Acquisition Mania

It seems as though the AI^2 sale to investment bankers was not at all an isolated incident but, rather, the kick-off to a trend in major ownership changes in the blindness business. Recently, through Blind News (see link above) we’ve all read about the sale of Humanware to investors down under for an estimated $35 million but, over the weekend, the word around the campfire suggested to BC that a Kuwaiti firm called WAFRA acquired Freedom Scientific for an unknown price.

A google search for WAFRA came up with a page titled, “Wafra Investment Advisory Group, Inc.,” which describes the firm as being located in New York, having 35 employees, approximately $4 billion in assets under its management and that its owned by “The Public Institution for Social Security of Kuwait.” Poking around the WAFRA web site (which seems mostly accessible but does have some unlabeled navigation links on its pages) doesn’t suggest much about why it would find an AT company interesting as its investments seem highly diverse.

Most everything in Kuwait seems to have some attachment to the government so it’s no surprise that WAFRA is attached to a Kuwaiti government agency. I don’t know a lot about Kuwaiti investments but the Kuwait Fund, set up by the government to comply with Islamic law that requires charitable activities, spends a tremendous amount in altruistic ways throughout the world. Kuwait is a very wealthy nation and may find access technology to be an interesting component of a future for its socially conscious investments.

Of course, all of this still falls in the category of rumor. I don’t know who my sources got this information from and, as far as I actually know, FS may not have changed hands at all, there may not be any Kuwaiti investors involved and I may be printing a retraction later in the week. For now, all of my information remains in the category of “they said…” and all of my information has come purely in a verbal form from people who enjoy the gossip from around the industry.

Are these acquisitions good for the consumers? My opinion doesn’t really matter as it does not have any actual effect on outcomes. I’m neither a high roller investor nor an entrepreneur with a company to sell so I’m largely uncertain of how all of this will shake out in the coming years.

The AI^2 acquisition occurred too recently to use as much of a model for the future. The only new thing I’ve heard about new directions up in Vermont is that AI will be entering the hardware biz with its own CCTV sometime soon. This is also purely rumor and I’ve not verified its validity beyond simple hearsay. Of course, if true, I wonder why the world needs yet another CCTV? It seems like such 1985 technology.

The conglomeration of mergers and acquisitions that formed what we now call Humanware doesn’t seem to have had too great an effect on consumers. Humanware products don’t seem to have suffered, their prices seem similar and their overall approach to the market hasn’t, in my opinion, changed tremendously. Of course, I am only a distant observer of HW and have no practical experience with any of its products or services.

The three way merger that formed Freedom Scientific has brought the Florida company a much more international approach to doing business and many blind people who speak many different languages have benefited from JAWS expansion into far more corners of the world than would have been possible during the Henter-Joyce days. I also believe strongly that FS hardware has taken huge steps forward when compared with the tremendously stale products that Blazie was selling at the time of the merger.

I’ve criticized the entire blindness business for generally exhibiting a lack of creativity and innovation during the past few years but my readers should know that I work in the world of research where we do have desired outcomes but innovation and discovery trump virtually any business considerations. My series of failed start-ups likely results from a lack of practical business considerations showing up in my personal set of priorities and, therefore, I’m not likely the right person to ask about such decisions. While I think a lot of very cool things have occurred in the open source AT world, the commercial offerings from the AT industry remains far ahead of anything available for free.

So, if the rumors turn out to be unsubstantiated, remember, I told you that I got the information off of the AT gossip grapevine and the only reason I wrote about them here is to amuse myself and my readers with a maybe scenario.


Since Blind Confidential started, I have employed the “Blogger for Word” button bar plug in. This handy utility worked great in that it let me compose my posts in MS Word and simply hit the “Publish” button to shoot the text off to Blogger. When I wrote the “Passage to Newark” piece on Friday, I tried to post it but Blogger rejected me. I went to the web interface and learned that I had to switch to the new version of Blogger. To do so, I had to create a google account (I might just have been the last person in the free world not to have one already) and log in to the new Blogger.

To my chagrin, I have learned that the nice Word plug in doesn’t work with the new Blogger and, according to the help file on google, they have no plans on updating it. I’m not sure how other people who use JAWS (or other screen readers for that matter) find the Blogger web interface but I find that some controls read incorrectly and that I had to do a bit of guesswork to figure out where to put the text. I understand that google has been working on accessibility and I hope they improve the blogger pages soon. Until then, I ask that they please give us the Word button bar back as virtually all screen readers do a decent job in Word and, for me at least, it presented the simplest way of doing a blog.


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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.

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