Tuesday, December 28, 2010

iBlink Radio 2.0 Now Available On The Apple App Store

For Immediate Release

Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 28, 2010

The iBlink Radio application from the Serotek Corporation has just been updated! The world's first application for the visually impaired for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad is now available on the iTunes App Store. Version 2.0 sports Push Notifications, Localized Content and even more content for you to explore. IBlink Radio offers radio stations, podcasts and reading services of special interest to blind and visually impaired persons; as well as their friends, family, caregivers and those wanting to know what life is like without eyesight. The original release of iBlink Radio has been downloaded thousands of times and it has even been featured on the front page of the iTunes Store. All stations under Community Radio are owned and/or operated by persons with limited or no eye sight. Genres include oldies, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, alternative, classic Rock, Old Time Radio and more. This is a small sampling of SAMNet, Serotek's award-winning online community dedicated to promoting the digital lifestyle to its low-vision and blind subscribers. Reading services provide narration of newspapers, magazines, periodicals and other print publications including: USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and hundreds more. Podcasts are produced by blind and partially sighted individuals, and cover topics including: broadcasting, computers, radio, technology, Independent Living, Travel, and much more. "We created this application and placed it on the iTunes store, free of charge, for a number of reasons. The blind community is full of people with an astounding and diverse array of talents and skills. These abilities are worthy of being noticed and appreciated by everyone, in both the blind and sighted communities," said Mike Calvo, CEO. iBlink Radio is the perfect way to showcase the broadcasting talent within the blind community, and the app is available for anyone, blind or sighted, to download. What's New in Version 2.0 Improved Interface: The new iBlink Radio interface allows even easier navigation across your iDevice of choice. You can use your iPhone, iPod or iPad in either portrait or landscape modes to find your favorite station. Or just move through the lists to discover all new ones. In either case, the tap of a finger will have your selection playing instantly. You can also adjust the volume from iBlink Radio by swiping your finger on the volume control at the bottom of the display. New Easy To Add Favorites: You can add your favorite stations and Reading Services without ever leaving the list page. Tap the bottom left of the display to add the selection to your Favorites list. You can even do this while listening to the station! Push Notifications: You can now set alerts and sounds to notify you when your favorite content has been updated. The new notifications option can be found under the Settings section of your IOS device. Localized Content Having trouble finding the right content for you? Listen to information and entertainment specific to your area with the use of the Localized Content feature. New Content Added 5 new radio stations have been added to the Community Radio section. Several new Radio Reading Services have been added including those from; Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and all five feeds for Voice Print Canada. This upgrade makes it even easier to find and hear the community radio stations, reading services, and podcasts you want, including resources in your area. This upgrade also adds support for a wider variety of audio formats, so you can expect even more resources to be added in the near future.

Download iBlink Radio Version 2.0


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Still Looking for a Holiday Gift?

Are you still frantically searching for that perfect gift for a friend or family member, and you know that a sweater with a picture of Santa on the front just isn’t going to work again this year? Or maybe you have some holiday cash burning a hole in your pocket, just begging to be spent on a gift for yourself.  There’s no need to panic, because Serotek has got you covered.  Why not give the gift of accessibility this holiday season with a Serotek gift card.  You don’t have to brave the holiday crowds to get one.  You don’t even have to figure out how to make the gift wrap look pretty.  All you need to do is visit


and then relax knowing you’ve chosen the perfect gift for that special someone on your list. 


Gift cards may be used toward any Serotek product or service. How about the gift of quick and easy access to printed documents and PDF’s at home or on the go with DocuScan Plus.  Or, choose Serotek’s award-winning System Access screen reader for use on a desktop, netbook, or from any computer anywhere using a U3 thumb drive.  Become a member of the SAMNet community and get access to email, news, thousands of audio-described movies, users’ forums, voice chat, and much more.  Find out about these and other products and services by visiting


Wondering how this gift card thing works?  Don’t worry.  It’s easy!  Visit http://www.serotek.com/giftcards

to begin.  Enter the gift card amount, and then you’ll be taken to PayPal to enter your payment information and complete the purchase.  If you don’t have a PayPal account, no problem.  You don’t need one to complete the transaction.  Once your gift card has been purchased, we’ll send an email to you and your gift card recipient with a coupon code and instructions for using it.

If the gift card recipient already has a Serotek account, he or she can log in to place an order.  If not, the recipient can create an account and then place an order. When prompted for a coupon code during the ordering process, simply enter your gift card code and it will be applied toward your purchase.  If the gift card is not used in its entirety for the first purchase, it may be used as many times as necessary to spend all available funds on the card.  You may check the amount on your gift card at any time by visiting


and entering your gift card code.

If you have any questions or would like more information, call us at

(612) 246-4818, or toll free at (866) 202-0520.

Happy holidays from the Serotek team!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Second Annual SAMNet Christmas Concert

Join us for our second annual SAMNet Christmas concert, live tonight at 9PM Eastern U.S., in the Music Voice chat Room, and broadcast live.

Click here to Listen Live to the 2nd Annual SAMNet Christmas concert December 16 from 9 to 10PM Eastern U.S. on SAMNet Radio

Seven of our talented SAMNet members will perform in this presentation.

Monday, December 13, 2010

SeroTalk and Serotek are Giving Away Three Gift Cardds for the Holidays

Serotek and SeroTalk are giving away 3 gift cards  for the holidays. Tell us your favorite 2010 SeroTalk podcast or tech chat moment. Let us know when we made a fool of ourselves, made a mess of things, made you angry, saved you money, or just made you laugh!

Send an email to resources@serotalk.com

Please include your first and last name, working email address, number of the podcast or tech chat, and the segment you liked. One entry per person. Three qualifying entries will be drawn December 31 at Noon Eastern U.S. The first name drawn will receive a $50 gift card for Serotek software and services. Two others will each receive a $25 Serotek gift card. Deadline for entries is December 30 at Midnight U.S Eastern time.

Don’t forget, you can buy a Serotek gift card for the holidays, someone’s birthday or any old time you want by going to


Email us your favorite 2010 SeroTalk moment

and get ready to win from the SeroTalk Podcast Crew.



Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Crowdsourcing as a software development tool

With the recent release of DocuScan Plus, the product development team would like to share with the community what we believe to be a new and exciting method of developing assistive technology. We feel that this tool is especially useful when developing assistive technology because of the unique challenges involved with creating this type of software. Assistive technology, unlike some other types of software, must be simultaneously easy enough for brand new computer user's to use, yet powerful enough to satisfy the needs of those with long term experience as well. In addition, developing a product that is so essential to so many people means that great care must be taken in every step of the design process.

How software is traditionally developed

The traditional method of software development is for a design team to generate specifications for a software product. After mapping as much of the product out as possible, including features, UI (which stands for user interface and defines how a user interacts with the software,) the overall capabilities of the software, pipe dreams, Et cetera, the design team hands these requirements off to the programmers. From this point forward, the programmers write the code using these specifications to construct the product. Once the programmers have completed their initial work, the product enters the "Alpha test phase", during which the product design team tests the software. If needed, they ask the programmers to make changes. Once Alpha testing is complete, potential end users are invited to play with the product. This phase is most commonly refered to as a beta test. Yet, at this stage, the feature set, software capabilities, user interface, Et cetera, is mostly frozen and very few, if any changes to these areas are made. Most of the time beta testing is used to eliminate bugs only.

