and the site had several flaws. I made contact with World Ventures/Rovia developers offering some suggestions which they apparently ignored.
This time my friend forwarded a new web site showcasing Dream Trips and a PDF presentation. The new Dream Trips site is entirely in Flash that is not accessible. The PDF was scanned images so again, I couldn't read it. Basically the company has become less accessible, rather than more accessible. And they give no sign of being interested in making their services accessible to the blind – perhaps thinking, erroneously, that blind folks don’t travel.
There really isn’t any excuse for not being accessible. ADA became law twenty years ago. The Internet accessibility rules – Section 508 – are more than a dozen years old. All of the major players – Microsoft, Google, Adobe, etc. have made their products accessible to adaptive technologies. Every major company has also worked to make its sites accessible. Sometimes we had to hound them a bit, but after a while, they got it. Accessibility is a matter of following a few simple rules. All the tools are available. There is really no incremental cost. If the World Ventures/Rovia group wants to look like a big player they need to comply with these accessibility rules like the real big players do.
But it’s really more than that. The WV business is travel and the differentiator is that everyone gets to be his or her own travel agent, with a full travel booking web site and access to all the world’s reservation systems. They offer a couple hundred “Dream Trips” which are packaged vacations with first class accommodations at bargain prices. And they are a network marketing business, allowing people to earn income by involving other people in the program. They may not believe it, but this is a program blind folks would like. We do travel – some of us pretty extensively. I probably log more than fifty thousand air miles a year on business and try to take my family on a couple of resort vacations every year. I’m by no means an exception. Since ADA made accessibility the law and adaptive technologies made the logistics easier, blind folks travel a lot.
We blind folks are also naturals for network marketing businesses. We work well from our homes and most of us have developed the kind of social networking skills it takes to succeed in this type of business. But the current non-accessible offering from World Ventures/Rovia is a non-starter. It casts the shadow of discrimination over everything the company does. And it does not bode well for the company’s long term success.
I’m sure my friend is embarrassed that he tried to get me involved with a company that scorns accessibility. To me, they are yesterday’s news. Modern, successful companies – including many travel companies – make accessibility a priority. World Ventures gets a resounding thumbs down from this corner.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Envision Selects Serotek Software for Youth Camp

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn – May 15, 2009 – Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, announced today that Envision®, a Kansas based agency that combines employment opportunities with rehabilitation services and public education, has selected its System Access™ software for its 4th Annual Residential Assistive Technology Camp for Kansas Youth. The camp establishes independence for teens who are blind or visually impaired, through college and career development and technology instruction. Serotek CEO, Mike Calvo, will also be featured as an opening day

instructor at the week-long camp. Calvo will be distributing netbooks with the System Access software installed and will demonstrate how to use the software for the remainder of the camp as well as throughout college and into the campers’ careers. Serotek representatives will also be on hand to speak with students interested in careers in information technology. "There are more than 70,000 school aged children in the US who are legally blind, and yet fewer than 10 percent own the assistive technology they need,Â" said Calvo, "This camp and Serotek’s software open up a whole new world of educational and career opportunities for these teens, and we couldn't be happier to support Envision’s efforts."

System Access is accessibility software with text-to-speech screen reading and magnification which can be used on any computer and gives users full access to all the social networking, podcasting, twittering fun of modern Internet use while delivering full accessibility to the most widely used business applications such as Microsoft® Office®. It can also be trained in a tiny fraction of the time it takes a new user to become familiar with a traditional screen reader.

"This assistive technology camp is essential to helping these individuals obtain employment," said Steve Stambaugh, vice president of Envision Low Vision Rehabilitation Center, "Thanks to our collaboration with Serotek, we’re able to better prepare these individuals for post-secondary education and expand their career options."

The camp supports 30 – 40 students who are selected for this program through nominations by Kansas Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI). The 2009 session will be conducted from June 1 to June 5. For more information about the camp, visit

For more information about Serotek Corporation and System Access software, 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. The companyÂ’s Keys for K-12 program puts blind children on par with their sighted peers as it relates to computer usage. For more information, visit


For more than 70 years, Envision has combined business with human services, creating employment opportunities and offering vision rehabilitation services to individuals who are blind, low vision or developmentally disabled. A private, not-for-profit agency founded in 1931 as the Wichita Workshop and Training School for the Adult Blind, the agency has helped countless individuals live independently. For more information, visit


