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!

56 comments:

rob said...

I agree with what you say wholeheartedly. But in your post you did say,
"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". What is a good low cost alternative? The KNFB reader is marvelous, but prohibitively expensive. I have an IPhone. Any suggestions? Thanks, and again, great post.

Anonymous said...

While I agree with you completely, it is hard to get several of us to stop relying on the system. People need to be motivated to get their foot in the door and strive to get the products they need from any company. That is what I do and I have been given the system paragraph again and again but I will not stand for it and everyone
else should not either.

Dennis Bartlett said...

Hello Mike, I have been using a Mac for the last two years because it comes with technology out of the box which makes it work. I have an iphone which is great. I have met people who aren't technical who have begun to use apple products and have become very successful using them. I believe you are very accurate in your post about where technology is going.

Kyle said...

Finally one of us who has the ear of many people has said what I have done my best to put into practice for about 8 years now. The difference is that I tried to spread the word through the usual "consumer advocacy groups" for blind and visually impaired individuals, who are more interested in fighting and opposing each other at every turn than in actualy helping us advocate for ourselves. And these so-called advocacy organizations are even making money promoting the use of such obsolete and dying technologies as high-priced screen readers and even money identification devices rather than really and truly advocating for accessibility in the mainstream. I'm fully in support of your stance on this issue and will do all I can to continue promoting low/no-cost alternatives to the high prices of adaptive technology, while consistently voting with my dollars for off-the-shelf products with accessibility inherent in their design.

And now we are an army! March on!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

A little militant isn't it? its Quite obvious that Serotek have some sort of gribe with FS, well bringing that into the open like this, and using words such as 'crap' shows Serotek to be nothing more than a pain in the ass! And, are you writing as yourself or on behalf of your company?

Phil St said...

Hi Mike, great post, agree wholeheartedly, have just switched to a Mac and Iphone for home / leisure use for the very reason that I can use mainstream tech and don't need to buy AT extras. I beleive it will take longer to make the switch at work ut it is possible. Great stuff, keep doing what you do and all the best to you and the guys at Cerotech.

BlindChristian said...

Mike - Terrific rant. I agree with you entirely on the software issues but I sincerely doubt that any mainstream company will include a braille display out-of-the-box anytime soon. Other accessibility hardware (blow pipes, switch controllers, one handed keyboards, etc.) are also unlikely to emerge in a manner that enjoys the economies of scale available in Macintosh and Olympus devices to name a couple.

Also, you are misinformed about there being no innovation in the braille display hardware in the past twenty years.

About 8 years ago, Freedom Scientific invented what we then called the "braille stick" - a single bit of hardware that contained 20 or 40 cells, eliminating the need for those very pricey individual cell solutions. This innovation allowed FS to build braille displays for far less money than ever before. Of course, FS has a patent on the invention and would not likely license it to their competitors. As they have the patent monopoly and nearly exclusive access to big government agencies, FS saved a pile of cash on the displays without cutting the price to consumers so did nothing to force the other players in that market to also lower prices. Competition fails in the ghetto.

I expect that similar "secret" advances have occuredto lower production costs on ghetto hardware but don't seem to drive consumer prices down.

Happy hacking!

Jim said...

I agree with everything in this post, but I want to add a few important points.

First, I think AT of all types is currently reaching a small minority of the people who would benefit from it. Even screen readers are probably only being used by 10% or so. I say probably because there have not been enough consumer and market research projects into the "disability segment". This is a big problem by itself. How can we plan public and private initiatives into improving accessibiltiy if we don't know who is being served, who is not, what their needs and preferences are, etc.?

Second, and relatedly, technology costs are probably only a small part of a successful accessibility program. Part of the reason AT reaches only early adopters is that many other people with disabilities are not aware of their functional limitations, not motivated to address it, not informed about their options, and not supported in implementation, training, etc. A successful program to address this need would have to include massive resources allocated to completely non-technological issues, in addition to the technological ones.

Not to defend indefensible pricing practices in the AT world, but some of those non-technological costs are unwillingly borne by AT companies. Whenever a vendor attends a conference and comes away without a sale after spending hours explaining and demonstrating products, that money has to come from somewhere. The pricing realities can be vicious circles.

We all want to explore any alternative to the current AT ecosystem -- there's got to be a better way. One potential avenue I'm connected with is the National Public Inclusive Infrastructure (NPII; http://npii.org). NPII uses the cloud to allow consumers to explore accessibility options and tools that can be saved as a profile and used seamlessly on any computer. I think it's an interesting approach that may address some of the shortcomings we're experiencing, while providing a channel for new AT to reach its intended users.

Mike Calvo said...

Advances that have been held back through what ever means aren't advances they are simply a slap in the face to ANY consumer community. I am well aware of the progress that was made on the Braille front however what difference does it make to the consumer if a company creates a car that gets 200 miles per gallon and sells it for $150000? It might as well never have been created!

On another note to the gutless anonymous poster above:

I represent MY views as a BLIND consumer and as founder and CEO of Serotek I also like to believe I reflect the views of every staff member and shareholder.

I have no problem with any one company in this market that is really making an effort to help us as a community and as a blind consumer. I have the right to express my views in any way available to me as long as I am not practicing defamation of any person or company's character. Unlike you I refuse to be a faceless voice that tries to stir up crap for the sake of stirring it up.

I am tired of watching blind people that have hopes, goals, aspirations, dreams, what ever, be required to grovel and plead for some suit to "give them a chance." The screen reader was originally funded by the government to help us blind folks rejoin society and instead was twisted by a few companies to enslave us in to a have and have nots group of citizens. This must end! Show your face anonymous and stop planting pointless seeds with no basis but to fulfill some twisted self serving need to see yourself on the Internet.

As for the rest of you loyal and new readers, take up the cry and let your consumer voice be heard.

In the words of Howard Beal, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!"

Jeff Young said...

Well, Mike doesn't spisifically target FS, but we all know their one of the companies worthy of this criticism, and they are deserving of this criticism. We've got a lot of people to convince, but let's get the ball rolling. Spread the word through your blog, twitter, facebook, and to all of your friends.

Steve Matzura said...

Good thoughts, Mike, but, um, a little too late. The Big Boys are far too entrenched for you to make the kind of difference your company wants to, and is well able to, make at this stage of the game, and consumers know those names and what they can and cannot doo far too well. Sometimes more is less, and in the computer game, which is mostly mysticism to most users, too many choices equals confusion. Want to make a name for yourself? I mean, a name that will stand out and make some history? Take on the support of things the Big Boys do not, and leave to them that which they have created. Unless, of course, you can come up with better solutions and demonstrate them as such, in which case you can topple empires. Can you do that?

biblescribe said...

James Pepper here, I developed a means of making PDF files accessible to about 5.4 billion people worldwide using free screen readers and the files can be encrypted and still accessible to free screen readers including NVDA. Basically I can make full color documents and everyone can read them, and they can read all of the content, there is a "meeting of the minds."

I had a series of emails with Chris Hofstader on the subject. And Darren Burton at AFB Tech tested it and called it a "Raising the Floor" technology. Anne Taylor at the Jernigan Institute of the NFB is testing it now.

I was blind, I had tunnel vision and then one day most of my sight came back and so I solved some problems that I have not seen anyone else address. The NFB was not even aware that one of these problems existed until I pointed it out to them a few months ago!

All you need to read my content and interact with it is a free screen reader and the default settings in Adobe Reader, you do not have to set accessibility settings. AFB tech tested it and it works with JAWS, Window Eyes and Zoom Text and it is also backwards compatible so the blind do not need to buy new software. I originally designed it for JAWS 8 but found it made free screen readers work really well.

So you can have an accessible e-book and not have to buy any new devices to read and interact with the content. Publsihers can retain their copyrights and do all the work in-house while they are actually creating the book, so there is no extra expense to make their content.

