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Myths in the Assistive Technology Field - Screen Readers and Magnifiers are Cash cows

23 March, 2007 by Peter Verhoeven

In an interview with Access World Chris Hofstader, former director of software development at Freedom Scientific, tells about the myths in the assistive technology industry.
Companies like AiSquared, Dolphin, Freedom Scientific, GW Micro and Humanware have enough money to develop good and stable software. But in practise making money seems to be more important.

AiSquared founder Ben Weiss leaves AI Squared after receiving more than $20 million. Founder of Pulse Data, currently Humanware, Dr Russel Smith killed in an aircrash while flying in his private jet.

There are more examples of founders of Assistive Technology companies who cashed there comany for millions of dollar.

In the same companies employees work hard with the intention to give visually impaired the best products with the best support, but they can not do more, than management of these companies let them do.

Many users of screen readers and screen magnifiers are accepting bugs in the software often causing daily computer crashes. They pay hundreds of dollars for upgrades, that does not fix any bug they reported.

More than 4% of some types of Humanware / Visuaide Daisy Players shipped in the Netherlands, like the Victor reader Vibe, had defects within some month.
What should consumer organisations say, if 4% of all Apple Ipod MP3 players crashed within a couple of month?

"When people who are blind buy a screen reader or personal digital assistant (PDA), for instance, and it crashes or continues to exhibit the same bug version after version, the consensus reaction is simply to work with what they have.
If my sighted niece bought an $800 piece of hardware or software, brought it home, and it crashed, she wouldn't tolerate it.
Consumers who are blind do tolerate it because they have accepted the most outrageous lie in

the assistive technology industry, namely, that the industry is too poor to fix problems and make better products and that there simply is not enough profit in this small market to do as much as talent may allow."
Said Chris Hofstader in Access World.

Hofstader said that the profit margin in the AT industry is 10 times the cost to the companies. Hofstader said that the cost for a PDA for the blind are $300 and with a braiille display $700. He also said "that blind people in the upper management of these companies aren't seen".

Hofstader:
"products that could benefit consumers who are blind are not brought to market because the profit is so negligible compared with the screen-reader cash cows."

Chris Hofstader left Freedom Scientific in 2004 because of repetitive stress injury (RSI).

To do something against the current AT practise, Hofstader formed Hofstader.com. A starting company that plans to bring together the talents of software developers who are blind to invent products that are useful to everyone and to provide open-source products.

Links:

Interview with Chris Hofstader

in Access World

hofstader.com Chris Hofstader's starting company WebSite

Chris Hofstader's Blind Confidential blog

Ted Henter's rebuttal on the interview

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