CES & MacWorld
In the access technology industry, even the biggest conferences are relatively small when compared with Comdex, MacWorld and the huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES). These mainstream shows are truly monstrous and bring between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people into the cities where they are hosted. Two of the big ones, Consumer Electronics and MacWorld are going on right now and although I attended neither, I have been following the news from both and, of course, thinking of how these new technologies will affect those of us with vision impairments.
Also, for the first time that I know of, and access Technology Company is making a big splash at one of the consumer shows. I'm not surprised, however, that it was Mike Calvo who chose to bring the assistive technology bandwagon to Las Vegas to show the mainstream what we're all about.
Today, at the consumer electronic show Mike Calvo will announce the official release of Freedom Box System Access (FBSA) for Microsoft's new Vista operating environment. FBSA, today, becomes the first and, to date, only credible screen reader released that supports Vista without modifications or any requirements to drop back into a legacy user interface mode.
"I don't see it as a real big deal," said Mike to me on a telephone call, "every mainstream software company has a Vista version coming out and none of them require their users to downgrade the UI. I don't quite understand why the assistive technology industry is making such a big deal out of what everyone else is doing without much fanfare."
Setting Mike's humility aside, Blind Confidential sends him a huge congratulations for being first to market with a screen access tool that we blinks can enjoy in Microsoft's latest release. I'm looking forward to seeing him at ATIA and, when I get a PC with Vista loaded on it, I'll put the new System Access through its paces.
As regular Blind Confidential readers know, I spend a lot of time thinking about how consumer products can be made accessible. My research at University of Florida (go gators!) Involves a lot of smart technology and, philosophically, I feel strongly that smart homes and other user agents useful to people with disabilities should be based primarily on mainstream technology. Many of the announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show, including Microsoft's new Home Server, the Xbox set-top unit and all of the new media PCs look like they will be great platforms for systems built using the principles of universal design.
At MacWorld, however, Apple demonstrated that it is entirely ignorant of the accessibility portions in the Telecommunications Act, specifically section 255. As is their norm, Apple released a new product this time the phone -- pod or whatever the hell they chose to call it, and entirely inaccessible cell phone. There are screen readers for the Microsoft phones, they're screen readers for the Symbian phones but, alas, Apple tells our community to screw off once again by releasing another cute yuppie toy of no value to a person with vision impairment.
As I stated in a previous post, I have a strong bias against Apple Computer that goes back for over 20 years to the days when they first got involved in the absurd lawsuits over user interface copyright. Back then, I reminded them and the rest of the world that "only a whore charges for a look and feel," and I'm proud that, at least in part do to the efforts by people like Richard Stallman and me, we won the battles over user interface copyright in the United States Supreme Court and no longer need to deal with Apple's litigation attacking the rest of the industry's innovation.
Today, however, I feel like I'm shouting at a brick wall when I criticize Apple Computer. Friends of mine like Gabe Vega for instance, will write to me asking why I continued to pick on Apple. I will ask them why they have such a religious attachment to a company that brashly and blatantly ignores the needs of our community.
So, starting today, Blind Confidential recommends that all people with vision impairment and their friends boycott all Apple products and make as much noise about Apple Computer's refusal to acknowledge Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. Please do your best to publicize this boycott and, if you are inclined toward direct action, go visit one of those pretty Apple Computer salon shops with a copy of the text to Section 255 and ask the manager to demonstrate how the new phone-pod complies with the federal law. If you do choose to take such action, please do so as politely as possible as the poor bastards who work in the retail arm of Apple Computer are not responsible for the idiotic decisions made by Apple management. Also, if you happen to have a fax number that goes to a machine inside Apple, I recommend that you send them as many copies of the text to Section 255 as you can find the time to. You might also consider e-mailing the text to as many people at Apple as you can. Finally, everyone should visit the marginally accessible Apple Computer website and post a message of outrage to their consumer affairs division.
I do so enjoy making trouble...