In 2008 I made the National Voter Registration form so that a blind person could download it, fill it out and mail it in just like everyone else. I used conventional technology to do this, not my new process. It was tested by the AFB, the NFB and Jim Dickson, the Vice President of the AAPD presented it to the Elections Assistance Commission. 19 days after I presented the form the EAC came out with their own form, using the standard practices of the day and of course it is not accessible.

I thought that by demonstrating my process I could accomplish many goals, including teaching people how to make content accessible to the blind and shame the government into making the voter registration form accessible to the blind. Because if everyone knows how to fix their form, in many languages, they would have no excuse to not use it. My Congressman can set up a meeting with them but there is no guarantee that they would use my process.

Anyway I could go on a rant about accessibility but I will leave it here. I have it ready for 204 languages, of course many of these languages do not have screen readers yet, but I know how to make documents speak without a screen reader. And I can do this in Haitian Creole so that workers in the relief effort can communicate with the people whether they are literate or not and they do not have to speak the language to help the people on the ground. I can do this in Spanish in Chile too.

Richard Wells said...

I want to comment on some of what Steve Matzura said. Here is a portion of his comments for context:
"Want to make a name for yourself? I mean, a name that will stand out and make some history? Take on the support of things the Big Boys do not, and leave to them that which they have created. Unless, of course, you can come up with better solutions and demonstrate them as such, in which case you can topple empires. Can you do that?"

Yes Steve, I believe we already have done that, and that we can do even more in the days ahead.

Let's refresh our memories on what we have already done:
1. Serotek was the first to offer a full-featured accessibility solution that does not require administrator rights to provide speech and braille access.
2. Serotek was the first to provide non-proprietary remote access speech solutions for personal and commercial environments that even work with our competition.
3. Serotek was the first to provide full-featured access to 64-bit Windows.
4. Serotek was the first to provide direct support for Braille devices that comply with the Human Interface Device standard, allowing a user to walk up to any Windows computer and have speech and Braille access without installing any drivers.
5. Serotek was the first (and is still the only,) completely web based access solution to speech and braille with satogo.

In conclusion, Examples shown above barely scratch the surface of how this company has affected this industry over the last eight years.

Steve and others, I truly believe that Serotek has already changed the course of history in the world of adaptive technology. If I didn't believe that, I would not work here. I used the offerings of Serotek for a full five years and openly demonstrated them at Freedom Scientific where I was previously employed, in the hope that FS would start thinking out of the box before coming to work here. I will continue to use these products even if I leave this company tomorrow, because they meet my needs. And that, my friends, is the ultimate goal for all of us. Use what works for you without breaking the bank in the process.

Steve Matzura said...

Perfect! Then Serotek is definitely serving your needs, and you should tell everyone you know about it. I in fact learned some things about the company from your very own message I didn't know before. But that's just my point. If I didn't know them and I've been involved with access technology for 30 years now, well, um, why is that? How did I not know, and why? Why do I only hear about the same two companies over and over and how great they art? I can't answer my own question, unfortunately, but it's good to hear that there *are* answers, and ones we need to hear. Keep it up! But louder, please!

WoofManTom said...

This is truly history in the making - blind technology experts taking a multi-faceted integrative approach to dealing with "vision-impairment management", especially the social networking aspect. Because this particular aspect will play a key role in the success of this revolution. But you already know that and that's why you're doing it. I have to tell you that sitting here reading such high caliber and high-spirited discussion as I think about the future that will result literally gives me goose bumps! I just wonder how it will unfold here in Canada, since I'm quite sure of two things: our government funding, at least in Ontario, will probably have no part of it, and the truth is, we have no blind consumer group that could even begin to lobby for it effectively. At least the low cost will be something that the average vision-impaired consumer here can just start spreading the word about, that's for sure. The problem will be that the companies generating profit from already funded dinosaur technologies are not going to go out of their way to "promote the revolution". Even me personally! I mean, I'd love to quit my current job, learn all these products, promote and show people how to use them, but then, how would I pay the bills! See what I mean? So that lots of folks who would like to "promote the revolution" will find themselves in a similar dilema.

Steve Matzura said...

Tom, good points re Canada and no governmental interference (grin) but no consumer groups either. So why not start one? You did it in New York when you lived here, and it's still going, twenty years later. Start small, a couple hours a week learning 'the Serotek way', and pass it around. There's got to be a way to start a grassroots movement in Canada just like there are in any other place on Earth.

Steve Matzura said...

Something about this whole thread has been sticking in my craw overnight, and it finally came out this morning. It's the use of the word "ultimatum". Doesn't an ultimatum imply an "or else"? This is your ultimatum: If you don't blah-blah-blah, I'm gonna blah-blah-blah. I didn't hear an "or else" from Serotek. I think your use of the word "ultimatum" may wind up really hurting your cause which is just And this whole "declare war" thing, that can't be good for your image either. I don't know ... and maybe those are the best three words I've written so far, because I don't.

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Steve:
I love you man! You have been a friend for years! One that has consistently been a voice of love and a model of accomplishment! I set out to write a short answer to your comment and I have produced a book. LOL! So here I go.

Remember that the title is "Serotek Ultimatum" That means the company has declared war on what is stated in the article. The post is simply my way of putting a stake in the ground and saying: "Join us if you want to see change!" Serotek is moving forward with it's purpose. The only ones that would take offense are those that benefit from the status quo.

I am not here to win a popularity contest I am here to voice an opinion and to motivate a community, that has been asleep way to long, To stand up for ourselves. I am not implying that all of us have been sleeping but many of us have. We have been lulled in to thinking that this group (insert acronym) or that foundation (insert mission statement), has our individual goals as it's cause. This is simply not the case. If you want a change in your World then stand up and be personally counted! Don't just be a faceless voice in the crowd! Learn to type! Get online! Make a personal "Ultimatum" and don't settle to be treated like a lesser person because product and service providers have been taught to see you as a taker and not a contributor.

Steve, you live a pretty "mainstream life" and so did I before I started Serotek. I don't mean that you don't take part in the World as a blind community member, I mean you have taken your own stand in your own life and dealt with them. I have found that many of us blind folk just don't know how to change the frustrating World we live in. This is my attempt to help with that problem. While I can't claim to have had every negative experience a blind person could have, I have faced many of them and have felt the frustration of those that have gone through much much more than i. "The Serotek Ultimatum" is my way of rallying our community to do what ever it takes for itself to be treated with respect and to be given the value it deserves as a group of discriminating consumers. I don't really care to be accepted as a likable individual or not. After all most of us haven't been accepted for whom we are anyway. We are a militant group because we can think. Because we have the audacity to have desires to fulfill and the tenacity to want to accomplish our goals. If I fail I don't want it to be because I am blind. I want it to be because what ever I was trying to accomplish just didn't work for me.

People like Tom in the comments above this one, need to think about how they can do something. Even if it's making a call to product and service providers they interact with and saying "hey I am a blind consumer of your product or service and this is what I need." This war is more than just one person can handle by themselves. As a community of single voices lifted in one cry we can, and will, make an impact!

Another thing the community can do is support the "Serotek Ultimatum" with it's financial support. Hey the truth is people, that we offer products and services that have consistently raised the bar for adaptive technology for a fraction of what it would have cost a few years ago. A screen reader that's available on any computer for only $9.95 a month? Would you have believed 10 years ago, if someone told you, that this would be true?

Hey, if I'm a nut then write me off as one. Everyone has to be nuts about something. I believe that if you don't have something to live for then why live at all. Find what makes you excited, what get's your blood pumping, your hart racing, and makes you feel alive, and do it until you can't any more!

Steve Matzura said...

Wonderful reply, Mike, and thanks for doing a little more of what you do best--eye-opening.

