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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Update, Congrats, and Competition Commentary

First, I must apologize for my extended absence. I was in Canada visiting my family last week, and it was quite busy trying to catch up with everyone. In addition, I am getting married in October, so my Mom and I were doing a number of wedding-related errands. Everything seems to be moving along according to schedule, except for my inability to find a suitable pair of white shoes. I know some of you male readers are probably groaning. Don't worry, I won't spend the whole entry talking about shoes, but seriously. You'd think with such a thriving wedding industry, they'd be easier to find.


I returned to Minneapolis on Sunday, and attended a graduation party in the 96 degree heat. After spending a day unpacking, doing laundry, etc., I was all set to return to my blog-writing on Tuesday...when my fiancé discovered a litter (not sure if that's the right word) of four bunny rabbits in our Ash tree. Since said tree is located in the center of our back yard, and we have three dogs (a Labrador, a Dachshund, and a Golden Retriever who has already killed a very large rabbit and brought it into our living room for my...um...inspection), I figured the little guys wouldn't be long for this world once they were big enough to start hopping. This is a round-about way of telling you that I spentTuesday morning taking the cute, puffballs up to the Minnesota Wild Life Rehab Center. When I told Chris I would be going up to the Wild Life Rehab Center, he made some smart ass remark about how that was a strange place for me to go to "clean up."


As you have probably noticed, this entry will be a mish mash of observations, opinions, and stories. I'm reminding myself of James Joyce right now. Not that I'm as famous as he is, but those of you who were forced to read him in high school will know what I mean. That dude covers more topics per page than any author I've ever red.


To add to Chris' description of the upcoming collaborative Web site, I'm very excited about this project. I think it will be a great way to compile a bunch of information into one easy-to-find place, and that it will give many of us an opportunity to write about the issues that are most important to us (both personally and as a community). Who knows, maybe we can even emulate Desert Skies, and do some Podcasts. I've been wanting to learn how to do them for quite sometime, and I understand that there is a soon-to-be-released digital recorder from Samsung that has even more audio support than the current Olympus DS models. If anyone knows where to get one, I'd love to know.


Next. I'd like to offer my congrats to Mike and the whole Serotek group for both the resolution of the "Freedom" trademark issue, and the announcement of SAToGo. A friend forwarded me a commentary on this announcement this morning, and I have to say that I was somewhat dismayed to read it.


The author of the email (who incorrectly refers to the product as T A ToGo throughout his entire post) writes that he would only use SAToGo "as a back-up for when he is traveling or can't get at his own computer." That is the whole point of SAToGo. It is a fully functioning screen reader, but it is included as part of an individual's purchase of other Serotek products. It is meant as a solution in instances when a person does not have access to a machine that is equipped with a pre-installed screen reader.


I will post additional excerpts from this email below with my comments interspersed.


"It takes money and resources to run access technology companies. Serotek is a smalltime operation as compared to Freedom Scientific and Gw-Micro."


**Dena: While I agree that it takes money to run any company, I would question how well organizations like Freedom Scientific are using the financial resources they do have.**


"TATOGO looks fine as a demonstration; but will Serotek have the ability to respond when things break, as they will, and will the software have the
robustness of WE, JFW, or Hal."


**Dena: In my experience, Serotek has been nothing but responsive when addressing customer concerns. When writing courseware for them a few months ago, I would occasionally encounter problems, or absent features. I would email Mike about whatever issue I was having, and it would be fixed or addressed within a matter of days. And...in terms of "robustness," I encounter far fewer crashes and performance lags when using SA than I do with JAWS.**


"I view Serotek as perhaps having the forerunner product which, if it works and proves popular, to be surpassed by the industry mainstays. It takes dollars to run assistive technology companies; and there is a good
reason that JFW, WE, OpenBook, K1000 and similar products cost what they do."


**Dena" I take exception to these statements. If the larger AT companies are so powerful, and if the ability to produce such products exists within their ranks, then why are they not releasing them? Why are features that used to work in JAWS disappearing in later versions of the product? Why does it seem that the product is becoming less stable as time goes by? And...in terms of product pricing. The markup for some of the products sold by AT companies can only be described as staggering. Largely, the "reason" why the products listed above cost what they do is very simple: we are a captive audience.**


"Another drawback is that TATOGO requires logging on to the company server for validation each time the program is started. This means that you cannot have the software boot up with your machine and
begin talking. What if that internet access happens not to be available at the point where you are trying to use the software, what if their server happens to be down at a given moment you are trying to validate.....With we, jfw, and Hal, I've got software on my machines that runs regardless
of the above."


**Dena" I'm far less technically savvy than many of you out there, but wouldn't Narrator work in this case? In addition, if I'm at my local library or whatever, chances are that I'm going to want to use the Internet connection to do research or check my email. If I can't get a connection because of technical issues on the organizational side, I doubt I'm going to want to stay at that machine.**


"There is a market for this kind of a software solution; and it has some appeal from an economic standpoint. But, for the serious or advanced pc user, at least at this point, We, JFW, and Hal do rings around TATOGO. I'll play with it while it is still free in beta, and I'll testdrive the Freedom Box Network over the next month, but I don't see this as a replacement for WE as my screen reader."


**Dena: I think this individual is missing the point. The objective is not to "replace" other screen readers, but rather to offer choices (more affordable choices, I might add). No screen reader out there does everything we need it to. That is why it is a good thing that there are a few companies working on solutions.