The Serotek difference

All of us on the DocuScan Plus development team were very excited about this product. However, we knew that we were only a small segment of the population who would ultimately be using the product. We were determined to make the product as good as it could possibly be, not only for ourselves, but for the audience we wanted to serve. While we all had ideas on what we wanted the product to be, we decided that there was no better way to find out what the ideal document scanning solution should be like than to enlist the help of the people who would use the product the most. To do this, we knew we needed to go beyond the traditional model of software development. So, instead of bringing the users in on the traditional beta testing phase, we brought them in closer to the Alpha testing level.

The community difference

Unlike traditional beta testing, we decided that we would invite current owners of Document Scan to preview the new product. In exchange for their help with the development process, they were offered an introductory upgrade price. Over 20% of existing owners of Document Scan chose to participate in the preview. The interaction we had with this group was nothing short of amazing. We created a discussion forum in which preview users were asked to leave any feedback, ask questions, make suggestions, and report problems. As the development and testing phase moved forward, many of these suggestions were incorporated into the final product. In addition to the forum, weekly voice chats were held in order to allow more direct interaction within our community. Members of the Serotek staff including the lead programmer were present at these chats and in much the same fassion as the forum, these weekly discussions produced outstanding feedback and promoted great interaction both among the preview user's themselves and with the development team directly.

We have no doubt That DocuScan Plus is a far superior product because of the community involvement in the creation of the program. Many of the suggestions and ideas that were refined over the preview period greatly enhanced the usability, feature set, and quality of the end product. The DocuScan Plus team would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the preview users for their outstanding feedback and help making DocuScan Plus what it is today. It is truly remarkable to be part of such an awesome community. It is our hope that this type of software development, with an emphasis on community involvement, will serve as a blueprint to follow for future assistive technology products.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lack of Sight Doesn’t Mean Lack of Vision Text Version

On November 12th of this year we posted an audio version of a keynote speech I gave at the Mid-Atlantic ACB Conference on our Serotalk blog and podcast. While many folks heard it and gave some great feedback, it was still about an hour long and who wants to hear me talk for that long? For those of you that would rather read the speech without my trips down memory lane, I have posted it here.

I hope that it will inspire you as much as meeting and interacting with many of you readers, customers, and friends has inspired me.


Lack of Sight Doesn’t Mean Lack of Vision
By Mike Calvo

I’m going to tell you some of the highlights and lowlights of my life story, tonight. Not all of them – just a few to give you a sense of how it’s possible for a blind kid, a trouble-maker, pretty much written off by his teachers, can be standing here as CEO of a company that is changing the adaptive technology paradigm. It’s a story that didn’t start well and which isn’t over yet, I hope. But it’s a story of how blindness has very little to do with vision. And while this is my story, it’s also a story that any blind person can live if they can dream.
School was not a great experience for me. Every day teachers and guidance counselors would tell me to set my sights low – to find some mind-numbing work I could be trained to do, because what else was there for me? After all “I was born with a strike against me and I would have to work twice as hard as a normal person.” I didn’t begin with a great deal of sight, and I gradually lost what little I did have. By the time I was 18 years of age, I had lost the last traces of my eyesight. I was blind and tired of beating my head against an establishment that didn’t have my best interest at hart. This resulted in me dropping out of high school and taking to the Miami streets and club seen.

I mean, I was handicapped. My goal should be to not be too big a burden on my family and society. Right? A wife? Kids? Success? No way! Maybe you’ve heard this too: “No big, impossible dreams please.”
With inspiration like that, many kids would just give up. But I was the ornery type and I got angry. I’d show them all. And I got mean. I did whatever I needed to do to prove to myself and to the world that I was a person you had to pay attention to. I was going to dream big and fulfill those dreams and I didn’t much care who got hurt or what laws might get broken in the process. I wouldn’t want anyone to emulate that early part of my life. Unfortunately, some of those early big dreams were pretty selfish and caused me to hurt many of those closest to me. Fortunately, somewhere along in there Jesus came into my life!
What? Relax. I’m not going to preach at you. I’m just telling you how it was for me. I’m a firm believer that when you’re ready to accept the Lord in your life, he’ll be there. You don’t need me selling him to you.
What God did was teach me to forgive both those that hurt me and myself, to redirect the energy I was putting into anger, bitterness, and rejection into doing something productive. He helped me cage my impatience. He helped me see that it wasn’t “me against them.” It was me, finding a way to love “them” and get “them” to work with me to accomplish something together. It was me accepting that whether or not I liked society and its ignorance, I was getting an education from every challenge I experienced and every person I met and if I paid attention, I would discover how together we could do more than any of us could do separately. In other words, thanks to this divine intervention, I could see the world in a different light. Since then, life has been a great deal more exciting! But, I digress.

When I was twenty one, I became a dad. “No more streets or clubs for Mikey.” I had to be responsible. I began working in a bank, and as part of my job I needed to learn to use the computer. Due to the encouragement of Greg Luther of the Florida Division of Blind Services I quickly realized I was a pretty good teacher. So I took on the job of teaching how to use the computer to other blind people at the bank, and later, for that vary same agency. I ultimately ended up opening my own training business. At the same time I was indulging my love of music by doing audio production. And in the process an idea was niggling in the back of my mind. At that time we were just getting sophisticated with tools to help blind people be productive at work and school. There was very little to help “these people” enjoy the fullness of life. Sure there were books on tape – a truly wonderful innovation; and there were news reading services by telephone. But TV, movies, the emerging Internet were all pretty much beyond reach.
There was this huge barrier called accessibility. And those people who were working at reducing the barriers were focused on what might make a blind person productive or educated and didn’t pay much attention to the things the blind person might enjoy after work or school.
But man! I wanted my piece of that Internet pie! So, I joined forces with my best friend from high school and we created a product called Radio Webcaster. I even wrote my own website for the first time. It had moderate success in the mainstream community. Surprisingly, at least to me, blind people bought the product as well. It was an eye-opening experience, no pun intended, to realize that blind people everywhere were just like me. They had money to spend and they liked to be entertained just as much as the next person. They just didn’t have a product that they could buy for themselves without having to mortgage everything they had.

While Radio Webcaster was a great idea for its time, I knew I wanted to do something more. My vision was firmly placed on the Internet and tools to make it more accessible. With full access to the Internet blind folks could enjoy pretty much everything sighted folks could enjoy.
Greg had told me that “behind the computer I am an equal.” There is a cartoon, I think from the New Yorker, that shows a dog sitting at a computer and he’s saying to another dog, “The cool thing is that on the Internet no one knows that you’re a dog.”
And the cool thing is that with the right tools, over the Internet, no one would know you were blind. You are judged by the people you interact with by what you know, what you can do, by who you really are – not by whether or not you are sighted. So the challenge was to create those tools. Because in my mind I could see that accessibility meant equality. This was a place where the barriers had to come down and could, with a little creative thought, tumble quickly.
What were those barriers?
First was the computer itself. Most folks weren’t necessarily skilled computer users. In fact, one survey shows a scant five percent of blind folks use computers. The greatest possible liberating and enabling tool and not even five percent of the blind population had access because of cost and training.