In your reply, which I wish I could figure out how to quote, so I'll have to paraphrase from the original, you said what we can all do is learn to type, learn to get online, etc. My problem with that is, what if you get caught up by the groups that say the only viable access solutions are the Big Boys, and these little upstarts just don't have what it takes to deliver the goods, services and support, that you, the new user, will need? How do you respond to that question? How do you explain to someone who doesn't know the first thing about this stuff that what you provide is just as good, if not better, than what the household brand name companies provide? If I could have the answer to that question, I'd shout it from the rooftops and give the brand-x and brand-y's a run for their money they never saw coming. Your army awaits, just teach us how.

Trenton said...

A strange dream came to me 2 days ago, a "special" and "secretive!" project if you will, consisting of Serotek, GW Micro, and NVDA.
Some special universal thing, where, the same functionality would be across screen readers.
The only thing, I'll give away for now about this dream, which indeed this may be the only thing I'll give away, is with all 3 screen readers, a window-eyes layout was made for all of them!
The creators of Hal and Supernova, now have a window-eyes layout , forlaptop and desktop keyboards, and I wonder if Serotek and/or NVDA could make one one day.
Window-Eyes is the only screen reader, where you can jump to a particular checkbox, radio button, combo box, via a few keystrokes, with one hand, and not needing to use these hard 3 key combinations, like with some shark we all know, that will not come to bite me and ruin my dream!
It'd be interesting to see if System Access had a multi page dialog for just about everything.
Yes Dolphin, NVDA, and GW have profected this multi-concept "extremely!" well. But what would happen, if serotek followed that idea.
Serotek does something similar to how dolphin's programs do it, where modifier-f7 is links, modifier-f6 is headings, but also have it where modifier-tab brings up this dialog, where you have a list of links, then a tab control, where each tab is a particular page element, or section of a list.

Keep up the good work you 3 friends of the AT world!
Sincerely,
Trenton Matthews, the T Man!

Anonymous said...

Great post Mike as always.

I wouldn't go as far as you asserting that mainstream companies are making devices accessible. There are few that actually do the proper job; even then, it's mostly the work of one or two heroic folks within the target companies. As unfortunate as it may seem, universal design doesn't have visually impaired users in mind. Our user base at the most fundamental level has different needs than the mainstream. No matter how much a UI API or common control set conforms to standards, visually impaired folks will always need some form of adaptation.
Taking GPS as an example, pedestrian routes will never matter to sighted folks as much as they matter to the blind. Needing information like nearest intersection, spoken turns, street names, regularly repeated info, etc. costs money to implement and simply isn't a priority for most companies out there.

There are some devices where the needs of the sighted world coincide with that of the blind. The iPhone/iPod come to mind. The iPhone itself has a simple interface; this lends itself well to use for the blind because it just doesn't take that much to understand it. Given a larger user interface, you may encounter greater challenges in using applications. What visually impaired folks don't realize is that it takes real developer time to implement any sort of accessibility into an application. That cost is in part placed upon the user of such technology. The real business benefit is minimal if you don't charge enough. For large companies like Apple, this cost really doesn't matter. However, for small shops, you will be hard pressed to convince them about the need to dev accessibility.

It pretty much comes down to motivation. Does someone in the company really care? Do they have a personal tie to the blindness community?
If not, then the business need really isn't there.


Finally, the reason why a lot of people still use Jaws is because it is still the most responsive screen reader out there. Common tasks such as typing, reading via text units (char, word, sentence, paragraph, etc.), tabbing/shift tabbing, web related jumping, etc.
still all on average time less from key-up to speech output on Jaws than any other full-featured screen reader out there. This is unfortunately all that really separates WE from Jaws. WE hasn't quite gotten the responsiveness that Jaws does so well. Is that worth $1,000? No not at all; however, none of the other screen reader venders have come close to matching Jaws. Furthermore, Jaws's hotkey set is *comprehensive* and provides the power user with the *most* efficiency. It is clear from using all of the screen readers that Jaws was implemented by a blind developer (Glenn Gordan) in that the keyboard has been optimized to minimize the number of key presses a user has to do over most tasks in Windows. If any other screen reader vender can do that, I'd be all over them. (Also please match the application support via scripts). Scripts are necessary simply because keyboard efficiency doesn't come for free and one key access to things isn't commonly found in many app's. (Winamp comes to mind here).

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the post. Yet I would stop short of including KNFB on the list of companies doing their part to bring down prices. It is because they are tapping into off-the-shelf products that the prices should be a lot lower than what they are. Let's congratulate companies for good work, but let's not give some of them a pass because of our loyalty to the organization behind the product. Further, here here for rallying the troops. It's sorely needed, but it should not come at the cost of a company CEO resorting to angry blog posts. Leave that to the consumers themselves. Companies, and especially executives, should fight the good fight with better products. When one encounters vehement language of the type found in this post, the cause is actually weakened because the people that matter chalk up the arguments to nothing more than just another rant. Finally, the debate needs to be taken to the general public. We can complain about the excessive costs of adaptive technology all we want amongst ourselves, but as long as it remains amongst ourselves, the message will not ring clear to the companies that need to be made aware of it. On the whole, I appreciate the outcry and hope we can pursue it more gallantly. More importantly, I am willing to roll up my sleeves and go about the business of actually doing something about it.--Joe Orozco

Russell said...

I totally agree with the previous post that Jaws is by far the most responsive, powerful screen reader out there. Having said that, I do think it is priced way too high, and I'd gladly switch to a less expensive product if there was one that would meet all my needs. I need reliable access to the entire Office suite, including Microsoft Access. What say yu mike? Can you make SA work with Access? If you're going to ask folks to support you financially, then you need to meet their needs. As it happens, I am a happy SA user, but I certainly cannot use it at work because of my need to use MS Access. So, Mike, please, before you send the dinosaurs of to the land of the extinct, create a fuzzy creature that is able to do what those dinosaurs can do!

Russell

Trenton said...

To the unseen one in that last comment above me, I will not use some program that requires to have some 16 digit license key, then you have to go to some web site, and activate it. Of coures if you run out of keys, then something''s wrong there.
If freedom is so popular, then I wonder how they will take the world by storm this year, if they can, which i doubt that.
Now look here.
Web client, latest version is 2.3, I say is a more useful way of getting information, such as weather, sports, horiscopes, short URL look ups, etc.
35 different services so far, and more are coming, and must I say, isn't it nice to read stuff in note pad, so you can simply save what you have found to your computer?
or go directly to a web site, where you can navigate it yourself first?
Here's the script's page to download and see what its lie:

http://gwmicro.com/scripts/web_client

Oh, and that command is control-win-w to start the Web Client script.
And of course, any script from GW micro can be removed from the list of scripts, if needed, or don't want it anymore.
Can you do that with freedom-made scripts without making it crash?
Got a feeling 200 scripts wil come from GW and other scripters by the end of this year, and for that, I'm proud!

Finally, Enough with these "virtual viewer" help" screens, Let folks add what they want to add in there, so they can remember what they need to!
GW, and now dolphin, have a feature in their screen readers, where you add your own notes to help content, or make it like a secret spot to put important information down.
And speaking of the word virtual, Dolphin was the first to have mixed links in web pages, where 2 links are on one line.
Window-Eyes will get there, NVDA's already got it.

And my last point i want to make, freedom better not say they were the first to work with Aria, because they weren't!
NVDA started woking with it in June of 2009, possibly earlier, correct me if i'm wrong.
And i'm proud for Mike K mentioning that NVDA did support windows 64 bit, even if it wasns't commercial support back then.
Again, keep up the good work Serotek, GW Micro, and Dolphin!
Freedom, go fly away!

Trenton, the T Man!

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Joe:
Blogger's comments will only allow short posts so this is in two parts.

Thanks for the feedback. I would like to respond to a couple of your points:

1. "I would stop short of including KNFB on the list of companies doing their part to bring down prices. It is because they are tapping into off-the-shelf products that the prices should be a lot lower than what they are. Let's congratulate companies for good work, but let's not give some of them a pass because of our loyalty to the organization behind the product."