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

200 Reasons Not to Purchase A SMA

Now through April 30, Serotek is offering $200 off System Access Mobile™ for anyone whose software maintenance agreement has lapsed, or who is not entitled to any additional upgrades with their SMA for Jaws® for Windows® or Window-Eyes™. Break away from the tyranny of price gouging for trivial updates. For just $299, purchase System Access for two computers that you can change at any time, plus one license for a U3 Smart Drive that you can use to make any computer come alive with speech, Braille, and screen magnification. And with free upgrades for life, this will be the last money you will need to spend for regularly-updated and innovative screen reading and magnification.
Are you wondering just how cost effective this decision would be for you? Let’s take a look at cases where an individual owns the latest software version of their screen reader, noting that an upgrade path would be even more expensive for those who are behind on their upgrades. You could choose to purchase a software maintenance agreement for JAWS 10.0 standard edition

for $180, entitling you to two software upgrades, at which point another SMA purchase would be necessary. You could choose to purchase a software maintenance agreement for WindowEyes 7.1 standard edition

for $299, entitling you to three software upgrades at which point another software maintenance agreement purchase would be necessary. Or, you could just provide your serial number as proof that your SMA is past due, and System Access for two computers and one U3-enabled USB license is yours for only $299, that's $200 off the regular price of $499.
To get started, simply visit the “my account” section of an existing SAMNet account. You can do this by opening the System Access menu with modifier+f and choosing the “My account” option, or by choosing option 16 from the SA Mobile Network Home screen. If you do not yet have an account with Serotek, you may create one by visiting

and choosing the “create new account” option.
Once you have logged in and accessed the “my account” option, choose “buy more products and services” and follow the prompts in the buy wizard.
You can also receive assistance from a Serotek sales representative by calling (612) 246-4818.
The Serotek Team

Deck Chairs On The Titanic

It’s April 15th. Tax day tea party fanatics are holding a national protest against government spending. Of course government spending keeps us blind people going. Without SSDI and government subsidized technology and training, most of us would be a lot worse off than we are today. What may look like waste to conservatives looks like a lifeline to us.
Today is also the 97th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The largest, most luxurious ship ever built sunk on its maiden voyage after hitting two icebergs late on the night of April 14th. It sank two and a half hours later, early in the morning on April 15th and more than 1500 people were lost.
What do these two things have in common other than April 15th?
While conservatives protest too much spending, blind people everywhere are protesting too little. As large as President Obama’s budget is, it doesn’t have much in it for us. The agencies that serve the blind population are being squeezed, and forced to operate with less funds and more demand. That means fewer blind people achieving independence.
One of the reasons that fewer and fewer blind people are being served is that government agencies insist on investing in the Titanic. They buy the biggest, most bloated products, build on obsolete technology, and they continue to pay for such technology long after the initial purchase. But these products are not in tune with today’s environment. They aren’t nimble enough to avoid the icebergs, and it takes weeks or even months for users to become familiar enough with such huge and ponderous technology to even attempt to navigate the waters safely.
So we thought, why not sink the Titanic and put what money we have in state-of-the-art technology that is cheaper, easier to learn and allows government to do more for less? While state agencies and NGO vision support organizations are hanging on to their tickets aboard the Titanic amid shrinking budgets, we are offering seats on the lifeboats.
Any user who currently owns a screen reader and finds himself in the unfortunate predicament of not having the latest Software Maintenance Agreement for the product can purchase System Access Mobile for $299 ($200 off the regular price) until April 30. System Access Mobile is state-of-the-art accessibility which can be used on a home computer or from any computer simply by plugging a thumb drive in to an available USB port. It runs on both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms, and gives users full access to all the social networking, pod casting, twittering fun of modern Internet use while delivering full accessibility to the most widely used business applications including Microsoft Office. It can be trained in a tiny fraction of the time it takes a new user to become familiar with a traditional (titanic-like) screen reader. And, while those old style behemoths continue to gobble dollars with Software Maintenance Agreements, System Access Mobile has done away with these costs for maintenance. Buy the software once and we keep it up-to-date forever at no cost to the user.
We figure realistically that a Voc-rehab can serve four newly blind individuals with System Access Mobile for every one served with a traditional screen reader. How’s that for stretching those tax dollars?
And of course, that’s not all. We offer our Voc-rehab trainers and blind field support technicians the power to train remotely with Remote incident Manager (RIM). We open up scarce technical jobs for blind IT professionals by promoting Remote Access Manager to businesses with large intranets. These products deliver accessibility at a cost that is comparable to any mainstream corporate intranet application.
Look around. While the competition is selling luxury staterooms on the Titanic for thousands, we are providing fast, safe accessibility at very affordable prices. We invite any agency to put our products against the competition in a cost-benefit analysis. And isn’t that what the agencies should be doing? Why, I bet that would even please the grumpy old misers at the Tax Day Tea Party. How could you be against doing more for less?

