Ted Henter will be presented with the prestigious 2006 CHI Social Impact Award at the CHI 2006 conference (http://www.chi2006.org) in Montreal this April. SIG CHI is the special interest group within the ACM that focuses on human factors in computing.
I’ve known Ted for a lot of years so I will use this space today to embarrass him a little. No, I’m not going to reveal any deep dark secrets nor tell stories of his wild years as a motorcycle racer but, rather, I will focus on Ted’s achievements in building products that we blinks can use to do our jobs, go to schools and better enjoy our lives. As Ted is one of the most humble people I know, this sort of praise will likely make him blush.
When Ted Henter first started Henter-Joyce other screen readers already existed. Thus JAWS did not become the first entry in what is now possibly the most important category of assistive technologies available to blind people. JAWS was not always number one in sales or market share. For years, JAWS sales lagged behind GW Micro and, possibly Arctic as well. [Editor’s Note: It is very difficult to get accurate market data from the MS-DOS period of screen reader sales. I am working purely from anecdotal evidence. It is, however, largely agreed that GW Micro led the market with Vocal-Eyes.] So, how did JAWS move from second or even third place to the overwhelmingly dominant position it holds today?
My answer to this question is simple, Ted Henter made JAWS the best product on the market and, over time, it eclipsed all of its competitors. Ted did this by taking nearly every dollar that came into HJ and reinvested it back into the business. He spent the money hiring top flight programmers like Glen Gordon, one of the finest minds I’ve met in 27 years of professional software development. He hired Jerry Bowman, an outstanding General Manager who brought the 12 person company to the powerhouse it was on the day it merged to form Freedom Scientific. Ted also hired the infinitely optimistic, incredibly hard working and tremendously energetic Eric Damery to handle sales, marketing and evangelism. Together, this team with its combination of intelligence, very hard work and a willingness to take major risks, brought JAWS to the top.
Possibly more than any leader of an AT company in the history of the industry, Ted embodied the ideals of having blind people build and test products that blind people will use. As president of Henter-Joyce, Ted could also boast that over 40% of the staff were users of HJ products. Other AT companies will sometimes boast of having a staff that is 40% blind but that is pretty easy when a company only has ten people. HJ had some individual departments which had more blind people than entire companies had staff. Ted advocated for blind people in the workplace and proved it by staffing his own company with as many blinks as were qualified for the jobs.
Ted has always been the top JAWS beta tester. His fame and elevated position in the company never stopped Ted from rolling up his sleeves and banging on new releases of the software. He would personally ensure the quality of the product before he would let it out the door.
Over the years, Ted has received many other awards. Perhaps the most impressive came in 1999 when JAWS was added to the permanent collection at the Smithsonian as one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. In my mind, Ted has few peers in the history of technology for blind people. In my personal Blind Hall of Fame, I would, of course have Ted Henter as well as Louis Braille, Jim Fructerman (who invented the first scan and read product for use by blind people as his senior project at Cal Tech), Ben Weiss (the man who made ZoomText, the most popular and usable product for low vision people) and Ray Kurzweil, who didn’t actually invent much but did a tremendous amount to promote assistive technology for blind people in a manner that the more humble types I have mentioned might not have been able to have done. I’m sure there are others out there, maybe Blazie, or the person who first invented refreshable Braille, Braille embossers and such and others whom I am unaware of. If you, my readers, have any ideas, maybe we can start a BLV technology Hall of Fame web page. We can include those above and some others as charter inductees and add more over time.
With that said, please join me in congratulating Ted on this latest award and in celebrating his entire career. If he hadn’t been pushing the state of the art forward, no screen reader would have reached the levels at which they are today.
Last week, in my ATIA report, I neglected to mention the release of the EasyLink 12 from Optilec. This product combines a Blue Tooth Braille keyboard with a small (12 cell) Braille display in a very portable package. I don’t know the price of this device but it can probably be purchased as a bundle that also includes Pocket HAL and a PDA. For more information, go to the Optilec web site at: http://www.optilec.com.
I’ve received complaints from more than one continent that the link to subscribe to the RSS feed of this blog is too hard to find. As I write and edit Blind Confidential using JAWS, I didn’t actually know where the link showed up on the page and, because I write these posts, I rarely check out the format of the web page. BlogSpot tells me that those links are on the side of the page. When JAWS forms its virtual buffer, they get put at the bottom. Blog Spot templates must be edited in raw HTML, a mark-up language with which I have some familiarity from the standards point of view but haven’t really done much more than the minimum with before. So, I will try to move those links up, if I can’t figure it out, I’ll get help and they will move soon.