The whys were:
· Cost. Accessibility tools were prohibitively expensive and without government aid there was little chance for most blind people to have them.
· Complexity. Accessibility tools added a whole layer of complexity to computer use – which was, in the early days, pretty complex in itself. A typical blind person needed more than thirty hours of class room time to become moderately competent in using these tools. Proficiency was many, many more hours of training away.
· Availability. Because of the expense, the only path to computer use for a blind person was through vocational rehab training. That’s a pretty narrow channel and only reaches a small number of people and mostly people of employable age.
Let me share a bit of frustration. Henter-Joyce and others who did the pioneer work to bring computer access to the blind were wonderful. They opened a world that had been completely closed to us. But many of the people that followed them and took control of the companies making accessibility tools had a different philosophy. They wanted to milk the status quo for every dollar they could make. They stopped innovating and focused on locking up the vocational rehab channel, doing everything they could to push small, upstart innovators out of business. That would have been okay if they were actually serving the majority of the blind population. But, as I mentioned earlier, they were reaching a tiny percentage. And as for the other blind people they didn’t reach? Well they just didn’t care.
We came into this business thinking differently. Because we were effectively locked out of the traditional blind services channels, we focused on taking our product direct to blind folks. Our goal was to overcome the myth that blind people were not a market – because that myth is very destructive. It keeps venture money out of the blind consumer market and stifles innovation.
We believe that in fact blind folks do have money and do buy stuff but they are a highly fragmented market and getting to them is not easy. We set out to prove that with products that were fun, highly functional, intuitive and easy to use, and inexpensive that leveraged the power of the latest off the shelf hardware and software, we could get ordinary blind folks of all ages to be part of the digital age even if they had to spend their own money.
I will tell you that we are succeeding, although at a much slower pace than I would like. Over the last 9 years Serotek has changed the direction of access to computers and the Internet for the blind by lowering the cost of a screen reader from over $1000 to as little as $9.95 per month. Thanks to one of the most dedicated group of people I have ever met!
This was my vision from the beginning. Here I was, a blind Cuban kid from Miami, lugging a thirty-pound computer, wandering from place to place looking for someone who would believe. The first guy who believed was a lawyer, Av Gordon. He steered me to a consulting company, Matrix Associates and its leader Michael Fox. Matrix had just finished a strategic self-examination and determined under no circumstances would they invest time and effort in another start-up. But as a favor to Av, they listened.
The product was dismal. It had more bugs than a New York hotel room. But those Matrix guys could hear the truth behind the faltering message. And they dumped their new “no start up” policy and have worked with Serotek ever since, Michael Fox taking on the role of COO and mentoring me in the art of management. Sometimes it took a lot of mentoring – and a two-by-four. But I learned.
Our vision, and we articulated it in our very first business plan, was to treat blind people as a market; provide them with the tools and services they need; and migrate them and the industry towards universal design. From the very beginning we believed accessibility was a right, not a privilege. We’ve stayed true to that mission ever since.
From the start we went against the industry trends. We adapted our software to run with the very latest OS releases. We created products that could be used right out of the box with very little training and we delivered functionality that fully served blind people’s lifestyle and did a very good job with their common business needs.
We focused on mobile – smart-drive based software that could be plugged in anywhere and then Internet-based software available anywhere, anytime from the cloud – for free. We charged a simple, low price and gave away updates. We created unique ways for peer to peer communication using the Internet. We were roundly hated by the industry leaders.
And we developed a bit of a cult following which served us in good stead when we got served a cease and desist-order for using a name vaguely related to the industry leader’s name. It was the best thing that ever happened to us. Here was the industry giant beating up on this tiny company whose only crime was that it created better, cheaper products. The community was up in arms and name recognition was no longer a problem. We were essentially liberated from using the old name (a legacy that really no longer fit us) and everyone knew who we were. I’d love to claim that I planned that, but I suspect it was, yet again, truly a case of divine intervention.

Since then we have released new and exciting products in to the marketplace at an accelerated rate: social networking tools – why shouldn’t blind people have FaceBook and Twitter and Linked In and all of that? Music; I phone applications, tools for making meetings and events accessible both locally and over the Internet. We have cheered others in the industry as they moved into our space and we have roared our approval for mainstream players like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft for making their tools universally accessible. We are for anything that promotes universal accessibility.
Blind as I am, I saw this coming more than a decade ago and now my vision is coming to pass. Serotek is still not a huge company, but it is growing. And we remain the only company in the industry with a blind CEO – the only company that looks to a blind person for its vision. Not only that, sighted people are the minority at Serotek. Not because I don’t like sighted people, it’s just that we have been able to find so much great talent in our own community. Our lead programmer Matt Campbell is visually impaired and is one of the most amazing software engineers I have ever met!
So far the vision has been 20/20. Today I am blessed with a beautiful wife that is here with me tonight and five, yes five, wonderful children!
The lesson of this story is that the biggest barrier to success is not lack of eyesight but lack of insight – knowing and believing in yourself. If you believe in yourself and open your heart to a little divine guidance when you need it, anything is possible. After all if our creator gave us the ability to dream HE would be awfully cruel if HE didn’t give us a way to achieve that dream. So, what’s your dream?

Thank you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Give the Gift of Accessibility Anywhere this Holiday Season With Serotek Gift Cards

Serotek Corporation is excited to announce the availability of gift cards!  Now you can buy your friends, family and even yourself a card to be used in purchasing all available Serotek products and services.  And this Cyber Monday only, through midnight, buy a gift card for any amount, and receive that same amount in bonus dollars.  Your bonus dollars may be used for Serotek software and services only, but the original amount of your gift card may be used for any Serotek product or service, including hardware.
Here’s how it works.

to initiate your purchase of a gift card.  Follow the steps in entering the gift card amount, and then you’ll be taken to PayPal to enter your payment information and complete the purchase.  Once your gift card has been purchased, we’ll send an email to you and your gift card recipient with a coupon code and instructions for using it.

To use the gift card, the recipient can visit

if he or she already has a Serotek account.  If not, the recipient can visit

and create an account.  When prompted for a coupon code during the ordering process, simply enter your gift card code and it will be applied toward your purchase.  If the gift card is not used in its entirety for the first purchase, it may be used as many times as necessary to spend all available funds on the card.  You may check the amount on your gift card at any time by visiting

and ent ering your gift card code.
Purchased gift cards may be used toward any Serotek product or service, such as DocuScan Plus for scanning printed documents and PDF’s at home or on the go.  Purchase Serotek’s award-winning System Access screen reader for use on your desktop, netbook, or from any computer anywhere using a U3 thumb drive.  Become a member of the SAMNet community and get access to email, news, thousands of audio-described movies, users’ forums, voice chat, and much more.  Find out about these and other products and services by visiting

or call us at (612) 246-4818, or toll free at (866) 202-0520.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Serotek Corporation Announces the Release of DocuScan Plus

For Immediate Release
Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 24, 2010

Serotek Corporation, the leading provider of accessible multi platform and cloud-based solutions which can be accessed from anywhere, is proud to announce the release of DocuScan Plus. This innovative software allows persons to scan and read documents from any computer with an attached Twain-compliant scanner, sound card and internet connection.

Serotek's DocuScan Plus offers high-quality optical character recognition, (OCR), to convert the printed page in to text. This self-voicing application can read both printed pages from a Twain-compliant scanner, as well as many types of PDF files, including those containing text and those containing only images. The software also supports scanners with duplex and ADF (automatic document feeder) capabilities. DocuScan Plus can convert scanned documents in to MP3 audio files for playback on many portable devices, and the software can even convert scanned materials in to the popular DAISY format. For Low Vision users, DocuScan Plus also offers a full Screen Magnifier for the reading of scanned text. This magnification option, when combined with the self voicing features of DocuScan Plus, allows documents to be comfortably read from the screen as well as via text-to-speech. Materials can also be saved in Large Print. In this way, documents can be scanned, printed, and shared with friends or viewed offline under a Video magnifier.

“We wanted to create an affordable application that really took in to account the way we access the printed word in the 21st century.”, said Mike Calvo, CEO. “We don’t spend all our time on one computer, or even one device anymore, so why should we be using software based on that model? When we make a product like this, with a feature set that’s useful to people with a wide variety of disabilities,and it’s just as easy to use from the classroom computer as it is from home, we believe it has the potential to open a lot of doors that have remained closed until now.”