Just because a product appears on the surface to be "simple," doesn't mean that it isn't highly functional. Many of us forget that there are numerous blind computer users out there who are not "power" users. These individuals only want to do basic things like send emails, write basic letters, and read books. They don't want or need anything complicated, and they certainly aren't going to become proficient with products that are highly configurable (with Speech and Sounds Managers and Adjust Verbosity Settings Dialogs). Simply because many of us who read this blog have need of such customizable products, doesn't mean everyone does.
Finally, how can the companies listed above "do rings around" SAToGo when they don't yet have a comparable product?**


"It should be noted that both WE and JFW can be run off a thumb drive. And it should also be considered, as Dan and I have mentioned on Blindtech, that there are security issues involved here that may well preclude this from running in the types of places where it would be most handy. Someone running this on their home pc, utilizing voices that happen to be on their
pc, really isn't telling us how this works (or doesn't work) at their local library's public pc, a similar pc at a hotel, for one while traveling and forgetting their favorite external synthesizer, and the like.
It's this kind of application that, for the serious user, will tell if
TATOGO has a place in their pc toolchest."


**Dena: These kinds of attitudes are very discouraging to me. You would think that, as a community, we would have struggled with access barriers to such a degree that we would welcome any product that could possibly eliminate more of them and create additional opportunities for us. Rather than writing off such an innovative product before it has even had time to prove itself is destructive, and beneficial to no one. Instead of dismissing a potentially affordable and viable solution with blanket statements like the ones above, why not work together as a customer base to test a product in real world situations, and offer valuable feedback about our experiences to its developer? I realize that competition in every industry is essential, and part of business. However, I think we often forget what our ultimate goal should be: to improve our access to as many things as we can. In a perfect world, all of the products out there would offer the same features andfunctionality. There would be no gaps in performance or accessibility. However, this is not a perfect world, and for now we must often glue multiple solutions together to maintain some semblance of productivity and equality, and continue to ask AT manufacturers for more of what we need.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Aaron Marks said...

I, for one, enjoy your James Joyce style of writing. Most, though, I love how you picked apart that article on Serotek. There were a lot of prejudices and spots where the information just wasn't right. You hit the nail on the head more than a few times.

Congratulations on the upcoming wedding, and on behalf of the bunny population, thanks for saving those four.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

Maybe a haptic virtual shoe shop is in order? We can do that sort of thing these days.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

Hi Dena and welcome back. I have to agree with the final comments in your post of yesterday. I've run almost all the screen readers that are currently available, at one point or another. My current computer has JAWS as its default screen reader, and I also have the latest version of Non-Visual Desktop Access and I am using the beta of System Access to Go to type my comments. I have also run demos of WE. I think all these screen readers are quite good. Are they perfect? No they're not but they sure are usable. I can't speak to Hal because I've never used it, but I've heard very good things about it. So rather than cut vendors and AT companies down because of this or that, I agree we need to be thankful for what we do have. It's good that this assistive technology exists at all. What if no such technology was ever available?

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Attention Comrades!
Chairman Mal is “on the road again,” but he ordered me to inform BC readers that blind Texans who attend state supported colleges have reason to rejoice. According to our “Dear Leader,” the Texas legislature passed a law requiring textbook publishers to supply electronic copies of any textbook used by state supported colleges or universities. “The capitalist swine textbook publishers opposed us right up to the last minute,” Chairman Mal stated, “but our bill made it through with only a few amendments that aren’t really show stoppers.” My question is why in hell would anyone oppose a law that helps blind students get access to their textbooks in a timely manner?
Drew L Spitz, Austin Texas chapter, BPP
Power to the Peeps!

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Steve Schwuren said...

I think people need to really look at what this company is saying and doing. Many of us blinks have been burned before and many of the companies that did the burning are still on top.

We need to get behind this company and really try to understand what it is that motivates them. Calvo seems like a great writer that has a grasp on what's happening in our community however we need to ask him probing questions, in a public forum, about his motivations not spend time on lists bullshitting about what kind of hidden agendas Serotek may have.

They just put up a blog that is available at http://blog.serotek.com. Among the posts about fixes to satogo Calvo has actually posted a rather interesting article about how he envisions Serotek's part in the adaptive technology community. They seem to be offaly accessible to the community for a company with some, quote, "big conspiracy to screw the blind." Could it be that these people actually care about the community they serve? How novel. An adaptive technology company that understands us and wants to actually serve our needs.

I think we have a new player on the field that's playing to win. Other companies had better sit up, take notice, and hold on to your lunch.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Ginny said...

Good morning, I've tried System Access to Go and think, well, it seems to work quite nicely. Pretty cool to be able to walk up t a computer and get speech in seconds, well, maybe minutes, but at least *really fast*. And you don't even have to install anything! Which is great if you're using apublic computer or someone else's computer who "doesn't want that crap" or "doesn't want any crap" installed on their comptuer! Like my mom for example. Yes, System Access might not be the best (yet), however, they are definitely a decent screen reader, as screen readers go, and I don't have a problem using them. I'm primarily a Jaws user as of now, and have tried WindowEyes although I think I have some sort of a gene that causes me to not get along too well with WindowEyes, I feel like Ihave to fight wiht it to get it to do some of the things I want it to do, I think WindowEyes and I are like two magnets on the worng poles or somehting , like hwen you try to hold two magnets together and they just push each other apart, well, that's me and WindowEyes. I'mnot anti-GW Micro as I've purchased some of thier products and darn if I'v enot tried to use Window Eyes, but I'm too much used to Jaws. So for System Access to, well, for me to be able to use it, and not feel like i have to fight with it, well, that's saying something. (and not saying that Window Eyes doens't work for many people, it just doens't work for me).

10:42 AM  

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