Monday, April 6, 2009

SAM Net Icon/Braille Plus Add-on is Installable Again

Some users have reported that when trying to install the SAM Net add-on for the Icon or Braille Plus, the device just looped the clicking sound without making any progress. We've just fixed this problem. We apologize for the inconvenience, and we hope you'll continue to enjoy all of the benefits of SAM Net on your portable device.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Petition to Authors Guild and Amazon Concerning Kindle 2

We at Serotek, along with many, are engaged in a campaign to obtain access for the blind and others with print disabilities to e-books available for Amazon's new Kindle 2 e-book reader. The new reader, which Amazon is working to make fully accessible to the blind, has the ability to use text-to-speech to read these e-books aloud; but under pressure
from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that authors and
publishers will be allowed to disable the text-to-speech function.
The National Federation of the blind has joined with over twenty
other organizations to create the reading Rights Coalition, which has
set up an on-line petition to urge the Authors Guild and Amazon to
reverse course.
petition overview | letter
Allow Everyone Access to E-books
Target: The Authors Guild
Sponsored by: The Reading Rights Coalition
When Amazon released the Kindle 2 electronic book reader on February 9, 2009, the
company announced that the device would read e-books aloud using text-to-speech technology.
Under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon has announced that it will give authors
and publishers the ability to disable the text-to-speech function on any or all of
their e-books available for the Kindle 2.
The Reading Rights Coalition, which represents people who cannot read print,
will protest the threatened removal of the text-to-speech function from e-books for
the Amazon Kindle 2 outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York City at 31
East 32nd Street on April 7, 2009, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  The coalition includes
the organizations that represent the blind, people with dyslexia, people with learning
or processing issues, seniors losing vision, people with spinal cord injuries, people
recovering from strokes, and many others for whom the addition of text-to-speech
on the Kindle 2 promised for the first time easy, mainstream access to over 245,000
books. We the undersigned insist that the Authors Guild and Amazon not disable the text-to-speech capability for the Kindle 2.
There are 15 million Americans who are blind, dyslexic, and have spinal cord injuries
or other disabilities that impede their ability to read visually. The print-disabled
have for years utilized text-to-speech technology to read and access information.
As technology advances and more books move from hard-copy print to electronic formats,
people with print disabilities have for the first time in history the opportunity
to enjoy access to books on an equal basis with those who can read print.
Authors and publishers who elect to disallow text-to-speech for their e-books on
the Kindle 2 prevent the print-disabled from enjoying these e-books.
Denying universal access will result in more and more people with disabilities being
left out of education, employment, and the societal conversation.  We will all suffer
from the absence of diverse participation and contribution to the debates that occupy
us as a society.
Furthermore, we oppose the Authors Guild demands that this capability should be turned
off because many more books would be sold if text-to-speech remained available.
Not only does this feature benefit persons with disabilities, but it also helps persons
for whom English is not their native language.  In an increasingly mobile society,
flexible access to content improves the quality of life for everyone.
There can be no doubt that access to the written word is the cornerstone of education
and democracy.  New technologies must serve individuals with disabilities, not impede
them.  Our homes, schools, and ultimately our economy rely on support for the future,
not discriminating practices and beliefs from the past.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this important matter.

Please read and consider signing petition to the Authors Guild and Amazon


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Join Mike Calvo On Site Or Remotely for CSUN


Serotek's CEO, Mike Calvo, will be presenting a session at the upcoming

Center on Disabilities CSUN Conference held in Los Angeles. The session

will take place on Thursday, March 19 at 12:00 PM PST, 3:00 PM EST, in the Pacific room of the Renaissance Montura Hotel.

For those who are unable to attend the event on site, the session,

including audio and PowerPoint presentation can still be accessed from any

computer, cell phone or PDA. If your computer or portable device is

equipped with speech and/or Braille, you'll be able to view the PowerPoint

presentation accessibly as well as hear the spoken presentation.

