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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My Access World Interview and Ted Henter's Rebuttal

Below, I have copied in a rebuttal Ted Henter, my good friend and former boss, wrote regarding the interview with me published in this month’s Access World (see link above).  Almost everything Ted says is true, I did a three hour interview with Deborah and it was reduced to a handful of paragraphs so a lot of things I said did not make the final article in Access World.  

I didn’t realize the article was going to be so short and don’t blame Deborah for including only the most controversial statements as that makes for the juiciest reading but I do wish that a greater level of the background information I told her could have made it in.  This was my bad for not asking about the number of words she would be writing and for my tendency to rant on endlessly when given a captive audience.  People who know me will tell you that they have often looked for a CONTROL key on me somewhere so they could just shut me up and, one friend in particular, likes to say, “right shift,” to get me to fast forward to the point at hand.  I blabber on endlessly when given the chance.

Also, Ted is absolutely correct about my lack of knowledge of the industry’s history prior to my joining Henter-Joyce back in 1998.

There are a few details in Ted’s article which I disagree or feel would have been better understood if the Access World article had included more of the details I had expressed while talking to Deborah on the phone; but, like Ted, I don’t want to bore the readers with the details of the editing process and will leave things where they stand and move on from this debate.

One issue, to which I will respond, however, is that there is a higher incidence of RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome among blind people than in the population at large.  This is being studied at a number of universities and I refer to it as “Screen Reader Syndrome” in earlier blog posts.

Finally, I had no intention of hurting the feelings of or denigrating the work performed by any individuals employed in the AT industry.  My statements were directed toward the businesses themselves and not their employees who I agree do a tremendous job working hard to deliver the best products they can.  I had hoped to shed some light on what I believe is the fact that the big AT companies can afford to spend more on quality and innovation than they currently do.  My statements were addressed at corporate priorities and not directed at the individuals who carry them out and I’m sorry this sentiment didn’t come out more clearly in the Access World article.  If you are one of these people, feel free to write or call me and I’d be happy to explain further why it’s not your work or you personally with that I am critical.

In closing, I have a tremendous level of respect for Ted (any BC reader should know this and, if one searches back issues on Ted’s name, they will find a large number of statements celebrating his great contributions to the blindness biz) and he and I will remain friends as, after all, friendships can withstand and, in fact, can be strengthened by honest debate and disagreement.

The following is Ted’s rebuttal:

Regarding the telephone interview titled "A View from Inside: A Major
Assistive Technology Player Shares Some Industry Secrets" that appeared in the March Access World:

Chris Hofstader may be an "insider", but his view of and experience with the Assistive Technology "AT" industry is very limited. He was hired by me at Henter-Joyce in the late 1990's, when Henter-Joyce was riding a wave of success due to the success of JAWS for Windows and the relative lack of competitors. But look around, most of the companies in our industry are not making money.  There was a time when Henter-Joyce did not make money either, about 8 years worth of time (1987-1995). He wasn't around then.  

He wasn't there in 1985 when the "investors" locked the doors of MCS, Deane Blazie's first company, because it was losing their money. He wasn't there in 1991 when my wife and I borrowed from my parents and re-mortgaged our house so Henter-Joyce could pay its bills. He wasn't there, or wasn't paying attention, when fine AT companies or products like Telesensory, Artic, VERT,
PC Talk, Flipper, Outspoken, and others went out of business. Did their
Owners and investors shut down the companies because they were making too much money?

The Access World article states "Then, adding together all the software development people at all the leading screen-reading software companies, he argued that the profit is about 10 times the cost to the companies."  Are developers the only people that work for these companies? Are they the only ones that get paid? What about the software testers, technical support people, sales people, accountants, shippers, janitors, Board members, and rent? His claims such as "profit is about 10 times the cost," "10x margin," and "that's fairly obscene" are simply ridiculous.

Regarding a PDA with a Braille display, Chris claims that it "costs about $700" to produce. This is another ridiculous claim. He is wrong about many other things in this article: I don't want to bore the reader with all the details.

I also take exception to his comment that "as a blind person, Hofstader maintained, he needed to work longer hours and perform hundreds of keystrokes to parallel the far fewer mouse clicks of his sighted colleagues." I am blind and don't have this issue, and I've worked with many very successful and productive blind people and have never heard this complaint from any of them either. His departure from Freedom Scientific was not due to forced labor, as he suggests, nor was it a simple retirement as he states.

