The AT Distribution Juggernaut

What do you get when the “invisible hand” of the free market gets disrupted by monopolistic practices and unfair trade restrictions?  The answer is: the blindness/AT industry today.

Most recently old friend but, more important for this story, the top Mobile Speak Pocket (MSP) dealer in the US, Earle Harrison has had his contract to sell MSP taken from him as a punishment for also selling HandiTech Braille displays.  This happened because Humanware, the company with exclusive master distribution rights to MSP in North America decided they felt unhappy that, although Earle represented MSP very well and had hundreds of happy customers for the innovative software from Code Factory, that his decision to also sell HandiTech displays instead of those from Humanware could not be accepted and they killed his contract.

It seems as though selling AT products these days requires a one way loyalty from the dealer toward the supplier which is not reciprocated at all.  Years ago, Microsoft lost a law suit when they told resellers that to carry popular MS titles like Word; they could not also carry products from WordPerfect.  This system of exclusivity was referred to as a secondary boycott and deemed illegal by the courts and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Humanware, an upstanding company, surely knows that such linkage of products and a secondary boycott is not legal in the US but must have forgotten to include an exclusivity clause in Harrison’s contract so they had to resort to behavior of questionable legality in order to keep one of their top dealers from also selling a product from an organization they perceive as a competitor.  While this doesn’t make much sense, it is what it is.

Who benefits by the weird economic theory that leads a distributor to act this way?  The consumers? Surely not, Earle was one of the most popular MSP dealers among the peeps; the innovators?  This can’t possibly be good for Code Factory; Who then?


I’ve been insanely busy since ATIA so the blog has gone a bit quiet lately.  I’ll be back to “normal” soon and posts will return to their regular rate.

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I'm an accessibility advocate working on issues involving technology and people with print impairment. I'm a stoner, crackpot, hacker and all around decent fellow. I blog at this site and occasionally contribute to Skepchick. I'm a skeptic, atheist, humanist and all around left wing sort. You can follow this blog in your favorite RSS reader, and you can also view my Twitter profile (@gonz_blinko) and follow me there.

6 thoughts on “The AT Distribution Juggernaut”

  1. I remember Earle from the days of JAWS for DOS. Wasn’t he also with GW Micro for awhile? BTW, I just listened to the podcast episode from Freedom Scientific all about JAWS and Windows VISTA. Once again I think FS is onto something good.

  2. I hope this isn’t an early sign that Humanware isn’t going to decide, like the Daleks in the science fiction show Doctor Who, that anyone who resists their quest for universal domination should be “exterminated.

    Maybe I’m being a bit paranoid here, but could this be the reason why Jonathan Mosen decided to join Freedom Scientific? Maybe he knew the company would take this path, so he decided to leave. I do not know Jonathan Mosen, so it could just be me getting carried away.

    What Humanware has done is pretty ludicrous. In a market as small as ours, attempts to squash competition would be a huge impact on the Assistive Technology market.

  3. Hey BC,

    I was talking to Steve Bennett from Dolphin at around the time that Mosen joined the lame shark company. He told me that Dolphin had just picked up another couple of dealers that were former lame shark dealers. Apparently, these lame shark dealers refused to sell the wonderful hardware that the lame shark company produces, the hardware that is rumoured to only work in one out of three units produced, and that the lame shark company had then dropped the dealers simply for refusing to sell their hardware.

    I just love that lame shark company. I wonder if Eric got on his high horse about loyalty in that instance too. If I ran that lame shark company then I’d be paying pretty close attention to the people within the lame shark company who go on about loyalty and getting rid of contractors and dealers, these people are starting to make a world of enemies for the lame shark company, enemies that might just have enough intellect and skils to go harpoon a lame shark.

  4. One of the bloggers said in part:
    “I just listened to the podcast episode from Freedom Scientific all about JAWS and Windows VISTA. Once again I think FS is onto something good.”

    I don’t think so! As usual, Freeman Scientology and Good-Will Micro are engaging in ghetto technology solutions. As a soon to be released white paper will illustrate, users of the aforementioned products will not even have access to many of the multimedia features of Windows Vista. Digital rights management is only one example where this video mirroring technology will limit what we can use.

  5. On the other hand, it looks like the three major assistive technology companies are guilty of at least one sin.

    Freedom Scientific is known for making products that aren’t the most reliable, and then charging an arm and a leg and a kidney, and possibly half a liver for.

    GWMicro is guilty of overhyping their productts. e.g. I remember reading on their web site that the Braille Sense was the first notetaker to provide everything you need in one single package.

    Now Humanware has decided that they want to dominate the assistive technology market with an iron fist.

  6. Hey BC:
    Interesting! Earle is one of the most upstanding members of the AT community. He believes in providing good services so much that he walked away from a government job to open his own company.

    It is sad to say that he no longer represents our products through no fault of his own. A nasty set of circumstances, to lengthy to go in to here, was the culprit.

    I don’t know all the details of this problem but I can personally attest to the fact that Earle has put MSP on the map here in the states. He is loved and appreciated by the folks at CF and I know that from day one he has struggled against Humanware to keep his dealership for MSP even though he is unquestionably great at packaging, selling, promoting, and supporting MSP.

    Things in the AT business aren’t going to change until we the community stand up for ourselves and make them change. The agencies that provide many of these tools to blind folks claim that we have a word in what we get. So, it’s simple really. Just say “NO” to those company’s that you know that try and use the the strength of leadership to manipulate instead of innovate. Stand up Blind Person! You have lots more power than you think!

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