To participate, simply point your web browser to

at the scheduled presentation time. When prompted for a meeting code, enter


If you are unable to attend the event as it happens, a recording will be

archived in the Information Center of the SA Mobile Network as well as on

The Serotek Web Site.

In addition to this presentation, Serotek will also be bringing you live

coverage from CSUN broadcast on SAMNet Radio,

to hear lots of exciting interviews from your favorite assistive technology companies.

We hope you'll enjoy this year's conference, whether attending in Los

Angeles, or from the comfort of your own home.

The Serotek Team

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 2009 Access World

We at Serotek take pride every day in making the world a little more accessible. We appreciated the positive coverage in the respected

AFB Access World.

Five greate articles in the

March 2009 Edition:

ATIA 2009

A New Way to Find Old Friends: A Review of the Accessibility of Facebook

Screen-Reading Alternatives: An Overview of Lower-cost Options

Study of Factors Affecting Learning to Use a Computer by People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

A Passion for Technology and Helping Others: An Interview with Amy Ruell


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Petition Asking Amazon to make the New Kindle 2 Fully Accessible

A petition has been started asking Amazon Technologies, Inc. to add voice prompts to make the new Kindle 2 fully accessible to blind and partially sighted persons.

rEad and Sign Petition Asking Amazon to Make the Kindle 2 Fully Accessible

 The text reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, ask Amazon Technologies, Inc., and its affiliates, to modify the new Kindle 2, and add the ability to have all menu choices spoken with voice prompts, so that all blind and sighted individuals may purchase, and make full use of this innovative product.

First, we give acknowledgement and appreciation to for taking the initiative to make your website and online store accessible to those with visual impairments.

As a result of these efforts, thousands of visually impaired persons make purchases from on a regular basis, and thousands of people pay for monthly and annual subscriptions to

We also hope that will take into consideration that the population is aging, and for many, their eyesight is deteriorating.

Because and offer 230,000 publications, and because both entities offer immediate access to newly released works, we are simply asking for the same level of immediate access, and are willing to pay for this access, if your technology permits us to do so.

Because providing talking menus will increase the chance of adoption of this device by schools and universities, because sighted individuals will benefit by having spoken prompts while driving, and because providing full access to the Kindle 2 will result in sales that will outweigh the expenditure of making all menu choices speak their status, we ask Amazon Technologies, Inc., and its affiliates, to make the necessary firmware upgrade to give access to this very loyal group of reading enthusiasts.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Our Birthday and President’s Day? Wow!

Not four score, but seven years ago we launched Serotek. I like to think that the company was conceived on liberty. In fact our first product was all about emancipation – helping blind people access the internet with little or no training, using an easy menu selection process. Even the name was liberty-based, but we’ve since stopped using that brand name.
The first product was an Internet appliance. We were more than a little ahead of the market and our original prototype appliance was about the size of a microwave oven. But compared to everything else out there it was a miracle – a breakthrough in human computer interface where we made the computer do the work, rather than the human.
The percentage of blind people using the Internet in those days was miniscule – just the super geeks. I’ll never forget the joy of a newly blind lady in her sixties who had never in her life used a computer when, with just her voice, she got on line using our product and made a purchase. She was so excited. Our little product had opened a door she never thought she would go through.
Back in 2002 we began to build what is now the SA Mobile Network – the largest compilation of blind-friendly web sites and online services in existence. Our mission then, as now was Accessibility Anywhere for Everyone. I like to think we were the first company to look at blind people as people, rather than as needy disabled folks that the government was going to take care of.
The competition paid no attention to us. We weren’t even on their radar screen. They had a business model that worked – for them – and they weren’t about to change it.
We played around with a variety of ways of packaging our Internet appliance, getting it down to about the size of a PDA – unfortunately not battery operated. Still it was very portable and that meant we could put accessibility on the move. Later we put the software on a thumb drive and our motto, Accessibility Anywhere was born. The competition was a little annoyed, but basically they thought we were selling toys and would go out of business before we could do any damage.
In 2004 we captured their attention with System Access. Suddenly it wasn’t just Internet Access we were offering it was full accessibility – the complete power of a screen reader. In 2005 System Access won the Da Vinci award, offered by Michigan Multiple Sclerosis Society to innovators who advanced the cause of accessibility. We put System Access on a thumb drive and now the competition was getting a little worried. Where they sold a separate license for every computer you made accessible, we offered completely portable accessibility and at a tiny fraction of the cost. SA was and is fully intuitive, requiring minimal training. It accesses many major commercial applications and on a thumb drive you could take it with you anywhere and make any computer accessible. It even stores your preferences for text to speech and other adjustable parameters.
In 2006 we turned our attention to businesses and trainers. We offered RAM, the first fully accessible corporate enterprise network package that made it possible for people with visual impairments to work as technicians, network managers, online trainers and help desk personnel, all in a completely secure environment. The cost was peanuts compared to outfitting a network with the necessary screen reader licenses and other support that would have been required if the competition could even conceive of the application. We also created RIM for visual resource trainers. RIM allows a trainer to share the desktop with any client, anywhere and teach any application – even the competitors’ products. The competition began to take us seriously. So seriously that in 2007 – well everyone knows that story. We began to build the System Access brand.
We had a lot of innovations in portability and ease of use as well as functionality. But in mid 2007 we put System Access To Go into beta test. SAToGo took accessibility onto the cloud. Anyone could download it anytime they were connected to the Internet and use it on any computer.
There was a lot of speculation on how we would price SAToGo. Most people thought we would add it as a capability to our Software as a Service package which allowed people to lease the entire Serotek software repertoire for a modest monthly charge.
At ATIA in 2008 we revealed our pricing. SAToGo was free. In cooperation with the AIR Foundation (Accessibility Is a Right) we put SAToGo on the cloud for anyone, anytime, at no charge. The competition thought we were crazy.
Here we were taking a veritable money tree and giving it away as firewood.
Slowly people began to understand. Serotek is a whole different animal. In 2008 Serotek Was Honored with The AFB Access Award

