ATIA 2007 Day 1 (Fiction)

By Gonz Blinko

“It’s a small world, it’s a world of laughter, it’s a world of tears this place exploits all of my fears,” I sang through clenched teeth.  My asshole editor Blind Christian sent me to cover the 2007 ATIA conference and I’m trapped in a Disney property until Saturday, maybe Sunday.  All of the demented smiling heavily sedated lobotomized tourists wander around as if this bullshit magic was true.

Everything about this place scares the shit out of me.  The deranged tourists from the Midwest, the Disney crew people cruising around in golf carts everywhere, the inordinate large number of white people, the fake food, the fake presidents and the Mickey Mouse shaped soap they put in my shower.  Frankly, I don’t associate rubbing myself with a rat to be especially hygienic.

Nonetheless, we’re trapped in a suite and we’ve got a cover yet another conference celebrating the overpriced products sold to people with disabilities.  Thus, a preview of what to expect:

Overpriced access technology solutions (OATS) Corporation, led by Sidney Greenbacks has decided to take a page from the playbook used by the guys who announced all those religious products at CSUN last year and, instead of doing normal press adjacencies and demos of new products, will instead be making all future announcements and demonstrating all of their new technologies via infotainmercial.  They have actively started interviewing former journalists whom they can hire full-time to make pretend interviews in which they talk to their own people but act like they’re dealing with the real reporter but without any of the hard questions to answer.  I wonder if Sy would be interested in hiring me, I’m not just a journalist I’m a total whore and, for the right price, will play pretend reporter using the most sincere voice I can.

Rumor has it that Michael bald will be announcing that the Florida division of blind services And SerenityTech will be kicking off a pilot project together and if successful the most serene software in the biz will be deployed to all DBS and Lighthouse locations in the state.  If the hairless Cuban pulls this off it will be a coup from right beneath Greenback’s nose right on Sy T’s home court.

I’ll have my new digital recorder in hand and will be looking to pick up interesting audio tidbits for my radio show.  Mostly though, I will probably be cowering in my suite as the Disney faction scares the crap out of me.  I’ll have my Desert Eagle 50 fully loaded and ready at all times.  I’ll be making additional posts as I tease out the weirdness from this conference.

A      — End

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Apple Just Sucks!

On January 15, BC, without fanfare, celebrated its first full year online.  Based purely on statistical analysis of page hits, it seems that our greatest hits for the first year were articles in which I have criticized Apple.  The worshipers of the Jobs of Steve post comments slamming me and the hit count jumps through the roof.

Thus, the first article of our second year will be critical of Apple, I like showing the hit counter go up and I like to remind the world of just how badly Apple sucks.

In response to the comments made in support of Apple to my last post:

  • Virtually 100% of all other mobile phone manufacturers have an accessibility group and are working on or have already delivered handsets that are at least partially accessible to members of our community.

  • Yes, I am responsible for the purchase of a handful of Macintosh computers in the past year.  Three were gifts for sighted children who like the devices.  One was a Macintosh Mini for my lab that sits idle virtually 100% of the time as VoiceOver just ain’t enough screen reader for me to use it for anything productive.

Now a question:

  • Of those of you who posted defending Apple, other than Gabe, are any of you blind?  Have any of you sighties had to deal with the indignity of hearing that a company who just set record profits can’t make its most popular ones usable – even though the law requires it?

  • Why don’t I bring a complaint to the FCC?  Apple had to pass something on the order of 600 separate tests to get FCC approval for their device.  The FCC has tested this device and has passed it.  Obviously, the agency that should be enforcing Section 255 already ignored the regulation so why should I expect them to listen to a petition from a piss ant blind blogger?

With that said, I paste in the following item I received in my email this morning talking about the religious followers of the Apple logo so you can read just how high a level of contempt in which they hold us:

17 Jan 07, 12:53 PM – Apple blind to iPhone accessibility?
Posted by Vaughan

I’m a bit of an Apple geek on the quiet, so when their sleek and shiny new iPhone
Was announced last week to whoops of delight, I’m afraid that I rather joined in the chorus of “I want one! Gimme one!” I’m ashamed to say that almost the
last thing on my mind was how accessible it might be to blind and visually impaired users, considering that its operation relies almost entirely on touch-screen technology.
Fortunately, there are people out there in webland who are rather more clued-up about
Such things, as weblog currybetdotnet discussed yesterday. He points to a post on
The Unofficial Apple Weblog which certainly doesn’t mince its words as it asks:
Does the iPhone shaft the blind?

But it’s the comments after the entry that proves really shocking. Apple fans
Are known for their almost religious dedication to the brand, and some of
They simply can’t see the point in ‘needlessly worrying’ about blind and visually
Impaired phone users. Responses include:

. “I don’t know if there is a tactful way to say this, but, is it really Apple’s
Responsibility to make sure of this? I mean c’mon. Starving children in Africa won’t
Be able to use it either.”

. “Why would the blind want this phone as 90% of its function is

. “I don’t mean to be an ass, but who cares?”

. “I can’t imagine how people with significant visual impairment could use
The iPhone.  I also am very glad Apple didn’t let that stop them from making the best
phone interface
they could for the rest of us.”

. “Dang! You’re right! And people without fingers won’t be able to use it
either! Apple should just cancel the whole project … If there’s such a huge
and desperate need for cutting edge phones for the blind, then someone can fill it and
make a living doing so.”