I am a member of both the NFB and the ACB. I agree with some but not all of the views of both groups. I am a blind consumer first and believe that we should give credit where credit is due.

When it comes to the KNFB reader I must say that, while I don't like the pricing, I believe to a point, that it's justified. Remember Joe that the first KNFB reader was based on a text recognition engine specifically created for Windows Mobile. I don't know the story but I do know that the next version released for the Symbian OS was an entire rewrite. When you look at the power of what the reader does and the footprint it has to work in, you will recognize that the KNFB reader is an amazing product! Not just because it does what it does for us blind folks but because it's working in an environment that is so restricted because of the power of the hardware, that I am amazed every time I see it working. Now, I say that to compliment the technology however, like many consumers, I believe that the price should be lower. I feel a bit patronized by the company when they say they have cut the cost in half but it kinda makes sense. This is a perfect time for those that have a voice and choose to raise it, should do so. Now, let's hope that the next version of KNFB reader comes down even more. If it does then I believe that those of us that have raised our voices should then turn around and buy the product if it meets our needs and is in line with our bedgets. Then I will truly believe that they have the best interest of the consumer at hart. I think though, that we will see a mainstream product released on a mobile platform that will do what the KNFB reader does for a lot less money. Then they will have to make a choice to stay in the market and lower prices or move on and let the mainstream take over.

2. "here here for rallying the troops. It's sorely needed, but it should not come at the cost of a company CEO resorting to angry blog posts. Leave that to the consumers themselves."

Joe I am a blind consumer first. I am a member of the Serotek staff second. The only cost here is the fact that I take off my suit while continuing to wear the shoes of an every day consumer. Yes, the post is direct and in your face, but, I believe that righteous anger at what is happening in the adaptive technology industry is both justified and necessary.

I am the only blind executive left in the screen reader realm. Who's going to say something about this situation of cost vs features? The bankers that would rather keep selling to the just about broke government at top dollar, the current status quo instead of innovating? I don't think so! If I wasn't frustrated by what is going on in the industry and the seemingly sheep like attitude of some of US BLIND FOLKS, and didn't say or do something about it, it wouldn't be me. I firmly believe that if one sees a problem and says "something should be done about that!" and doesn't at least try to do something, then, they probably missed a calling in life.

Mike Calvo said...

My comments on your comments continued:

3. "Companies, and especially executives, should fight the good fight with better products."
Joe I agree with you 100% that's why I wake up every day to raise the bar that measures adaptive technology in general and Serotek products in particular.

4. "When one encounters vehement language of the type found in this post, the cause is actually weakened because the people that matter chalk up the arguments to nothing more than just another rant."

I am sorry you feel that way Joe. I believe in leading by example. I am first a blind guy. As a blind guy, I believe, the situation in our community with respect to the pricing of AT is out of hand and that angers me. I have been blessed with the team, technology, and the platform to have a darn good chance at making a change in our World! We have a good shot at what I, and many others, feel is a huge problem that keeps blind people all over the World from becoming all that they can be. A rant? You bet! But not "just another rant." This is a rant with a huge potential effect. I'm not going to shut up and Serotek's not going to go away! I think that the sheep that want to remain sheep will do so. I believe that those that are looking for a voice to lead them in to a new place will pick up the cry and take part in making a difference in our future instead of just accepting what is given to us!

I believe in the power of US and I will continue to rally it when ever possible! Thanks for your honest and thought provoking comments.

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Russell. I am only advocating that we, be given a choice when possible to select our adaptive technology solution. I have never believed that products like JFW and WE should die. I just believe that the government, that we count on as a first point of contact for info about AT, needs to give consumers options. I own both a car and a bike. They are created for different purposes and cost differently as they should. In your situation we don't plan on supporting MS Access. Dose that mean we shouldn't be an option for those that don't need a specialized product like Access? I don't think so.

The good news is Russell that you can both own SA for home, on the go, and even use it for other stuff at work. And can use JFW at work for Access and what ever else. That's great! That's the way it should be. If you want both products then you should be informed. I get really upset when tax dollars are used on products that don't fit the needs of the user. JFW does some really cool things. Less cool and more hype of late, in my opinion, but some cool stuff just the same. They were one of the first guys to the market but since they got here products like WindowEyes have come along with better and more flexible technology. When was the last time we heard about any agency advocating the use of WindowEyes or System Access for an application right along side of JFW? No! In fact I have seen just the opposite! I have actually spoken to trainers and councilors that say "we are a Jaws only state." That's not right Russell. The same way we are pushing for equal access to other technologies is the same way FS should say, perhaps you should look at this solution or the other. Why? Because they should care about the community they serve. I think at some point FS lost the vision of the founders and instead decided to serve the needs of it's bottom line instead of the needs of it's consumer.

All I am saying is that as consumers we need to push for equal access to information about all adaptive technology. If that means changing the way it's demonstrated to consumers, then so be it.

Chad Fenton said...

This is quite an intriguing post, made all the more so by the underlying subtext of an executive hoping to run a company until its offerings are no longer needed and it goes out of business, but this is not likely to occur in the near future. Having purchased System Access, I believe it is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the screen reader market, especially due to its affordability when compared with other products like JAWS or Window-Eyes and the additional benefit of never having to pay for a software maintenance agreement. One feature which I believe would enhance it further would be a screen echo mode such as JAWS provides, allowing the use of additional applications, such as telnet clients or mud clients. VIP mud is the only program I know of that would work out of the box with System Access, since you don't have to change the screen echo mode to all in JAWS to use it, but I digress. Anyway, a very thought-provoking post. If individuals and organizations would collectively speak with their wallets, the AT companies would have no choice but to take notice.

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Chad:
Before you and the other readers think I am nuts, let me explain what I mean when I say these things. I have been an entrepreneur all my life. I am not afraid of a company closing down and starting on a new venture. When I realized how great the Internet was and how the costs of AT restricted access to the blind because of it, I decided to try my best to do something about it. I believe that in it's 8 years of existence Serotek has accomplished much in the way of innovation and much in the way of community impact. Are we a huge company? No not at all! We have, however, changed the lives of many many people that would have never had an chance to not just get online but even use a computer to begin with. I have a huge problem with the fact that, before Serotek, it use to cost more than the price of a computer to make one speak. And why? Because we looked at our user as a person that has more needs than just to go to school or work. We look at our customer as a discriminating consumer that wants to enjoy the same level of customer service and technological innovation that is enjoyed by the mainstream.

When I say "i live to see the day that the AT industry is gone" I mean that I believe that the adaptive technology industry for the blind, with only a few technology exceptions (like refreshable Braille), is in it's last days. I also believe that any company in this industry that wants to remain profitable needs to adjust itself to understand that the government isn't going to flip the bill for ever. And why should they? Standards, laws, APIs, books, seminars, and way more to mention here, about how to implement universal design in to products and services have been developed. The government did it's job to fund research to introduce the disabled back in to society. Are a lot of companies doing it? No, but, that's where you and I as consumers come in. That's where you and I need to lift our voices and take out our wallets and be recognized! The number of blind people World wide is in to the hundreds of millions. The number of people losing sight because of aging is growing every year. The needs for eyes free and hands free access to technology in the every day mainstream consumer is also growing. It's not such a tiny market any more. I am turning Serotek, not in to an adaptive technology company, but a company that serves the needs of customers with special circumstance's. Think of a company that wants customers that speak a different language etc. Any large company that provides electronic information, products, or services, in need of a special needs arm, will be happy to pick up Serotek. And you know what? If the price is right, we'll be happy to go. Singing our way both to the bank and in to the mainstream market place.

So you see? I'm not that crazy after all. I just refuse to make a future for myself wile selling out the interests of my customers.

Blind Paladin said...