The DocuScan Plus software can be used as an installed program from your personal computer, or it can be accessed from any computer simply by visiting http://www.DocuScanPlus.com. The program may be purchased for only $299, or less than one third of the cost of other scanning solutions.

Other features included are:

Braille Conversion: DocuScan Plus contains Braille translation options, allowing you to convert your scanned pages and PDF files into a variety of different braille formats based on the specific translation table you choose.
Save To Kindle: Wirelessly Transfer scanned documents to the Amazon Kindle for reading on the go using the Kindle's built in text to speech function.
Export Scanned Text: Save documents and materials to a computer or portable DAISY player for offline reading.
Encrypted Online Storage: Save documents securely to the cloud and retrieve them from anywhere.
Additional Synthesizer Support: Choose from a variety of synthesizers for use with this self-voicing application.
Additional Support For Mobile Platforms: DocuScan Plus will support some external camera and mobile phone platforms. This functionality will come free with DocuScan Plus and it is currently scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2011.

DocuScan Plus may be used independently of any other Serotek software. The application can allow persons to read the printed page with any Windows-based computer, regardless of whether any access technology has been installed or is currently running.

For more information, please call Serotek Corporation at (612) 246-4818, or email us at sales@serotek.com.
Visit the official DocuScan Plus web site at http://www.DocuScanplus.com

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 www.serotek.com.
Media Contact:
612.246.4818, Ext. 104
Technical Contact :

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What is the Future of Screen Readers anyway?

A week or so ago, the American Council of the Blind held a Future of Screen Readers panel as part of the Information Access Committee seminar at the ACB annual convention. Serotek was one of the companies invited to attend remotely via Skype. Other remote participants were GW Micro and NVDA. Unfortunately technology failed (through no fault of Skype) and we remote participants did not get to contribute. But I thought the panel questions were extremely pertinent to all blind people and that it was important we add our voice to the conversation. So this blog post is Serotek’s way of making sure our voice, and the voice of many who share our view, is also heard.
I’d like to begin with Question 6, because it separates us from most panel participants. I’ll come back and address each of the ten questions – which are included in their entirety at the end of this post.
Question 6 said: “Imagine that you are participating on a panel five years from now. What do you hope you can tell us about the screen reader space and the role of your screen reader in it?”
Serotek hopes wholeheartedly that in 2015 we can say the screen reader space has vanished. This change will be brought about through our efforts as a company, and through advocacy by consumers, to encourage universal accessibility in all mainstream products. When screen readers were invented in the early 1980’s they were essential tools to make an inaccessible digital world accessible. They were never meant to be a business, only a means to an end. They were developed by private companies aided by government funding to correct an inequity and make it possible for blind people to use digital tools to become economically viable again. They were for vocational rehab, helping us get off the dole and back to work as contributing members of society. Unfortunately this wonderful leg up soon became a barrier for blind people. Digital technology raced ahead but without universal accessibility built in. Screen readers lagged behind and rather than leveling the playing field, they tended to add extra cost and training while restricting access to the most advanced mainstream software features. Companies producing screen readers were more concerned with preserving the government funding cash cow than with helping the blind community achieve total equality. Fortunately that business model is finally disintegrating. We’ve been a part of the push to change the model from day one of our existence, but truthfully it didn’t really start to shift until mainstream companies like Apple embraced universal accessibility in their core product design.
So you know where we’re coming from. Let’s move back to the original order of the questions.

Question 1 asked us to describe how our business model will impact the overall market for screen readers.
Serotek is a blindness products and technology company. Our sole purpose is to help our blind community fully enjoy the digital lifestyle. For us, screen readers are a necessary bridge until native operating systems have full accessibility for the blind built in. To that end we have made the screen reader very affordable – even free in the web-based SAToGo version. We believe accessibility is a fundamental human right and blind folks should not be penalized financially to achieve access. We think the blind community is short-changed when huge resources have to be focused on fundamental accessibility. Funds and teaching time should zero in on the applications not the access. Vocational rehab should be more like a driving school. Bring your own car and we’ll teach you how to drive. Where government subsidies are necessary they should shift from accessibility to the real applications people need in all facets of their lives – work, socializing, and play. The economy is driving this change whether we like it or not. Serotek is working hard to deliver the kind of services and training tools that make it affordable and easy.
Question 2 asked what is our strategy in the emerging remote computing, cloud computing, and virtual machine world.
We were, of course, first among adaptive technology vendors in all these areas. We were first in remote computing with products that used the web to allow users to connect to their home machines; first in developing accessible remote training solutions; and first in cloud-resident, downloadable AT applications. We are first in releasing AT products that can be accessed from the whole range of digital devices – phones, computers, I-pads, netbooks. Serotek is committed to being on the leading edge, assuring the blind community access to the power of the newest and best technology.
Question 3 asks how we can improve support for Braille.
System Access is the only Windows screen reader with true plug-and-play braille support, but we believe it's possible to do better still. Serotek took the lead in supporting the HID standard for Braille and refused to create interfaces for any Braille display product not using the HID standard. Now, all but one Braille device manufacturer (Freedom Scientific) supports HID. Why is that important? Interface standards are fundamental to universal accessibility. How can it be better? While the USB HID standard facilitates plug-and-play operation, even HID-capable displays use proprietary interfaces to communicate with the screen reader on the host computer or smart device. And while most braille display manufacturers are quite willing to help screen reader developers in adding support for their displays, we believe that interface standards are fundamental to universal accessibility. As devices and applications proliferate interface standards make it possible for mainstream developers to include accessibility in their core design. If we want universal accessibility and we include the deaf/blind in our goal, Braille is essential. Serotek is actively collaborating with both Braille manufacturers and software developers to develop and promote a standard interface between braille displays and the increasing variety of devices that can use them. There is no room for proprietary solutions in this arena.

