[Nfbmo] Serotek declares war

fred olver goodfolks at charter.net
Tue Mar 2 13:11:28 UTC 2010

Subject: [leadership] Serotek declares war on the traditional adaptive technology industry and their blind ghetto products
This is no warm fuzzy of a read, but something well worth the read and in my opinion long over due.  Kudos to SeroTekCited from http://blog.serotek.com/
 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 
 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 
 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 
 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!Posted by Mike Calvo at 2:15 PM

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