Mike, I agree completely with your original post and subsequent comments. Serotek has been the leader in affordable quality technology- I recall shortly after signing up with SAMNet being blown away by Serotek's adopting the open drivers for Braille displays, and all the wonderful innovations since then- including Accessible Event and build a bundle. Your call for affordable refreshable Braille displays in particularly is much needed. FS dropped it's price for its Focus Blue, which is nice, but I for one will never buy it, as FS seems determined to stifle and slow Braille for everyone by their absurd driver policy. Until something like Braille for Everyone comes to pass the "big boys" need to step up to the plate. Some are, like Humanware and others developing an open Braille driver system, but more is indeed needed. Apart from Braille I agree that the days for AT are quite short, due in no small part to Serotek being a market oriented company that serves its consumers and sees them as such. I for one will take up the call to arms, and am and will continue to be a proud Serotek customer. Excellent work thus far, and many many more years of success until the great buy out day.

Justin Kauflin said...

Mike, I completely agree with your post here. Ever since I began using Apple products, my whole philosophy of accessibility and what it means has drastically changed.
My biggest concern is how come there are other large companies that can totally afford to provide at least an improved level of built in access that are doing nothing? I am completely fed up with the way things are for blind users of these products and would be glad to participate in this movement in any way I can. It certainly is time for us to get loud!
Thank you Mike for saying what so many of us feel.

biblescribe said...

Mike, the number of the blind in america is a lot higher than you realize! The NIH is currently tracking 33.5 million Americans over the age of 40 with the top 6 eye diseases that lead to blindness. 17 million of that is people with cataracts.

I was at a hearing of the Department of Labor on hiring the disabled and there was a man there from PUSH who was going to send a letter to the President demanding he address the issue of the disabled workers. But I suggested he demand that Mr. Obama order the Census to determine how many blind people there are in the United States, how many disabled, etc.

Right now the government is going by a Census Survey from 2006 that shows that there are only 1 million sensory impaired Americans. But the person who made that survey was at the hearing and he said it was never meant to represent the number of disabled in America, that they were citing very specific conditions in unemployment.

So the number of blind and visually impaired is much larger than you think and so they are under-represented and we should demand this as a matter of civil rights.

Patrick Turnage said...

Mike, this is a great post with some valid points. I’ve used JAWS for a long time and am one of the developer users out there who use JAWS to it’s full potential. I understand the benefits of System Access and the great work Serotek has done to make screen reading technology accessible to blind consumers who would not have that access. Let me tell you what keeps me a JAWS user to spite Freedom Scientific’s policies and lack of interest of the blind consumer. My goal is to work in Voc rehab because I’ve seen the differences in the attitude, confidence and worldview of the working blind VS the blind person who sits at home collecting their social security. The federal funding that agencies use to provide this access to AT is primarily designed to be used to help the blind person achieve an employment outcome. So, an agency is going to purchase JAWS, even for school or college age students because this is what technology will be used on the job. I would have no problem recommending SA for people who were not able to have JAWS purchased for them by an agency. Any access is better than no access. I think for example, the VA should have no problem purchasing SA for their vets because they aren’t going back to work. I tried to use System Access for my day-to-day screen reader on the Windows platform and there were several tasks that I do daily that I was unable to do. There is nothing that I can do with SA that I can’t do with JAWS. I think it’s important to communicate them in the hope that it can be addressed because I agree with you in principle. I’m a Macbook pro 13 owner and my wife owns an iPhone, so I see the value of universal design and look forward when we see it in more mainstream devices. The issues I had with SA was that Eloquence seemed sluggish or would get sluggish after time on Windows 7. Telnet didn’t work at all, the already mentioned Microsoft access, the inability to do application customization via scripting, no ability to sleep SA for programs like K1000/Openbook/VMWare, etc. SA uses LUA so it should be possible to publish documentation to allow application customization for some of your most advanced users.

Patrick Turnage said...

Continued:
I think we’re at the point that we as blind consumers should be out there looking and asking for accessible technology and rewarding the company with our purchases. Take the Macbook Pro, I spend more time in Windows in VMWare fusion than I do using OS X. My wife laughed at that until I explained with this idea of rewarding Apple for their focus on accessibility. It really pushed me over to purchase the product. In my work, I got a call from a lady who wanted an agency to purchase her a computer with a screen reader and a Braille display but she wasn’t working and had no interest in working, or at least not a serious interest. I knew that she wasn’t going to get a Braille display but what I told her was that she could get a netbook and SA netbook edition and that she could get used to using the technology and she could do all that for around $350 and buy the Braille display later. Oh, actually, I remember, she wanted to start her own business with making crafts or something. She was totally not interested in my idea and wanted me to continue talking about justifications she could use with the agency to get her a laptop, screen reader and Braille display. Finally, I had to tell her that it would never happen and as soon as I said that she hung up on ne. So the other half of the equation is the blind person and their attitude. I love what you guys are doing with Keys for K12, I told every school I ever visited including our state blind school. There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be taken advantage of by students. If you really want to break the mold, you should do a Keys for college students. College is when most agencies make their first screen reader purchase. For me, it was in the summer of my senior year. You’ve really changed things for the home user and the student. My mom bought my first computer in 1996 with Windows 95 on it. She was disappointed to learn that she needed to buy an external doubletalk for $300 and ASAw for $500. My whole family had to chip in to get me the access I needed. Lighthouses, agencies that serve the elderly, who are excluded typically from rehab agencies funding sources, the VA, students k-16, etc are the people most likely to benefit. I think without the application customizations it will be hard to toss out the traditional AT technology if that functionality isn’t available in other products because until developers recognize the benefits of universal design there will be a serious need for customizations. I’m not talking about just scripting. I think Chris could expand on this more but the Speech and Sounds manager in JAWS changes the paradigm of how we use a screen reader and allows JAWS to become an audio desktop and communicate things via sounds and that is an excellent power user feature. SA needs more things like this and it’s not a scripting language.
I’m ready to stand up with you and tell everybody out there about SA though and to get them signed up for 30 day trials and have them making their own informed choices about their access. Don’t even get me started on Accessible Event, that’s truly a game changer in the AT industry that nobody has even attempted to make accessible and a screen reader in the cloud. The cloud is the future. This ended up way longer than I intended.

Patrick Turnage said...

I think we’re at the point that we as blind consumers should be out there looking and asking for accessible technology and rewarding the company with our purchases. Take the Macbook Pro, I spend more time in Windows in VMWare fusion than I do using OS X. My wife laughed at that until I explained with this idea of rewarding Apple for their focus on accessibility. It really pushed me over to purchase the product. In my work, I got a call from a lady who wanted an agency to purchase her a computer with a screen reader and a Braille display but she wasn’t working and had no interest in working, or at least not a serious interest. I knew that she wasn’t going to get a Braille display but what I told her was that she could get a netbook and SA netbook edition and that she could get used to using the technology and she could do all that for around $350 and buy the Braille display later. Oh, actually, I remember, she wanted to start her own business with making crafts or something. She was totally not interested in my idea and wanted me to continue talking about justifications she could use with the agency to get her a laptop, screen reader and Braille display. Finally, I had to tell her that it would never happen and as soon as I said that she hung up on ne. So the other half of the equation is the blind person and their attitude. I love what you guys are doing with Keys for K12, I told every school I ever visited including our state blind school. There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be taken advantage of by students. If you really want to break the mold, you should do a Keys for college students. College is when most agencies make their first screen reader purchase. For me, it was in the summer of my senior year. You’ve really changed things for the home user and the student. My mom bought my first computer in 1996 with Windows 95 on it. She was disappointed to learn that she needed to buy an external doubletalk for $300 and ASAw for $500. My whole family had to chip in to get me the access I needed. Lighthouses, agencies that serve the elderly, who are excluded typically from rehab agencies funding sources, the VA, students k-16, etc are the people most likely to benefit. I think without the application customizations it will be hard to toss out the traditional AT technology if that functionality isn’t available in other products because until developers recognize the benefits of universal design there will be a serious need for customizations. I’m not talking about just scripting. I think Chris could expand on this more but the Speech and Sounds manager in JAWS changes the paradigm of how we use a screen reader and allows JAWS to become an audio desktop and communicate things via sounds and that is an excellent power user feature. SA needs more things like this and it’s not a scripting language.
I’m ready to stand up with you and tell everybody out there about SA though and to get them signed up for 30 day trials and have them making their own informed choices about their access. Don’t even get me started on Accessible Event, that’s truly a game changer in the AT industry that nobody has even attempted to make accessible and a screen reader in the cloud. The cloud is the future. This ended up way longer than I intended.