In closing, I'd like to say to my friend Chris Hofstader that it saddens me
to see him attack the people, including many dedicated blind and low vision individuals, that work hard every day to level the playing field for those that are blind or low vision.

Sincerely,

Ted Henter
Board Member, Freedom Scientific
Co-founder and President, Henter-Joyce
Founder and President, Henter Math

Afterward

As I stated in a BC post a little while back, I struggle to maintain any reasonable level of objectivity when it comes to discussing screen readers and I promised not to wade into the screen access wars any longer.  I will state for the record that I use JAWS for more than 90% of my screen reading tasks and feel it is the most powerful, flexible and, for my purposes, usable screen reader ever produced.

I believe my Access World interview and Ted’s well considered comments also demonstrate that I may not have the greatest view of the AT industry, its history or the details of its finances.  Some of these issues come up in my “Main Menu” interview which includes many things that got excluded in the AW article and, in my opinion, gives a better picture of my views on the biz.

I think I will focus BC and my other public statements more on future oriented issues, my fiction and less on criticism.  When I read other blindness related blogs, Jeff Bishop, Daryl and Ranger, I hear less anger than I do in my own writing.  I’m not sure which style does a better job for the community at large but I’m starting to see that it would probably be simpler for me to take a kinder and gentler approach which will result in less anxiety for yours truly and, perhaps, a more entertaining and informative blog for my readers.

Don’t worry, though, I won’t start being nice to Apple any time soon <laugh>.

--End

9 Comments:

Blogger Pastor Bunny said...

The following website belongs to all of us. I hope you will make use of it.

http://www.workingforindependencetogether.org/

This is one I have found helpful
http://www.assistivelivingmobility.com/index.html

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

Hello BC. I just read your AccessWorld interview and found it very interesting. You may not, as Ted says, know the entire history of Henter-Joyce/FS, but I thought you did a very commendable job in the AW interview. I've always wondered why programs such as JAWS for Windows came with such high price tags. I also find it hard to be objective when comparing JAWS and Window-Eyes, for example. I have in fact used the latter just a little bit and I found it to be good, but I do prefer JAWS and will stick with it. BTW, have you checked out Non-Visual Desktop Access yet, the new offering from a developer named Michael Curran? It's at www.nvaccess.org and is quite good.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

As an objective academic working in this field I'm going to disagree with one of Ted's statements. It can be scientifically proved that screen readers, and speech in general, is slower at communicating semantic content to people than visual stimuli is. What is more, contemporary screen reader designs do not take advantage of all of the encoding mappings that speech is capable of providing. One way contemporary screen reader designs make up for this shortfall is by not communicating all semantic content, but there is a wealth of evidence that suggests the greater the problems in communication, e.g. failiures to transmit semantics, the greater the amount of errors performed by a user. Similar differences exist between input modalities.

Ted's observations may be true for Ted's sample; however, I suspect that Ted's sample is not typical of the general blind populus and therefore has no external validity.

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have outmost respect and admiration for Ted Henter but from what I've heard, Henter Joyce was a dream company, Freedom Scientific is not even close. Lots of money being made there and the bottom line supersedes anything at FS. Lot's of unhappy campers. Again, words spoken directly by insiders. Frankly, it is sad that things go "corporate"

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After the sacrifice, Ted came out on top (millions made on the sale to FS) so; it is a true american success story. FS on the other hand, does squeeze the heck out of all of us!!!!

4:05 PM  
Blogger TheBlindTech said...

hey chris at a wifi spot so can't email but wanted to let you and all those mac hating people know that the new itunes 7.1.3 is totally accessable with voice over and guess what? no media announcmment no pat on the back for themselves. just the way it should be. its just wam its accessable and now use it. no media proaid about helping the blind, bla bla bla, now go write about it!

5:26 PM  
Blogger Joe Clark said...

I think it’s totally conceivable that a screen-reader user who has to type punishingly complex Jaws keystroke combinations all day could develop repetitive strain injury.

It is interesting to note that Hofstader worked for the company that decided on those punishingly complex keystrokes.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Able Mart said...

Greetings-

I have a visual impairment category on my blog. Please check it out and feel free to suggest ways I can improve it.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just tried to find the article in question and could not locate it. Has it been removed from AccessWorld?

12:49 PM  

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