. “Is Apple expected to make a touch screen that somehow implements
Braille?  Why stop at blind people? What about deaf people? Surely Apple was
Insensitive and forgot about them when deciding to make a PHONE or a device that has sound?”

. “What about Stephen Hawking?! Did those insensitive swine at Apple
Ever consider Stephen Hawking? How on Earth will he ever use an iPhone? Never, that’s

Beware, before you check out the entire thread of comments, that some of
The opinions get a bit heated and that, consequently, some of the language gets a
little, erm, colourful to say the least.

So, BC continues to call for an Apple boycott and recommends that people take non-violent action against Apple and its properties.  They know the FCC regs and said, “Fuck 255, so I say fuck Apple!”


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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…

— End

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People I Admire

Last night an interview with me ran on Main Menu.  Although I’m doing some work in radio I really do prefer the written form.  In the interview that aired last night, Jeff Bishop, the host of Main Menu, asked me who, in the assistive technology field, I admired.  I did the interview without notes and mentioned Ted Henter, Eric Damery, Glenn Gordon, Ben Weiss and a few others.  Unfortunately, I left out a few people who I admire greatly because, at the time of the recording, they just didn’t enter my mind.  So, today I present you with a few other people for whom I have great admiration but neglected to mention in the Main Menu interview.

As I admire all of these people, including those mentioned in the interview, I’m going to mention them in no particular order in this article.  Thus, you can consider the admiration to be equal and the order in which they are presented to be random.

Recent MacArthur Genius Fellow, Jim Fruchterman is one whom I hold in extremely high esteem.  Jim’s work in the blindness field has been tremendous and it is always been done under the auspices of a nonprofit because Jim felt it was the right thing to do.  Today, in addition to, Jim is involved in everything from human rights to handheld minesweepers and brings a set of ethics, genius and tremendous energy to everything he does.  Jim is also one of the most interesting, exciting and just plain fun people to be around.

I also greatly admire my friend Mike Calvo.  Against all odds he took on the David role against the Goliaths of the access technology industry and, especially recently, has started making tremendous inroads into markets previously thought to be blocked by the Freedom Scientific and Humanware juggernaut.  Mike, along with super hacker Matt Campbell, have managed to produce a credible screen reader without multimillion dollar budgets and sell it more affordably than any of their competition.  Mike also brings a passion and the values of the community to his products and I recommend to everyone that they check out  Freedom Box System Access if they haven’t done so already.

I admire John Gardner greatly.  His Tiger Braille embossor’s have set a new mark for quality and durability in that market segment.  John is also one of the smartest leaders of any access technology company and he brings a tremendously creative mind and a willingness to innovate to his business.  Unlike most access technology leaders, John is willing to do high risk experimental projects motivated by his own blindness, curiosity and desire to have such products for himself to use.  Along with Mike Calvo, John is one of only two blind people at the top of an assistive technology company and, as a result, his company shows the signs that the products are made for themselves to use with a lot of extra attention paid to quality and usability.

Last but not least, my admiration for a nearly unknown blind fellow in Oklahoma named Donnie Donne is nearly boundless.  Donnie came back from Vietnam blind and missing the better portion of both of his legs.  In the period since then he earned a degree in automotive engineering, not a typical field for a blind person, started a cattle ranch in Oklahoma which he still runs today with something on the order of 500 head of cattle and he participates in outdoor sports, a passion he and I share.  Visit the Paddle Odyssey website at the link above and surf over to the stories page to read a long piece I wrote explicitly about Donnie a couple of years back.  In brief, though, I must say I think that Donnie is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met and as a true American hero.

I also admire a tremendous number of people outside the blindness industry and, perhaps, one of these days I’ll do an article about them.

— End

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Happy New Year!

On the 15th of this month Blind Confidential will celebrate its first full year of publication.  I think we did a pretty good job of raising some issues that others seemed unwilling to discuss, but entertaining with some of our fictional stories and of creating a small community of small community ofBC irregulars.

Looking back on the year, I first wanted to thank everyone who has visited the site and left behind a comment or sent me an e-mail privately with their own take on the matter is that I write about.  Without such criticism I don’t think we would have gotten as good as some of our better pieces and without such encouragement I probably would have stopped this project a long time ago.

After a full year of doing this, I’m happy to report that I only received one communication on legal letterhead and a handful of threatening phone calls about the contents of some of the articles.  I don’t like to pull punches but as I said in a fairly recent post, I have perpetuated some of the myths held about the assistive technology industry that are plain and simply not true and in 2007, I will do my best to be more forthright.

I’ve also started a new company, ad-lib technology and kicked off the development of the website.  As a result, readers should be somewhat skeptical about my impartiality on some matters as although adlib technology makes products based on the principles of universal design and does not, therefore, compete directly with any of the assistive technology companies there will certainly be an intersection of our customers and those of the more established AT companies and, therefore, a conflict of interest between my duty as an author and my fiduciary responsibility to my business partners.  I have therefore decided to avoid writing about products similar to the ones we make in order to minimize any perceived conflict.

In general, though, I’ve had a terrific time writing Blind Confidential this past year and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these articles as well.

I want to put together a “best of” collection that people can download in a single zip file.  I will revisit these articles and do a more professional job of editing before reposting them.  They will probably turn out to be the “extended dance mix” versions of the originals.  Please send me the names or subjects of the articles that you liked the best and I’ll try to include them in the “best of” anthology.

Thanks for all your support and please have a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.

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