Wednesday, April 15, 2009

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?


Jake said...

Wow, I don't even know how to convey my disgust for what I've just read here.
First off, there's government spending and then there's wreckless government spending. The latter is why we're in this rapidly declining economy. We did not spend it on anything that mattered, instead giving lone after lone to foreign banks andsurance agencies from money that... guess what, we didn't even have. And now the government is going to bale out these companies, who are going bankrupt because of wreckless spending decisions on their part, with... you guessed it, even more money that we do not have.
We're in a situation where we don't even have the money to spend on the things the government is wasting it on. We're overextended, unbelievably so, and we're extending ourselves yet more to bale out others who have overextended and should be paying the consequences of their poor business decisions.
So yes, I'm against this kind of government spending. And I'm totally blind. We cannot keep spending what isn't there. It reminds me of a college student who has just received their first credit card... they spend, and spend, and spend and when payment comes due they panic. Well, we've done that. And payment has come due, and we can't pay it, and instead we try to mask the problem with yet more spending.
It's a downward spiral that must end. Because if government spending continues like this, eventually we will indeed see the end of disability help of any kind. We simply will not be able to sustain it. Continuing this spending will have exactly the opposite effect when it comes to the blind than you seem to think.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the above poster. Government spending is out of control. We need to reduce, not increase this as soon as possible. As for the amount of money going to blindness agencies, I'm not so sure we should increase this either. As you point out, they are inefficient with the tax dollars, often paying for obsolete and incredibly expensive products. And yet, they fail to change the one thing that matters even more than technology, which is the attitudes of those who quote on quote help us out. I can't tell you how may times I've heard rehab councilors and others say despicable things about how needy/dependent we are.
I don't know what the solution is, but it certainly is not more money for agencies who miss use what they get anyway.

Anonymous said...

Huh. As a rhetoritian, I must say that your likening the purchase of screen readers with SMA's to the sunken Titanic is quite interesting, especially when weaving the announcement of SEROTEK's promotion together with tax day protests and pleas. Very clever! Anyone planning a persuasive speech would do well to take a leaf from your book.

You'll be happy to know that VR agencies are indeed learning the value of SEROTEK. My state agency purchased RIM some time ago, and RIM has proved amazingly helpful to our blind AT/IT staff. I don't know if I happen to have been the first customer of my state agency to use SEROTEK on a constant basis, but I do know that more and more customers are sporting SEROTEK in their laptops, computers, and netbooks. In fact, i met up with a blind friend of mine who is also a VR customer. I asked her what she was using as an access product. she said "System Access." I take it then that my agency is noting the titanic cost difference. If only I could get the local school district to use Keys for K-12!

Anonymous said...

eWell, this all sounds great, but let me state the very politically incorrect point that there are many things I cannot do with System Access that I can do with that much-maligned product we all love to criticize. I'm glad I own it, I'm glad I am able to pay the admittedly annoying upgrade fees. They exist because it costs money to produce a quality product that actually meets needs of a wide spectrum rather than just serving a niche market. I would lose a lot if my only screen access came through Serotek products. At the same time, I recognize their value, use them for a few things and recommend them when appropriate.

Dean Martineau

Anonymous said...

eWell, this all sounds great, but let me state the very politically incorrect point that there are many things I cannot do with System Access that I can do with that much-maligned product we all love to criticize. I'm glad I own it, I'm glad I am able to pay the admittedly annoying upgrade fees. They exist because it costs money to produce a quality product that actually meets needs of a wide spectrum rather than just serving a niche market. I would lose a lot if my only screen access came through Serotek products. At the same time, I recognize their value, use them for a few things and recommend them when appropriate.

Dean Martineau

Bob said...

dean I must completely agree with you here. system Access is indeed a good product, and Serotek is to be commended for shaking up the industry, but System Access is limited in the scope of what it can do. In the interest of making it so easy to use, it has very little in the way of configurability. For instance, if I relied on System Access to do my job, I would be out of work because System Access provides only the most rudamentary access to the custom database we use. On the other hand, big bad bloated JAWS, (After I wrote some scripts and set up some frames), gives me the access to this database that I need to work along side my sighted counterparts. Serotek would counter that a user shouldn't have to write scripts, or set up frames or whatever, but in this case it is necessary, and System Access does not provide such functionality. don't get me wrong, I think System Access is an excellent product, but it is not the one and only screen reading solution that blind people need as serotek would have you believe.

Mike Calvo said...

Actually Bob I agree with you on most of your points. We at Serotek have never advocated that we are the only solution one should use. We have stated, though, that we are all the AT you may ever need. In fact, we have actually demonstrated quite the opposite. We are one of the only players in this market that believes we serve a community of many types of users. Users that may not want or need everything we have to offer. We have spent countless hours making sure we play nice with any AT company that will get off it's high horse and partner with us to serve it's community first instead of it's investors first.

We have priced our products and services in such a way that folks can include it's many features in to a personal computing toolbox without having to mortgage the house or worse, beg a government agency to buy it.

I have also had great issue with the "1 screen reader fits all" attitude I think is prevalent in today's VR industry. This must change not only because many user's can't, don't, or want to learn complex commands just to be able to enjoy using a computer, but, also because it's just not proper use of tax payer money when lower cost solutions such as Serotek's have been available for a number of years.

Scripting isn't something we will be doing at any time soon but, how many people really use scripts in day to day computing? In fact, dependence on scripting has gotten some AT companies off the hook because instead of focusing on really solving issues for it's customers it says "write a script or pay for someone to write it for you." Keep in mind, this is after you pay almost $1000 for the software and hundreds for yearly SMAs that simply bring the market leader to where it should have been to begin with.

Granted, most folks in jobs that are custom applications, such as the one you speak of, would need scripts. But that just isn't always the case in a World where MS Office is used by just about every office worker and student using Windows. When a computer user spends most of his or her time on the computer in a browser, or using some pretty standard programs, this makes me think that a lower cost solution such as ours is really the thing most computer users would benefit from. Ad to that our market firsts like Remote access and portability, I would continue to say that Serotek products really do have the potential to serve everyone in the blind community. For some we may be all the AT they will ever need and for others we are just that little extra technology that makes them have that edge they have been missing.

In short, choice is good!

Sorry for any typos on this comment I am on the go and was just moved to write by your comment. Thanks for stirring the pot and thanks for your kind words of support.

Unknown said...

i too feel that SA is an add on to my solution. there are things jfw does that serotek Sa does not, and things Sa does, such as give me portability on a pen drive, that jfw does not. yes they have their thumb solution, but that involves installing a bit of software first, which defeats the object. with the SA pen, you just stick it in and go. no preparation needed, and has anyohne seen how Sa flies on a netbook? it flies. hmm, i will stick to a mix, but hats off to serotek for having the one price and that's it model. i wish others would either reduce the prices of SMA's or scrap them altogether. paws up to serotekk.