Mike Calvo said...

Hi Patric:
I am going to cover your points below:
1. "an agency is going to purchase JAWS, even for school or college age students because this is what technology will be used on the job."

I think your thinking is seriously flawed here. First you are a developer. The tools you use on a day to day job isn't what a majority of workers or students use. I run this company every day all day and guess what I use? Yes, System Access. To say that Jaws is what's going to be used on a job exclusively is the kind of thinking that is the biggest problem with this community right now. Not just for Serotek but for many other providers of great technology that simply runs circles around JFW.

Different adaptive technologies fit different applications. Would you buy a messenger delivery person a truck in New York City when a bike will do more for him? Sure, a truck can handle more packages but think of the skills needed to drive a truck, think of the parking in NYC, you see Patric? I think you and many other rehab technologist paint with a wide brush because it's not your money being spent and you don't put yourselves in the shoes of the client you think that one size fits all. More features create more confusion. I think features need to be available in some products if they are wanted, but not in every product. Why do you think some people hate smartphones? Some people actually only want to use a phone to make phone calls. Imagine that! Hey, I'm a geek man, I loves me some good technology! But, I'm not everyone.
Even others like technology that's powerful but just works. What do you think Apple has built? A platform that just works yet it is robust and powerful.

Fact is that it still takes over 20 hours of training to teach a person how to get JFW running, how to get online, configure an email client, and read email. Learning to send email takes even more time than that. SAMNet isn't for everyone if they want extensive manipulation of email, however, a user can be up and running sending email, browsing content, scanning documents, and gathering information in about the same time with a much higher success rate then with any other system on the market. And on any computer they choose not just the home or lab computer. I would invite any trainers that have had bad training experiences with SA or any other screen reader to post your stories here proving or disproving my points.

System Access works with all the leading Office applications from Office 2003 forward. These applications are used in a majority of employment and educational environments. In fact it has been reported by many students that System Access works better with applications like Black Board than any other screen reader. Nothing demonstrates this more than the thousands of students taking advantage of our Free Keys for K12 program. When you consider that SA costs a SMALL fraction of the cost of any other screen reader on the market, this makes me wonder just how responsible are government agencies being with our tax dollars.

"2. I would have no problem recommending SA for people who were not able to have JAWS purchased for them by an agency."


Are you kidding? This is the most patronizing statement in your comment! To suggest that a blind person should go to the government first to buy an adaptive technology solution is so insulting to me on so many levels that I have covered in other posts that I am simply going to echo the words of my 15 year old daughter.

Really? Seriously? Really?

I agree with all your other points. Now before you get mad at me remember this is a debate and when I sell I sell hard. So please don't be offended by my direct language. My statements aren't meant to be at all personal and I apologize in advance if I have made you feel that I have attacked you for posting your views. Keep them coming folks! We're all about the same purpose. Making this community stronger and more independent.

Patrick Turnage said...

Mike,

I appreciate these healthy discussions, it's the only way to open a dialog on the matter and without dialog these issues won't ever have the chance to change. Let me respond.
"2. I would have no problem recommending SA for people who were not able to have JAWS purchased for them by an agency."

Ok, I'm a corporation, and I have blind people working there. My employees are currently using SA because it was the most economical option when I looked in to screen readers. Now, we have a new system that is a custom application that SA doesn't work with. I either have a choice, I can let my blind employees go or I can purchase JAWS that will allow the configuration and scripting of custom applications. I could have saved money on licenses and bought JAWS first. I'm glad that SA works for you and you're the CEO of your own company, you can make that choice. So can any small business owner or self-employed person, who handles directly their AT needs but in a large corporation or government agency often enough that's not the case. I applied for a job with a call center. I was the only blind person, who contacted them directly, went with a friend and filled out an application, went with a family member the weekend before the interview to learn my way around the office complex, and on the day of my interview walked in with my guide dog. They never had a blind person do that, everybody went through our local lighthouse. What did the company do, rather than assess me, they contacted the lighthouse and got them involved to buy the Braille display and assess my strengths with JAWS. Lets take SAMNet out of the equation. Most employers aren't going to let employees access that system for work related messages, their going to standardize on Outlook or groupwise. Do you believe that to do the same tasks, write in word, compose, review messages, in outlook would require less training time if the screen reader were SA vs JAWS? As I said, I don't doubt that these agencies could do better about who gets JAWS and SA but the majority of people in the workplace will be more protected against future developments with JAWS because it supports customizing apps. As I said, the VA doesn't need to buy each Vet JAWS. They most certainly should evaluate the tasks the user is trying to do and determine if SA will meet those needs. If so then by all means go for the SA option. It's less expensive and there are no updates to buy. SA/SAMNet would be perfect for most users personal use. I think if agencies are buying JAWS for the job that it should be up to the user to buy their own AT for home, which unless their super rich, it's the most economical to buy SA. Like you said, it's all about the right tool or having access to the right tools. What would make me eat my words abit is for SA to have the ability to do some app customizations. It's the main feature that keeps me thinking JAWS for employment situations. Would it be hard to implement? I'm not sure, I don't know about LUA. How do you guys do app customizations as it is now?

Richard Wells said...

Patrick Turnage said:
"There is nothing that I can do with SA that I can’t do with JAWS."

WOW! I worked at Henter-joyce/Freedom Scientific for eight years and never knew that JAWS can replace every technology on the planet.

Patrick and others, please keep reading to understand the meaning of my statement above.

It is almost as if when we get in a certain school of thought, it is virtually impossible to graduate.

Let me suggest some things I cannot do with JAWS:
1. I cannot remote into any computer anywhere in the world and use it, regardless if it has JAWS on it or not, without paying any extra licensing fees. I can transfer files to or from that computer if I need to install something, or if I leave a file at work that I need at home etc.
2. I cannot walk up to any computer anywhere anytime and have it talking within 30 seconds using a full-featured screen access product using System Access on a U3 USB drive or http://www.satogo.com and did I mention that I can also use my HID compliant Braille device on that same computer?.
3. I cannot make all features of Sun Java talk without even installing the accessibility JDKs as can be done with Window-eyes using the WE4Java script from Scripts Central.
4. If I am a programmer, I don't have to learn a proprietary scripting language to customize applications for myself or others as long as I am not using JAWS, but using Window-eyes instead.

I am just scratching the surface on things I cannot do with JAWS.

Patrick, if JAWS completely meets your needs and you don't mind spending big bucks to keep it up to date, that is great. I totally see why you wouldn't go anywhere else. In a perfect world, I would have one technology that meets all my needs, but I don't think anyone else here is claiming that we are there yet.

Patrick Turnage said...

Richard,

You and I both know... that JAWS is no where near perfect. You're totally right on the things that you say JAWS can't do and those are some of the things that make SA a great solution. I've used satogo many times and have lots of friends who use the remote connections with file transfers all the time. I'm just saying that as a power user SA doesn't meet all my needs and JAWS meets those needs more and when I need the functionality of SA, I just use the free version. Where I'm talking about JAWS being what I think is a more usable solution is in the enterprise environment. As I said for the majority of home users, SA offers a compelling product at a great price point and the same might be true for small businesses or those who are self-employed, depending on the type of work and access required. I think some of the ideas of offering it at $10 a month really make it a solution worth having. Tell me something because I don't know, does it run on Windows 2000? Allot of enterprises, for some strange reason are still on windows 2000 Professional.

Ricky Enger said...