Question 4 asks what are the challenges and opportunities in AJAX and HTML5.
AJAX was an evolutionary step in Web Development; HTML5 is now the media rich standard language. Serotek is always on the leading edge adopting and applying these standards as they are accepted. This is fundamental to our mission to assure the blind community has access to the latest digital tools and applications. Many developers, both mainstream and adaptive technology, look backward and struggle to protect their past investment in code and hardware. Serotek is focus forward. We bring our legacy base along by keeping them fully up-to-date with continuous improvements to our products including, from time to time, complete re-writes if necessary to fully employ the latest tools.
Question 5 asks how we can reduce the time lag between mainstream innovation and availability to the blind community.
An active collaboration with the manufacturers of mainstream products must begin during a product’s development cycle, not after it is released. In this way, AT vendors can not only ensure compatibility with the current versions of their own products, but can leverage the opportunity to educate manufacturers on accessibility and universal design, moving us ever closer to the day when AT vendors are no longer required at all. We’ve provided quality support well before the public release dates for products like Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Office 2010, and these are just a few examples of our dedication not to leave our customers behind. When mainstream development moves forward, we move forward to match it. . Our goal is no time lag – and so far we’ve met that goal.
Question 6 was answered in the introduction.
Question 7 asks what we can do to ensure our users have the best training and support?
Serotek’s products are intuitive and easy to learn. We want consumers to spend more time actively using a computer, rather than concentrating on learning a screen reader first and then moving on to the tasks they ultimately want to perform. We provide tech support by phone or online, but the best part is that our customers are able to help and learn from each other. This can be done through remote tools built in to the product, or through participation in community forums or voice chats. We produce software designed to help trainers and technical support professionals service not only our products, but any technical product one on one using the Internet. This allows trainers to reach and train more people to use their computers and other devices to their fullest potential, regardless of which assistive technology they choose to use. We produce podcasts and tech chats distributed on the serotalk.com web site, aimed at educating consumers about the available mainstream and AT solutions to improve the quality of their digital life. Rather than passive participation, our community submits reviews and other materials to be included in these presentations, and this type of community involvement benefits everyone. Our design philosophy is to continuously simplify user interfaces; to use available standards wherever possible; and to use the power of social networking among our users, trainers and technicians to assure no question goes unanswered.
Question 8 asks what our top three pieces of advice are for developers of software, websites, and interactive environments.
1. Provide us documentation.
2. Recognize the blind community as consumers, with disposable income, ready, willing and able to spend significant funds for the latest and best technology. We are talking hundreds of millions of potential users, worldwide, who have been ignored in the past. Stop ignoring US.
3. Stick to standards. The world is too complex – too many devices and languages -- to add yet another proprietary interface. Apply universal design principles from the start so as to leave no one behind.
Question 9 asks what will have to occur for Microsoft to follow Apple in the use of integrated screen reading.
It is important to note that Microsoft has made incremental improvements to their “Ease of Access” program. In Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced Speech Recognition to their built in access options. They have refined it for Windows 7 and we have demonstrated how System Access can be used with this integrated technology on the Serotalk podcasts.
Also, in Windows 7, Microsoft has introduced enhancements to the Windows Magnifier that allows it to display in a full screen mode. This is a vast improvement over the previous thin strip of a magnified window that was found on machines in the Windows XP era. This new Windows Magnifier, when combined with other Windows effects for altering color and mouse pointers, can create a compelling argument that Low Vision users need not pay hundreds of dollars for minimal screen magnification.
Change is coming. It is happening. Microsoft is slower than we would like, but we have to remember they are hosting 90% of the computers in existence. Every change is a big deal. The last time they tried including accessibility they got a lot of grief from the community and they backed off. Now they are moving forward. We are working with them as we will any vendor looking to make its products more accessible.
Question 10 asks what we find most frustrating in the market.
It is the lack of co-opitition among screen reader manufacturers. We say this because we are blind guys first and anything that improves capability for our community should be celebrated and used. The industry needs more innovation and less litigation. We applaud companies like GW Micro and the Braille display manufacturers that have openly partnered with us and others to improve things for everyone.
We should all share the goal of making things better for the community first. Profit is important, but not at the cost of reducing accessibility.
We applaud ACB for this highly pertinent discussion. We are in a unique time in the history of our community when our paradigm is shifting under our feet – and for the better. The latest generation of mainstream technology is more accessible than ever. Standards are moving forward and finally most of the contributors are agreeing to play by the standards. Within a very short time the idea that “accessibility is a right” moved from the lunatic fringe to absolute mainstream. Serotek, as you all know, has happily waged the battle at the fringe because what is best for the blind community is best for us.
Here are the ACB panel questions:
Questions for the “Future of Desktop Screen Readers” Panel

1. Each of your company has a different business model for marketing and selling your screen reader. Based on this model, describe how your product is expected to impact the overall market for screen readers.

2. The role of computing has shifted dramatically in the past few years with much computing being done either remotely—through some kind of cloud-based virtual operating system—or virtual machines via products such as VMware. Going forward, tell us about your strategy to support remote and virtual computing with your screen reader.

3. As you know, braille is absolutely vital to many aspects of the lives that we live as people who are blind or visually impaired including education, employment, and literacy. How do you imagine support for braille can be improved in your product?

4. The future role of the World Wide Web is often described as that of a highly interactive, media-rich desktop. As we move into the era where this role becomes more and more evident with the gradual implementation of such technologies as AJAX and those collectively known as HTML5, what challenges do you foresee your screen reader facing? What opportunities do you imagine these interfaces to bring?

5. With rapid changes, often dramatic at times, in operating systems, browsers, and other technologies, screen reader users express frustration that they are unable to take advantage of the technologies used by their sighted peers for months—if not years. In addition, the interaction model for each screen reader may differ significantly. What collaborative steps can you take to reduce the lag and different interaction modalities for increased benefit to users?

6. Imagine that you are participating on a panel 5 years from now. What do you hope you can tell us about the screen reader space and the role of your screen reader in it?

7. Training and support are essential for most screen reader users. What innovative steps can you take in the future to ensure that your users have the best training and support available? What are some challenges are you likely to face?

8. What are the top three things you would tell developers who develop software, websites, and interactive environments?

9. By introducing a screen reader as an integral part of the operating system available for every user and at no additional cost, Apple has changed the dynamics of the screen reader industry. What changes need to occur for Microsoft to bring about a similar model for Windows? What reasons are there for not taking such a step?

10. As a developer of a screen reader, what to you is the most frustrating aspect of being in this market?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Establishing A New Orbit

Greetings and salutations Serotekiens!

I'm super awesome thrilled to be here and I am looking forward to meeting many members of the community. Wait a second, that is the end bit. I got a little ahead of myself. Must remember, introductions first. My name is Joe Steinkamp, however, many of you reading this might know me by another name. A particular call sign on a little old blog called The Ranger Station. Ranger1138 is my alter ego of the past 15 years. Now he and I are one thanks to the fine people at Serotek.

But if you haven't read my blog, followed me on Twitter or noticed that I haven't updated Facebook in an extremely long while, let me give you some pertinent information as to the "who" behind the "why" I'm coming aboard one of the most exciting places to be in the Assistive Technology Industry.

At 7 years old I dreamed of being in radio. Those dreams came true in college. However, I found that I craved to have more interaction with people beyond the spinning of today's top hits. So, I got into sales. Really expensive home theater sales. that became more retail driven and I found myself working as a Corporate Trainer for a large retail chain. When that came to a crashing end, I moved into the cubes of technical support for what was then [and is no longer] a major computer manufacturer.

None of that on face value sounds like much I know. Here are the more relevant parts of my history. For the last 10 years I've worked in Vocational Rehabilitation and Rehab Engineering for the State of Texas. For 5 of those years I was lucky enough to work in a room with more than $250,000 worth of new and currently available Assistive Technology. Video Magnifiers, Screen Readers, OCR solutions, Screen Magnification programs, Braille Displays, portable note takers, book readers and tons more. Chances are if it beeped, flashed, talked or if it was generally to expensive to own I may have worked with it during my time in this amazing room full of toys.

As much as I loved helping Blind folks find the right product to fit their needs for their job, I longed for the ability to delve into specific technologies and subjects outside my four walls. Fantastic platforms like the Serotalk podcasts and Tech Chats have really widened my thoughts on many portions of the technology landscape. I mentioned this to a few at Serotek, a tranquilizer dart was fired and I woke up here typing on this blog in a font that isn't mine. Or, I was offered the opportunity to participate in the company's vision and I readily jumped at the chance to share in that grand adventure.

Okay, now that I've filled in some of the blanks, I'm now hoping to get to know all of you better. I am ecstatic to be able to come on board and be a part of the Serotek Community. And I'm looking forward to talking about an array of subjects that we as a Blind Community face in our daily lives.

Just one thing before I start, I want to thank several of the Serotek staff for giving me a padded cell instead of the generic government issued cube to live in during my stay with the company. So far it is very luxurious and comfy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mike and Jacksan?

The following is a piece I wrote about 4 years ago shortly after receiving my BEST FRIEND JACKSAN! On this special day dedicated to this special animal, all I can say is that, today I feel even more than when I wrote this piece, that Jacksan is the best thing that ever happened to me as a blind person.