Also at ATIA we introduced the Accessible Digital Lifestyle which opened a world of fun products and gadgets to blind people just like we were – people. Can you believe it?
Now the industry was taking full notice. In fact, GW Micro beat us to the punch and, working with Apple Computer, made the Ipod accessible – a huge breakthrough. All manner of products and services that used to be available only to sighted folks are suddenly becoming accessible: GPS devices, MP3 players, PDAs, Facebook, MySpace, and more. The paradigm was shifting and little old Serotek was the lever that pushed the industry off its old model and into the scary world of full technology access for blind folks.
This year we pushed them again. We eliminated the software maintenance agreement (SMA) a little bit of legal larceny that forces blind folks to pay their vendor to fix stuff they should have gotten right the first time.
Of course along the way we’ve added all manner of fun and useful products and services. You can see them on our new, revamped Web site. But the 7th birthday is supposed to be the age of reason. I’m hoping people everywhere are beginning to see our reason and our reasoning.
At Serotek we believe in universal accessibility – no exceptions. The day we don’t have to design or sell another piece of software created to make inaccessible applications accessible, will be a celebration. We know we won’t lack for marvelous new things to do that make life more fun – more livable for everyone. And when that day comes the products we design for our blind brothers and sisters will have a market of billions worldwide. Our competition will be the big software players, not the niche organizations that specialize in government funded aid to the visually impaired.
No question but that Serotek is a pioneer and we may end up just collecting the arrows while others move on to settle the territory. But I don’t think so. I think we have the brains and genius to be designing world class products for the entire business and consumer market – products that blind folks can use right out of the box.
What will they be?
Short term you can believe that a great many applications will follow SAToGo onto the net. Cloud computing they call it and with Microsoft and Google focusing on it you can be pretty sure it will be ubiquitous in months, not years.
A big part will be social networking and social networking appliances. We are evolving to a whole new level of communication among groups with common interest. Look at the kids and their text messaging, We will all twitter, blog, and jott. We’re already podcasting and providing our own Internet radio channel. The future is about an evolving multimedia environment where groups with common interests share everything online.
If I started this post like Abraham Lincoln, let me finish it like George Washington. I can’t tell a lie. For me the current adaptive technology industry is a big cherry tree behind a fence that only feeds a few and starves the average blind person making it impossible to afford to have access to all the things his or her sighted peers can access. This tree is blocking the light and preventing innovation. And I have this little hatchet.
Well, Nuff said.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

35 Interviews From ATIA

Despite a severe ice storm, one broken laptop, and a few other unexpected surprises, we broadcast and recorded 35 conversations with vendors at ATIA in Orlando Florida.