Hello Patrick and all,
You are exactly right in that without dialog there can be no change. I'm thoroughly enjoying the great discussion here and feel compelled to throw in my own two cents.

Let me start by stating something fairly obvious. There is no solution, including JFW, System Access, or anything else for that matter, which can be all things to all people. With that said, every company who produces a product must make decisions about what it intends to do bbest, and how it will deal with the things that aren't a primary focus. A company can decide to be a jack of all trades and master of none, or it can choose to clearly define what it wants to be great at and focus its resources on making that happen.

At Serotek, we've chosen to focus our efforts on making products that are easy to use, work from anywhere, and take advantage of the changing trends in how consumers and corporations use technology. While the scenario you describe with the corporation using a custom app for its day-to-day operation used to be all too common, the corporate trend is heading rapidly toward a far more standardized approach. So, while we aren't the right solution for every single person in the workplace, with our heavy concentration on efficient and compelling web functionality we are the perfect solution for the ever-growing group using tools like HTML-based Intranets. Such tools have been designed to work cross-platform and can be accessed on any computer or portable device with a browser, from anywhere. And speaking of accessing things from anywhere, the ability to do that is becoming far more of a necessity than a luxury. Whether you're a student, an employee or a retiree, you're going to need to make use of computers that aren't specifically configured for you. The rest of the world can do this with ease, and lots of doors are going to be closed to you if you can't do it just as easily and efficiently.

As for training on SA versus another solution, certainly there is a time difference. Our focus has always been about designing products that could function extremely well right off the bat, with very little intervention from the user. A new user isn't excited by learning keystrokes, but rather by accessing the information he or she set out to find without getting bogged down in extraneous details. SA has customization options in one, easy-to-find location, and that alone cuts way down on training time. Add to that SA's ability to intelligently and automatically present the info that a user is most likely to want, and you've got someone using the computer without the need to give much thought to the screen reader at all. It just works. And, since there is no SMA, an employer doesn't have to calculate an ongoing cost of maintaining AT for blind employees.

Ricky Enger said...

Comments continued:

So now, say you're that employer who purchased an 1100-dollar solution and you've been maintaining an SMA on it for years. You bought that software not because your employee needed thousands of bells and whistles at the time, but you banked on the possibility that they might need them some day. You've since done the smart thing and standardized on a platform that works well for everyone and requires no customization, and you hear about this AT solution that would work perfectly in your environment, costs less than half what you originally paid for the other software, and oh yeah, you don't have to maintain it once you buy it. You're going to be kicking yourself for investing so much money in something which could've been accomplished with far less capital and training time, aren't you?

When Mike and the rest of us on the Serotek team talk about universal accessibility, it isn't just a pie in the sky concept to us. It is very real, and it is that vision which keeps us excited to wake up every morning and do what we do. Customized apps designed without accessibility in mind don't have a place in that future we envision, and we don't believe that future is very far-fetched, or even very far off from now. So when faced with a choice to spend time and development on doing things the way they've been done in the past, or taking an active role in shaping the future we want to see, guess which path we choose? Who's going to walk it with us?

Anonymous said...

Mike,

I understand your position better. It's ironic that your post should come at the time that it did. A few weeks ago I got on my own tangent about the high cost of adaptive technology on several lists. From the discussion I gathered the names of more than a dozen individuals interested in developing a campaign to call attention to the issue. I've been toying with a few ideas and wonder how we might interest Serotek in helping us, or how we can help you. Bottom Line: I'm a company development guy. I appreciate discussion but care more about taking steps to get results, and although this issue is not one that will be resolved overnight, let's use the momentum of this discussion to take some tangible steps toward something. How can I get a hold of you to plan some strategies? And, the more I learn about your company, the more I wonder why you guys have not yet broken into the Android market? I'm looking for reasons to ditch Mobile Speak and avoid the outrageous cost of Mobile Geo.--Joe

Richard Wells said...

Disclaimer: This is Richard Wells the blind person and not the Serotek employee writing.
Patrick may have just addressed the biggest issue Serotek faces in this market when he states:
"I'm just saying that as a power user SA doesn't meet all my needs and JAWS meets those needs more and when I need the functionality of SA, I just use the free version."

When Serotek offers its products at less than half the cost and makes a free option available, rather than paying the reduced cost and supporting a company that is changing the face of the adaptive technology industry most are going to opt for the completely free offerings. This makes me wonder if Serotek should stop offering the free option and make its services available only to paid users. What keeps people from using a product that obviously has value added to their productivity from paying if there is a free option? The answer, I believe is simple. Whether we are talking about pizza or software, if its free, a large majority will take the free option. Most people will say, "I'm on board," while gladly standing in the background, agreeing with the movement by continuing to invest in the status quo. This is why the Macintosh will eventually come out on top of all of this mess. But remember this, while VoiceOver is part of the OS, you will pay what I have heard referred to as "The Mac Tax." You will pay more fore the computer and you will pay more fore most of the software you will use with it. At least then, you will be on par with your sighted counter-parts who are also willing to pay more. Okay, I am done now. I will go play somewhere else.

Mike Calvo said...

Hello Richard:
I will answer your question. I, perhaps naively, believe that our free offerings do two things. One they offer a commercial quality product to those in developing countries that wouldn't even have a chance to use a paid product even if it was $9.95 per month. I feel that Serotek is doing for accessibility for blind computer users what Google is doing for search. By giving people all over the World equal access to information and accessibility perhaps Serotek can do it's part to give back from the blessings it has received.

Two, I also believe that the more people use SAToGo they are encouraged to buy our paid products. Everyone knows that lunch is never free so if that doesn't work out, I am sure Serotek can just charge for SAToGo in the US and other developed countries and we will give it away where we don't feel blind folks can afford it. I actually think that people might like what Serotek stands for and support us financially and actually support a company that they know is going to take every dollar that comes in and reinvest in the goals of it's customers.

Like I said maybe I am naive.

PS. We do sell ETI Eloquence for SAToGo and it's actually been pretty good! Reader, have you purchased your copy?

John Herzog said...

Hi all. I have enjoyed your comments, but I wanted to talk briefly about using system access on the job. This is a true story, and it worked better than I could ever have imagined it would. Last summer, I had an internship with Pepsico. Sorry to all the coke drinkers out there (grin). While most things worked with system access, they had a custom database with some controls that were not accessible via the keyboard. My boss wanted me to do some work in this database, so I called the developers up, and told them about system access. I also told them it was free, so they could use it to determine where changes needed to be made on the appropriate pages. It took about a week and a half, which was annoying, but I got the call saying that keyboard shortcuts had been implemented. It was then possible for me to do my job completely for the remainder of the summer. Now, had I used JAWS, window-eyes, or anything else proprietary, this would not have worked in my favor. The developers said that having the screen reader running on their machine was critical to figuring out what worked and what didn't. So, I disagree that JAWS and scripting are the best way to make apps accessible. We should give developers the chance to do so, before assuming we have to do the work ourselves or that it would not get done.
Serotek, thank you for an awesome product, and thank you for the free offering as well. You really have enabled at least one visually impaired person to keep and maximize his summer employment.

Mike said...

Hello Mike and all, I just wanted to add my support to Mike's post. I have been a serotek customer since about late 2007/08 and refuse to use any other screen reader with the exception of nvda in some cases. While I can applaud gwmicro for moving in the right direction with there payment plan, I cannot use there software due to the sma and proprietary video chaining technology. Somehow it's still not as bad as JAWS's dcm but still is unacceptable. I am a college student studying IT and sa allows me to use any computer on campus flawlessly. I believe that good things are in store, the nvda devs have begun work and implementation on api hooks for nvda which will make it even better than it is now. Also, I really think that MS will put a screen reader into windows 8 or whatever the next version is called due to the strides made in the magnification area, it's only a matter of time. If only they would extend access to windows mobile out've the box things would be set. thanks and keep it up.

TheBlindTech said...