I have experienced a few moments in my life that I know I will reflect on when I am old. These include the day I met my wife, the days my children were born, the day I gave my life back to THE ONE that gave his life for me, and the day I met Jacksan and immediately fell in love!

I hope you enjoy the article and as you will see this is a gift that I was given that I could never ever repay!

Mike And Jacksan?

By Mike Calvo
Trust doesn’t come easy to a blind person. We grow up fighting to be accepted as “normal” human beings. Although I was cane-trained around age eight, I refused to even use a cane in grammar school and high school because the cane made me “different.” I associated canes with those “blind people” and I knew I wasn’t one of them. Dogs were even worse in my mind. The whole image of blind people being led around by some animal was repugnant to me. It made them seem so different – so disabled – and I was damn sure I wasn’t going to be one of “those people.”
I expect most teenagers fear being different but for a blind kid that fear is even more acute. And so I made my choices based on what would make me seem more normal – more like all those sighted people. I made some pretty limiting choices as a result.
Strangely enough as I grew up, a lot of the blind people I knew and admired had dogs, but I had lots of good reasons for why a dog wasn’t for me. I didn’t want the responsibility of a dog. I couldn’t give up the time necessary to train with a dog. I could get around just fine with my cane and I didn’t have to feed it. I didn’t know how a dog would work with my family; etc. etc. What I was really saying, of course, was that I was afraid to put my trust in a dog. So I built my life around making do with my cane and soliciting the help of strangers. I’ve traveled the world that way, taking trains, planes, and taxis. Those around me thought of me as unrestricted – able to do most everything I wanted to do. And while the cane worked I can remember many times where keeping my concentration on the cane, my surroundings, and just trying to enjoy a walk were impossible. Then I visited a blind couple in Minneapolis and my life changed.
I spent the weekend at my friends’ home and during dinner they suggested we go to their church for Sunday service. I said, “Great,” thinking we would grab a taxi and motor the two miles or so from their house to the church. But my friends grabbed their coats and harnessed their dogs and headed out the door. We were walking – almost running. I had to hustle to keep up.
That walk of about two miles through the suburbs, crossing busy streets, taking all manner of turns, was exhilarating. I was out there in the world, going some place I didn’t know, with two other blind folks and a couple of dogs. If anything my cane slowed me down. But we got there. It was like being chained and suddenly having the chains cast off. I was free.
Sitting there in church, I did some serious soul-searching, trusting that God would show me the truth. I realized that my fear and arrogance were only hurting me. I could open this door anytime I was ready. Freedom to go wherever I wanted by myself was there if I could only put my trust in a guide dog.
As CEO of Serotek, the company that designed and markets technologies for the visually impaired, my natural course of action was to plug my Key into my friend’s computer and do some instant research on guide dogs. The search engine turned up a list of sixteen guide dog schools, fourteen of which had web sites. I was in business.
My research showed them all to be top quality organizations. For a variety of reasons I zeroed in on two: Pilot Dogs Incorporated of Columbus, Ohio and Southeastern Guide Dogs, Incorporated in Palmetto, Florida. Finally I settled on Southeastern Guide Dogs. I had met the trainers of Southeastern at ACB in Las Vegas and liked them. And their proximity to my home in Orlando was also a big factor. They also had a slot open up for me that fit my busy schedule. I’m sure that any choice would have been a good choice, but Southeastern Guide Dogs far exceeded my expectations.
I will let you see the details of the operation for yourself at www.guidedogs.org, the school’s top notch, highly accessible and informative web site. Let me say that the accommodations were superb and the staff was excellent and extremely service oriented. The school’s trainers served us and they couldn’t have been more solicitous of our needs. The most frequently heard expression was, “What can I do for you?”
We were a class of ten from all walks of life. The twenty-six day program was intense. We were busy from 5:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with dogs leashed to us the entire time; yet the school was also able to give me space and time to attend to emergency business situations, if the need arose. The intense period is needed to allow dog and owner to bond and, quite frankly, to train newbies like me in the art of trusting our dogs to do some of our mobility thinking for us. It’s not as easy as it sounds – especially for people like me who had long taken pride in our “independence.”
Jacksan, was named after JACK and SANdy Walsh. For over 14 years, they dedicated themselves to the raising of guide dogs for Southeastern. It is people like this that make system work and make beautiful animals like Jacksan available to people like me. Jacksan is a Vizla, a shorthaired Hungarian hunting dog. He is a marvelous animal, extremely well bred, cared for, and trained in the Southeastern system. My thanks to Libby Bagwell who loved Jacksan and raised him from a puppy to training age and to Karen Lappi, Jacksan’s sponsor. He is young and still learning, but so too am I still learning. For twenty-six days we learned together and it is an experience so rich I won’t try to describe it to you. You simply have to experience it for yourself. The day you suddenly realize that you do indeed trust this animal with your life is an epiphany – an awakening to freedom.
Of course it is not just a learning experience for Jacksan and me. Everyone around us has to learn as well. The first time home was a real challenge. My beautiful and loving wife and children had a very difficult time not treating Jacksan as a pet. But they did it and I’m proud of them. I’m still training people I meet on business trips and come in contact with in stores. They always want to talk to the dog; no one wants to talk to me any more. Jacksan’s downside is that he doesn’t look fierce as a German shepherd might so people want to reach out and pet him. And, puppy that he is, Jacksan isn’t entirely blameless either. He does love to be loved. The solution is, of course, to give him lots of off-the-harness love time with me and an occasional pat from others, while keeping him fully on task when he’s in harness. It’s a discipline and once you establish your routine, easy enough to follow.
I started this essay trying to say what the guide dog experience means to me and I seem to have focused more on the how-to than the benefit. Let me tell you about the change in my life. I’m totally blind and for the first time in my life my first thought is no longer about appearing “normal.” I’m finding the blind community that perhaps I thought of as simply customers are also now my friends. With my guide dog there isn’t much a sighted person can do that I can’t do, except maybe drive a car and that only because they haven’t designed the controls so a guide animal can operate them. (I am joking of course.) However, I can walk through the airport and find my gate simply asking directions now and then or by following someone going my way instead of waiting for airline personnel to walk me.
I could easily take the light rail when I’m in Minneapolis or the subway in New York. When you’ve spent a lifetime plunking down twenties and fifties for taxis, public transportation is a real freedom. I am not saying that a cane isn’t handy and that I didn’t do these things before I got Jacksan, but, I can just go where I want to go, not just the places I’ve learned. I no longer have to act independent. I really am independent.
So I say to myself, “Why did you wait so long?” And there really isn’t a good answer. I just let my prejudices and fear take charge. I was afraid not to be in control – afraid to trust. Like so many fears, once faced, it vanished.
With Jacksan I’m discovering a world I didn’t believe in and I’m discovering things about myself that I didn’t know. I am more comfortable with myself because I am truly independent. I discovered that in a world full of barriers for blind people, sometimes, some of the biggest barriers are the ones we construct ourselves. Putting my faith in my little brown friend; trusting him to do what the marvelous people in the Southeastern Guide Dogs organization raised and trained him to do, has vanquished those barriers.
One of the very biggest challenges in this process is that Jacksan is just for me. Most of my adult life I’ve oriented myself towards doing and caring for others, like my family; but this I did for me. I had to come to grips with the fact that doing this for myself wasn’t a selfish act, but like so many barrier eliminators, it made life easier for everyone around me.
There is a certain irony here. My company, Serotek, states its mission as “Accessibility Anywhere” and we deliver on that promise by providing tools to make the Internet and digital information systems accessible for blind people and people with motor skills difficulties. But for me, it is my guide dog Jacksan that completes the promise of Accessibility Anywhere. As a team we are virtually unstoppable.
If you are blind or know someone who is blind that has yet to discover the freedom a guide dog brings, let me suggest that you contact Southeastern Guide Dogs or any of the other fine organizations around the country that perform this service. I guarantee it will change your life as it has mine.
Mike Calvo is the CEO of Serotek Corporation. A company providing online services to the millions of people with a disability that have been disenfranchised from accessing the internet because of challenging and costly access technology. Visit www.Serotek.com for more information or call (866) 202-0520.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Announcing Two Exciting New SAMNet Features

Serotek is proud to announce two new features available to users of


that will greatly enhance the ability to access information and entertainment no matter where you are. First, we have added the

Book Port Plus

from APH.org

to our list of supported portable devices. Users can now transfer email, audio-described movies, forum messages, radio dramas and much more from SAMNet to this compact and feature-rich device which has become one of the most popular digital players on the market. As with other supported portable devices, you may plug in the device to any available USB port and send the content directly to it, or add the content to your sync list for transfer at a later time.