SeroTalk Page With 35 Interviews and Links to Websites


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rest In Peace SMA

Listen to Announcement Declaring the Death of the SMA (Software Maintenance Agreement)

For Immediate Release

Media Contact:


Technical Contact :

Serotek Announces an End to Software Maintenance Agreements
Industry Standard SMAs No Longer Standard

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn - January 28, 2009 - Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, today announced that it will no longer require a fee to upgrade or maintain any software in its product line.
Software companies traditional have charged fees under a contract, commonly known as a Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA), to upgrade to newer versions of their software packages. Serotek will continue to provide regular upgrades and software improvements but will offer them free of charge to all Serotek customers.
The announcement was formally made today at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) annual conference in Orlando, Florida, with the company’s “RIP SMA” campaign. The first such offering of its kind, the news was met with great user enthusiasm.
“True to our belief that accessibility is right, not a privilege, we are excited to lead the industry in pronouncing SMAs are dead.” said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation, “Users of our System Access product line can now enjoy one price, one time, forever. And we encourage the industry to follow suit.”
Reactions to this news can be found on the company’s podcast, Serotalk, which is being broadcast live from the conference’s Internet Café, which is being sponsored by the Serotek Corporation. Those unable to attend the conference can listen to the Serotalk podcast by going to 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


Friday, January 23, 2009

Vision Australia

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of internet and digital information accessibility software and services, today announced that Vision Australia, the leading provider of blindness and low vision services in Australia, is its primary provider of the Serotek product range in Australia. Formed in 2004 by the merger of the Royal Blind Society, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, Vision Australia Foundation, and the National information Library Services, Vision Australia is the country's first truly national blindness agency.
As the only organization in Australia utilizing Serotek's Remote Incident Manager (RIM) software, Vision Australia is uniquely suited to provide remote training and technical support to Australians who prefer to remain at home and on their own computers for such services.
"We can troubleshoot and provide technical support to people on their PCs without them having to leave their homes," said Gerard Menses, CEO, Vision Australia, "that is the value that our relationship with Serotek offers to all Australians whether blind, with low vision or mobility challenged."
"By adding Vision Australia to our reseller network, Serotek, once again, proves its global reach and affirms its position as a growing force within the worldwide assistive technology community," said Mike Calvo, CEO, Serotek Corporation.
For a complete list of all Serotek resellers, 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

Vision Australia
Vision Australia is the leading provider of blindness and low vision services in Australia. We work in positive partnership with Australians who are blind or have low vision to help achieve the possibilities they choose in life. Combining the skills and resources of several leading blindness organisations to create one national voice, Vision Australia is committed to delivering exceptional and efficient services that open up exciting possibilities for our community. For more information or to support Vision Australia please visit


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Send PAC Mate Packing

Before I begin the topic of this certainly provocative subject matter, let me say that I have absolutely no stake in any of the companies or products mentioned in this article. The success of the products like PAC Mate and others mentioned in this article would have never been made possible had it not been for pioneers both in the hardware and software industry. Hundreds of thousands of blind people’s lives have been forever and profoundly altered all around the world because of folks like Dean Blazie, Ted Henter, Glen Gordon from the development end of things and others like Eric Damery, Jerry Bowman and Dan Clark who made the business and less geeky side of things happen. To all of them and more, I am personally grateful. I am not exaggerating when I say, you changed my life.

It is however, my personal view that the adaptive technology industry has for the most part, lost its vision. This is an incongruous statement. An industry that has done so much for the blind has lost its vision -- its way in the market place.

Let me explain: I had the privilege and irreplaceable life experience of working up close and personal with the PAC Mate project team at Freedom Scientific from its bitsy board inception and revision 1 cycle running Pocket PC 2002, right through the end of its revision 2 development cycles which took it through its Pocket PC 2003 versions ending at 4.1. I have watched from afar with interest as the project has continued with the introduction of the PAC Mate Omni which runs Windows Mobile 6.

Unfortunately however, as with many products of this type, upgrades are not inexpensive and Enovation is inexcusably lacking. PAC Mate BX420 and QX420 (with 20-cell Braille display): at a whopping $3,795 from: still only offers its users two antiquated compact flash slots, no on-board wi-fi or Bluetooth, no user replaceable battery, merely double its original memory specifications, a single USB client/host port and only one possible Braille device choice, causing any claims to it having any semblance of a “laptop replacement” or even being modular on any level not to be taken seriously by anyone doing an honest product comparison. (I will discuss the modular concept in greater detail later in this article.)

