Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rest In Peace SMA

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

For Immediate Release

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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 CafĂ©, 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.