Second, SAMNet members now have the ability to check their SAMNet Email accounts from outside the SAMNet mailer. While the SAMNet mailer is very easy to use, there may be times where you will want to use another program, such as Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail, Mac Mail, or the mailer on your mobile device. Now you can. You may use either POP3 or IMAP to check your SAMNet mail, but IMAP is recommended if you plan to check your Email from multiple places, such as the SAMNet mailer, Windows Live Mail, and your mobile device. While SAMNet users have long had the ability to check email from other devices by logging in to http://www.samobile.net

and reading from the web interface, the ability to send and receive mail from a device's own email client makes staying productive and connected at home or on the go easier than ever.

View help on enabling and configuring Email Clients to Wirk with SAMNet.

Please note that the steps for configuring your email client outside SAMNet differ for each client, so you may wish to consult the documentation for your particular client before proceeding.

If you have any questions, please send an email to


or call (650) 249-1000.

The Serotek Team

Monday, April 12, 2010

RealSpeak Voices Available for Purchase

Serotek is excited to announce the availability of 12 high-quality RealSpeak voices for purchase.  Choose from a variety of male and female voices including American English, British English, Australian English, Scottish, Irish, and Indian English.


Each voice costs $25, and can not only be installed on your computer, but on a portable U3 thumb drive as well.  Use these high-quality voices to read your news, email, and even your favorite books. 


If you’re an existing customer,  simply

log in here and choose your voices from the buy wizard.

The buy wizard contains  recorded samples of each voice.  To listen to a sample, just choose the link corresponding to the name of the voice you’d like to hear, and the sample will play automatically.


If you’d like to try  RealSpeak voices before purchasing, visit the “my account” section by opening the System Access menu with modifier+f, choose the “my account” option, and select the link entitled: “install RealSpeak voices”.  From this page, you may check the boxes for the voices you’d like to install and then press the “continue” button.


All 12 RealSpeak voices are available  as part of your 7-day free trial of System Access and the System Access Mobile Network,  so if you haven’t yet signed up for a trial, now is the perfect time to do so.  Simply visit


and log in to your existing free account or create a new one.  Once you’re logged in, open the System Access menu with modifier+f, press a for the “my account option” and choose the link entitled “Install System Access on this computer.”


If you’re ready to begin purchasing your favorite RealSpeak voices  or begin a free trial of System Access and SAMNet and would like the assistance of a Serotek representative, you may call (612) 246-4818.


The Serotek Team

Friday, March 19, 2010

Serotek at CSUN 2010

Serotek Corporation cordially invites you to drop by booth 820 at the 25th Annual CSUN International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference

at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, CA  March 24–27. 


Serotek is excited to announce the release of Remote Incident Manager Version 2.1, providing significant enhancements to both visual and audio performance.

Updated methods for redrawing the screen ensure both sighted and blind users enjoy the fastest and clearest simultaneous visual and audio experience on both the remote and local computers. The product that is increasingly being chosen by educators, assistive technology trainers, IT professionals, corporations, universities and government agencies; for remote access, distance education, Section 508 compliance and ease of use; has reached an all new level of technical excellence.


join Ricky Enger for session BLV-2058 in the Madeleine AB PC Lab, March 24 from 12 – 12:30 PM PST, demonstrating Serotek’s latest Remote Incident Manager version 2.1, providing state-of-the-art real-time one-on-one training and support from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world.


Visit booth 820 to see hands-on demonstrations of Serotek’s technologies, making your workplace, your classroom, and your personal life accessible. 


Accessibility in the Workplace

Serotek has everything you need to stay productive and connected on the job.

Ssolutions like Remote Access Manager and Remote Incident Manager, allow IT professionals and trainers to accessibly connect to remote computers located anywhere in the world, to offer software installation and maintenance, and one-on-one instruction.  Blind and sighted technicians alike can easily provide support services to all end users, regardless of what assistive technology is being used, or even if no assistive technology is present on the remote machine. 


Serotek’s Accessible Event makes Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and web pages fully accessible to all blind, deaf, deaf-blind and sighted attendees.  Do you need to present content during conferences and onsite seminars?  Visit booth 820 to see Serotek’s new AE Hotspot, the powerful Internet appliance providing wireless access and presentations for onsite attendees connecting with netbooks, PDA’s or other portable devices. Make your corporate meetings and webinars accessible to all meeting attendees, whether used as a standalone product, or in conjunction with another meeting program. 

 Accessibility in the Classroom

For students K-12 in the U.S. and Canada, Serotek provides free screen-reading access on a portable U3 USB thumb drive through the Keys for K-12

program. Students in K-12 and college classrooms can use Serotek’s System Access Mobile screen reader simply by plugging the thumb drive in to any computer, at school or at home.  Students no longer need to be restricted to a computer preconfigured with assistive technology.

Finally, students have full access to any Windows computer and the internet,

right alongside their sighted classmates.  And with Serotek’s Accessible Event technology, Students can now view a professor’s lecture materials as they are presented, rather than needing to make special arrangements.

The Accessible Digital Lifestyle


Whether you’re a student, an employee, or a retiree, Serotek is the first company offering you the ability to purchase screen reading technology on an as-needed basis through our “Build A Bundle

service. Starting at just $9.95 per month, you can have access to one license of the System Access screen reader, with additional machine licenses for only $5 per month.  Try out the System Access Mobile Network, known as SAMNet, with over 2,200 described movies, thousands of radio stations, recipes, TV shows, the Socializer for instant messaging and social networking, voice chat to meet other interesting people, web-based email, and so much more for just $9.95 per month.  For an additional $5, you can provide remote support and training to other Serotek customers, and even access your own computers remotely from anywhere!


When you’d like to carry your SAMNet content with you, you can do so by transferring it to your favorite portable device.  SAMNet supports a wide variety of audio players, allowing members to sync a wealth of content from the network including movies, email, user’s forums, and books from the National Library Service BARD program.  Users can transfer SAMNet content to the Victor Reader Stream from Humanware, the Icon from Levelstar, the Braile Plus from the American Printinghouse for the Blind, and the Plextalk Pocket from Shinano Kenshi.  Coming soon, users of the BookSense from GW Micro and the recently released BookPort Plus from APH will be able to transfer SAMNet content to their portable devices as well. 


Can’t make it to San Diego this year?

Keep up with the latest at CSUN by visiting www.SeroTalk.com

Follow SeroTalk on Twitter

Get SeroTalk Podcasts and CSUN Interviews Via iTunes

Click here to add our feed to your favorite RSS reader or podcatcher

So join us as we bring you interesting news and interviews from the show floor.