Think of the daily scenarios with which the hardware peripheral minded PAC Mate user is presented:
· I will have to make a choice between wi-fi and Bluetooth if I want to use a storage card.
· To use Secure Digital cards, I’ll need an adapter.
· If I need Bluetooth and wi-fi at the same time, I’ll need external USB solutions for extra memory storage.

It is my view that we have two choices. We can either reward this so-called Enovation by continuing to pay for it or we can find another solution! I say, IT IS TIME TO SEND THE PAC MATE (and other devices like it: Braille & Voice Note M-Power, and Braille & Voice Sense, ETC.) PACKING!

To that end, I would like to introduce you to a new product. This invention in conjunction with other hardware and software already in the main=stream consumer market, would, without a doubt, easily replace the current line of blind ghetto note-takers.
The product is a piece of hardware called “Redfly” and is quite simply described as a terminal complete with nearly full sized keyboard and ten inch screen for a Smart Phone or other Windows Mobile device. You can read more than you want to know about it at:

I am specifically recommending the revision 2 C8 model at a whopping… are you ready… $299.99 with its eight hour battery life, it even charges your phone or other Windows Mobile device while it is connected via USB! (Oh, and by the way, it also supports Bluetooth, though through-put is not quite as fast as USB.) Ok, let your imagination go wild! Add any CDMA or GSM Smart phone from your provider of choice for as little as $99.00 with a new or extended contract with some providers, a copy of Mobile Speak Smart Phone from:

For as little as $85.00 from at least one provider. Quite simply, the sky is the limit! You could then add one of any of the many supported Braille devices supported by Mobile Speak Smart Phone or Mobile Speak Pocket. Your GPS solutions become better and all Smart phones of which I am aware come already Internet enabled through all of the cell providers.

Unless my calculation is way off, I have spent quite a bit less than what I would spend even if I skipped Braille all together and just purchased the PAC Mate BX400 or QX400 for $2,395. I have all of the functionality and exponentially more modular expandability than I would have with a PAC mate Omni. By the way, in most cases, I also have a later version of Windows Mobile which is 6.1… not 6.0 as is claimed as the latest on the Freedom Scientific web site. The entire system is completely modular. Everything from the Smart Phone or Windows Mobile PC, to the Braille device can be replaced or left behind if not needed in a particular situation.

Example: While I may need Braille for this meeting, I won’t need it when I am at my daughter’s house listening to music. If something breaks or if you find something better, simply replace that piece and keep going. Here is another example: It is the way we think of component stereo equipment. Every component is separate: the satellite tuner, the cable box, PVR, plasma TV, DVD, IPod, the power amplifier, the equalizer… well… you get the idea. That’s the way it is if you start thinking of your mobile life in this model. Now, think about your PAC Mate or other blind ghetto note taker. Using these examples, are they modular?

In conclusion, I would like to get you thinking about the following questions:
· What “blindness” hardware products do I currently use to accomplish my daily tasks whether at work or at play?
· With what main-stream consumer hardware could I replace these products without degradation of usability at a lower cost?
· How can I be more proactive in communicating these solutions to other blind people?

Folks, it all goes back to the buggy whip principle. Buggy whips left the market place over time as the age of the automobile dawned. Blind ghetto products will leave the market place… or not… the same way. Ultimately you get to make the decision. Money talks: What will yours say?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Out of the Ghetto and in to the Digital Lifestyle

A ghetto is a portion of a city in which members of a minority group are coerced to live through social, cultural, legal, and/or economic pressure. Ghettos are often separated from the city at large by a wall or other natural barrier. But the real barrier is fear: fear of outsiders by those within the ghetto and fear of ghetto-dwellers by those outside the ghetto.

If you’ve read this article in AFB Accessworld, you’ll know I have firsthand experience with a ghetto. When my parents came to Miami from Cuba looking for new opportunities, they joined a community of other Cubans who were here for the same reasons. Our community was a place where we proudly celebrated our Cuban heritage and where the Cuban culture remained alive and well. But it was also a place that trapped us in poverty; a place where expectations were low; and ultimately a place which isolated us from the rest of society. It was a type of ghetto.

Did we prefer being poor, stereotyped, isolated and hopeless? Of course not! But there was an unspoken sentiment that leaving the ghetto would also mean leaving an important part of yourself behind, and that you would sacrifice the culture that made you who you were if you tried to blend seamlessly with mainstream society.