Mike, ok you got me thinking. I want to get on the phone with you and talk about me switching personally to SA, and than we'll talk about my employees. but give me a call today/tomorrow at the office and lets chat. (623) 565-9357. I would really want to do this before my enthusism wares off. Thanks sir. - Gabe Vega - CEO The BlindTechs Network - A Division of Commtech LLC

Trenton said...

Although its not talked about much, there is also the linux world, free and open source as well.
The ones specifically made for the blind, Vinux:

http://vinux.org.uk

and Adriane Knoppix:

http://knopper.net/knoppix-adriane/index-en.html

although, almost every distro got Orca in there.
I know there's Blinux, but i forgot that one's address.

Mike is indeed correct, that GW Micro, although is moving forward in the versital ways of screen reading with scripting and such, its got a awhile to go.
Once NVDA gets the API hooks in place, it certainly will be something that I'll be spreading the joy around!

And now that we got some battle with the big ones that I see has continued,
(see

http://www.blindbargains.com/redirect.php?redirect=5084

for more info,)

Serotek, NVDA, and the linux world I hope in do time, although it could already be happening now, will take over the screen reading market!

Not sure how many places around the world use linux, but certainly it wouldn't be a bad time for folks to start learning it.
It would be interesting one day to see system access run a linux platform, like the old freedombox did, but who knows what could happen this year!
PS If system access does come to the Linux platforms, now that would amaze me greatly!
Yes you can visit

http://samobile.net

with Linux distros, but what could happen if SA To Go go in to the mix there one day?
Hmmm.
Oh, one last thing, you can say in the SA and SamNet Mobile manuals, that NVDA is the only screen reader that truly shuts down before SA To Go/SA Stand-Alone starts.
Now why can't the other ones!

Trenton Matthews

Jake said...

@Trenton:
Linux user here, and proud of it. It's more common than a lot of people think, and getting rather popular in certain circles. I don't use any of the blind-specific distributions, straight Ubuntu for me. I don't see SA coming to the Linux platform for several reasons. First, Orca already has more functionality than SA in the environments it supports and second, there are a number of different GUI toolkits, but at the moment only GTK+ supports accessibility. With Orca being free and open source already, and GTK+/GNOME being the environments it supports (XFCE and LXDE work as well if you hack a little) there's no real need for it. Serotek should concentrate on Windows for now, that's where the changes need to happen. UNIX/Linux, as well as Macintosh, are covered already with completely free of charge accessibility tools. For Samnet users though it would be nice if they revived the Linux version of their browser. Wow, how long ago was that anyway? They wouldn't even need to do their own browser, the way Orca and Firefox work together just make a Firefox plugin for the voice chat and media areas and everything would be covered.

R. P. said...

After reading many of the comments concerning Mike’s “Serotek Ultimatum,” I would like to focus on one idea, self-sufficiency concerning AT and being blind, and a method to achieving it, i.e., controlling AT by owning it. Let’s see if I can shorten this for clarity. I believe you don’t fuly control your technology unless you own it as opposed to renting it. A simple example here: My employer owns the license for JAWS and in every job I’ve had, that license remained with them when I left them. Serotek’s Software As a Service payment method and even GW Micro’s LTO program let’s me buy the software on-the-go. In particular, SA and its deployment on an S3 drive permits me accessibility anywhere on any PC. In every job I’ve held, I’ve been the expert on site regarding my AT needs, not the folks in the I.T. Dept because AT isn’t part of their daily life and nor should it be.With a low cost but powerful system which I can afford and thus travel with, I’m more employable if I come to the table with my own stuff which I control and the employer doesn’t have to buy over what is spent on other employees. Blind persons stand at the intersection, a crossroad, where AT self-sufficiency is a realistic and obtainable goal. This is one of several reasons why we are going to integrate into the digital society being created today: separate but equal still remains inherently unequal. Until the price barrier is eliminated concerning accessibility, the divide between useability of technology between blind and sighted will continue to exist.
Dollars do count! Since I am paying for all of this stuff and I have it now, not nine months or a year from now, I can adapt rapidly and maneuver where I need to in order to keep up with everybody else. This is why the ultimatum must be joined.

Blind Paladin said...

I couldn't agree more with the points made by R.P. The fact of ownership and the ability to be able to both use and maintain your technology is extremely important- particularly in a work setting. The power of bringing your own technology solutions to the table at a job interview cannot be overstated. Some might say this entails your own copy of JAWS, and certainly it is good to know how to opporate various screen readers, but I say that generally it won't matter to an employer one way of the other which screen reader you use so long as it is effective. I grow tired of the montra that we must use JAWS because it is the screen reader of the work place. Firstly it wouldn't be so if the government useing our tax dollars didn't make it so. Secondly, beign able to bring various solutions to a given AT problem shows self drive and independence, which will be valued by an employer. Sorry to rant, but very good points IMO.

David Young said...

Thank you so much Mike for that enlightenment of what is going on with the technology wave. We, at Talking Books International, create a very simple and functional Talking Bible for low vision, blind and print disabled people. I belivee it may be in a future podcast of serotalk. I received an invitation from Michael Lauf. We are doing our best to provide a high quality, low cost, functional and simple digital audio player for anyone to use. Thank you for your awesome efforts to make things better and to make folks aware of the true path of technology for their own benefit. Dave Young - for more info I can be reached at TheTalkingBook@yahoo.com or 760-889-5444.

Pranav Lal said...

Hi Mike,
I appreciate where you are coming from. Do you have any plans to support MathML and programming environments such as Visual Studio and the VBA editor in Microsoft Office? What about Open Office support? Serotek can plug several gaps in the market and have people switch to System Access automatically. Youmay get better results if you focus your energies in developing a strong product and then work on advocacy.

Pranav Lal said...

One more thing, how about branching into International markets such as those in Asia? We do not have government funded adaptive technology so have to pay out of our pockets so a solution like system access would be exceptionally useful.

Alex said...

Wow, great post!!!
I'm late to this one, but just wanted to say that it's companies like you, Serotek and GW Micro, that understand what the heck's really going on. I'd rather have stability in my screenreader, not fifty useless features that nobody cares about and repeatedly get gouged in the pocketbook every 11 months for, hoping that they fixed some important bug related to my work/whatever's application. Let's stop feeding the monsters. Notetakers that are $4000+ are obsolete for several reasons. Slow, bulky, most don't have built-in wifi (finally the BN Apex does), and most of all, who can just afford to buy it, or beg some agency who doesn't know what accessibility even is. Just because a product costs the most doesn't mean it's the latest greatest technology. Apple and others are getting it right. Include accessibility and screenreaders in your OS and don't charge an arm and a leg for it. We will NOT be subjected to that crap. Why should I be charged a grand so I can use a computer? Not very equal is it?

I sold my notetaker because I found more and more that it collected dust instead of being worth the $6000 pricetag. I now have an iPod touch and a few laptops/netbooks, using Linux with orca, and NVDA for my Windows needs. That's what I call mainstream. I've also used Abbyy FineReader and it rocks. Much better than other clunky pricy junk that does just as good or falls short. Sure, when I first got my notetaker I thought it was the best thing ever. But as I explored and matured, I realized that it really wasn't that much different than a large, bulky, overpriced, phoneless Windows smartphone. Basically my smartphone does everything this could do for 300 bones instead of 6000! Plus, unlike this legacy device, my phone has wifi and 3G, built-in. A lot of notetakers (not all) like to screw people in the way of Internet - "buy this CF card that costs a hundred dollars for wifi Internet". After spending that massive amount of money, you'd think they could toss a few network adapters into the hardware...
Now, Braille displays. I am all for Braille literacy. I use Braille often and love reading. But, I'm not going to pay severl thousand for a display; the prices need to drop and the technology needs to be better, and they need to be sturdier. Apple should invest some money in Braille displays; I'd buy one. It would do everything and be collapsable and all sorts of cool things.