The Serotek Team


Monday, March 1, 2010

The Serotek Ultimatum

Serotek declares war on the traditional adaptive technology industry and their blind ghetto products. With this announcement we are sending out a call to arms to every blind person and every advocate for the blind to rise up and throw off the tyranny that has shaped our lives for the past two decades. It is a tyranny of good intentions – or at least what began as good intentions. But as the proverb says, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And for the past two decades the technologies originally conceived to give us freedom have been our shackles. They have kept us tied down to underperforming, obscenely expensive approaches that only a small percentage of blind people can afford or master. They have shackled us to government largess and the charity of strangers to pay for what few among us could afford on our own. And we have been sheep, lead down the path, bleating from time to time, but without the vision or the resources to stand up and demand our due.
That time is past.
We stand today on the very edge of universal accessibility. Mainstream products like the iPod, iPhone, and newly announced iPad are fully accessible out of the box. And they bring with them a wealth of highly desirable accessibility applications. The cost to blind people is exactly the same as the cost to sighted people. It’s the same equipment, the same software, the same functionality, and fully accessible.
What Apple has done, others are doing as well. The adaptive technology vendor who creates hardware and software that is intended only for blind folks, and then only if they are subsidized by the government, is a dinosaur. The asteroid has hit the earth, the dust cloud is ubiquitous, the dinosaur’s days are numbered.
But dinosaurs are huge, and their extinction does not happen overnight.. Even as they die, they spawn others like them (take the Intel Reader for example). Thank you, no. Any blind person can have full accessibility to any type of information without the high-cost, blind-ghetto gear. They can get it in the same products their sighted friends are buying. But let’s face it; if we keep buying that crap and keep besieging our visual resource center to buy that crap for us, the dinosaurs of the industry are going to keep making it. Their profit margins are very good indeed. And many have invested exactly none of that profit in creating the next generation of access technology, choosing instead to perpetuate the status quo. For instance, refreshable braille technology, arguably the most expensive blindness-specific(and to many very necessary) product has not changed significantly in 30 years. Yet, the cost remains out of reach for most blind people. Where's the innovation there? Why have companies not invested in cheaper, faster, smaller, and more efficient ways to make refreshable braille? Surely the piezoelectric braille cell is not the only way? And what about PC-based OCR software? It's still around a thousand dollars per license, yet core functionality hasn't changed much; sure, we get all sorts of features not at all related to reading, along with incremental accuracy improvements, but why are these prices not dropping either, especially when you consider that comparable off-the-shelf solutions like Abby Finereader can be had for as low as $79? ? And let's not forget the screen reader itself, the core technology that all of us need to access our computers in the first place. Do we see improvements, or just an attempt to mimic innovation with the addition of features which have nothing to do with the actual reading of the screen, while maintaining the same ridiculous price point.

This maintaining of the status quo will, inevitably, face an enormous crash, worse than the transition from DOS to Windows based accessibility. You can expect a technology crash that will put users of the most expensive accessibility gear out of business.
Why? I won’t bore you with all the technical details, but the basic story is that some of these products have been kept current with patches and fixes and partial rewrites and other tricks we IT types use when we haven’t got the budget to do it right, but we need to make the product work with the latest operating system. That process of patching and fixing creates an enormous legacy barrier that makes it impossible to rewrite without abandoning all who came before. But you can only keep a kluge working for so long before it will crumble under its own weight. That, my friends, is exactly where some of the leading adaptive technology vendors find themselves today.
There are exceptions. Serotek is an exception because we have completely recreated our product base every three years. GW Micro is an exception because they built their product in a highly modular fashion and can update modules without destroying the whole. KNFB is an exception because they take advantage of off-the-shelf technologies, which translate ultimately into price drops and increased functionality.

But even we who have done it right are on a path to obsolescence. The fundamental need for accessibility software is rapidly beginning to vanish. The universal accessibility principles we see Apple, Microsoft, Olympus, and others putting in place are going to eliminate the need for these specialty products in a matter of just a very few years.
Stop and think. Why do you need accessibility tools? To read text? E-book devices are eliminating that need. None of them are perfect yet, but we are really only in the first generation. By Gen2 they will all be fully accessible. To find your way? GPS on your iPhone or your Android based phone will do that for you. To take notes? Easy on any laptop, netbook, or iPad. Heck, you can record it live and play it back at your convenience. Just what isn’t accessible? You can play your music, catch a described video, scan a spreadsheet, take in a PowerPoint presentation – all using conventional, off-the-shelf systems and/or software that is free of charge.
There are still some legacy situations where you need to create an accessibility path. Some corporations still have internal applications that do not lend themselves to modern devices. There will certainly be situations where a specialized product will better solve an accessibility problem than a mainstream one, especially in the short term. We don't advocate throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but we do advocate that we begin to hasten the inevitable change by using accessible mainstream solutions wherever possible. Even now, the leading edge companies are reinventing their internal systems with accessibility as a design criteria, so the situations that require specialized products will certainly become fewer as time goes on.
If our current Assistive technology guard's reign is coming to an end, why the war? Why not just let it die its own, natural, inevitable death? Because nothing dies more slowly than an obsolete technology. Punch cards hung on for twenty or thirty years after they were completely obsolete. The same is true for magnetic tape. Old stuff represents a comparatively large investment, and people hate to throw away something they paid a lot of money for even if it’s currently worthless. But that legacy stuff obscures the capabilities of the present. It gets used in situations where other solutions are cheaper and more practical. The legacy stuff clogs the vocational rehab channel, eating up the lion’s share of the resources but serving a tiny portion of the need. It gets grandfathered into contracts. It gets specified when there is no earthly reason why the application requires it. The legacy stuff slows down the dawning of a fully accessible world.
It hurts you and it hurts me.
To be sure, I make my living creating and selling products that make our world accessible. But first and foremost, I am a blind person. I am one of you. And every day I face the same accessibility challenges you face. I have dedicated my life and my company to making the world more accessible for all of us, but I can’t do it alone. This is a challenge that every blind person needs to take up. We need to shout from the rooftops: “Enough!”
We need to commit ourselves in each and every situation to finding and using the most accessible off the shelf tool and/or the least-cost, highest function accessibility tool available. With our dollars and our commitment to making known that our needs and the needs of sighted people are 99% the same, we can reshape this marketplace. We can drive the dinosaurs into the tar pits and nurture those cute fuzzy little varmints that are ancestors to the next generation. We can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
And all it takes is getting the best possible solution for your specific need. Once you have found the solution to fill that need, let the company know you appreciate their work towards better accessibility. Let your friends (sighted and blind) know about these accessibility features; they probably don't know that such features exist.
Make your needs known to the vocational rehab people you are working with, and don’t allow them to make recommendations for a specific technology for no other reason than that it’s been in the contract for years. Make sure your schools and your workplace understand the need to push technology in to the accessible space. Show them the low-cost alternatives. In this economy some, the intelligent ones, will get it and the tide will begin to turn.
And then in short order the tsunami of good sense will wash away the old, and give us the space to build a more accessible world for all of us. Let the demand ring out loud and clear and the market will follow.
If this message rings true to you, don’t just shake your fist in agreement and leave it at that. let your voice be heard! Arm yourself with the vision of a future where there are no social, conceptual, or economic barriers to accessibility, and let your words and your actions demonstrate that you will not rest until that vision is realized. Take out your wallet and let your consumer power shine! You do mater as a market people! You have kept this company alive with your money for 8 years this month! I believe that if we all get together and do our part, we will finally say “NO more!” same old same old! Join the revolution! Together we can change the world!