Over time, I came to realize that my cultural differences didn’t need to isolate me from those outside my community. In fact, those differences are a part of what make me interesting. I learned that there was a whole world full of people who had their own interesting differences to celebrate, and that despite all our differences, we were exactly the same in many ways.

This is a truth I had to learn not only as a Cuban American, but as a blind person as well. I spent much of my life listening to the stereotypes about blind people. We were socially inept. We were unemployable. We were to be pitied. We had to be provided with basic necessities to make our insular world habitable, but we were too different from the rest of society to ever be a part of it in any meaningful way.

I knew that I didn’t fit any of these stereotypes. I was sociable, I had talents, and I certainly didn’t want any pity. I didn’t need anyone to take the liberty of creating a world for me which contained only the things they thought I might need. I was perfectly capable of thinking for myself, and I wanted the freedom to choose what I would and would not do. I needed to bridge the gap between the blind ghetto the world thought I should live in and the place I really wanted to be.

Early on I understood that technology would play a huge role in bridging that gap, not just for me, but for the millions of other blind people like me. It isn’t just about bridging the gap to employment, which is certainly important. It’s about providing a way for blind people to have fun, to be entertained, and to communicate with the rest of the world without any geographical, social or economic barriers.

Over the years, I have watched mainstream technology evolve from something available to only an elite few to something completely ubiquitous. I have seen technology emerge from complex, bulky gadgetry comprehensible only to geeka to user-friendly, pocket-sized and smaller devices which can be enjoyed easily by those who have no tech savvy whatsoever. And during this time the price of mainstream technology has plummeted so that even the most budget-conscious consumer can pick up a state-of-the-art computer for $400 or less.

But has this trend carried over in to the assistive technology arena? Is there a push to provide compelling access to off-the-shelf products? Are AT companies designing easy and affordable products that don’t require hours of training to operate? The answer is a resounding no!

But why not? Is it because blind people are content to remain in the blind ghetto? Are we content to continue paying thousands of dollars for access to proprietary products which provide only a fraction of the functionality of mainstream products? Is it because we are content to remain a niche market rather than insisting on being seen as viable consumers who share the interests of our sighted counterparts? Is it because blind people simply don’t want access to entertainment or social networking? The answer to these questions is also a resounding no!

Ghettos, you see, not only keep insiders in, they keep outsiders out. The blind ghetto discourages mainstream technology companies from making their products accessible. A select group controls the sales to the ghetto and like it that way. The ghetto barriers protect their market share even though those walls can deny their customers access to the riches available to everyone outside the walls. It takes gutsy companies to build and market products that tear down the walls and it is these "disruptive" technologies that excite me.

Finally, in the past couple of years we have begun to see products that break down the ghetto walls. And each time a “ghetto-busting” product is introduced, its success enriches us all. Look at some of these products: Packmate from Freedom Scientific, runs on the Windows Mobile platform, and allows users to install their own software rather than depending on a specific group of preinstalled proprietary applications—exactly like mainstream PDAs.. Mobilespeak from Codefactory, puts blind cell phone users on a par with their sighted friends; and maybe the most fun “ghetto-buster” is the exciting Apple 4th generation Nano which, for the first time, gave blind folks the same accessibility to their “tunes” that every sighted teenager has enjoyed for years..

My company, Serotek, is a big participant in “ghetto-busting.” Today, Serotek introduced the Socializer, an application which provides access to instant messaging services such as MSN and AIM, as well as easy access to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The response has been overwhelming and runs the gamut from tech savvy users clamoring for MySpace to be added to the application, to technical neophytes who have no idea what Facebook and Twitter are, but are anxious to find out. In a world that is becoming ever smaller with instant and ubiquitous one to one communications, Serotek tore down the ghetto wall and invited blind folks everywhere to be full twittering members.

The response shows clearly that blind people do want to live the accessible digital lifestyle. We do want to share photos on Facebook and Flicker and keep in touch through Twitter and MSN. We do want to chat with friends and family about how cool the iPod is, instead of waiting for an AT company to produce something half as good for twice the price. So let’s be loud about it! Let’s make our voices heard. Whether you create a petition, write an email, twitter to your new social network, create a group on Facebook, or just pick up the phone, let it be known that you want to tear down the walls to the blind ghetto and proudly live the accessible digital lifestyle.