HumanWare: Final Resolution

This morning, I received a call from Renee Gosselin, HumanWare’s customer service manager, regarding our email communications over the past week.

First, she apologized several times for the way Humanware communicated with me. She was on vacation and was unaware that no one had called me prior to sending the email from last Friday. Reading my second email must have clarified this to her, anyway, as it is true that no one had called to tell me what the problem was. This, Renee tells me, is what was supposed to have happened. In theory apparently, before the email I got went out, I was supposed to have received a phone call. I never received one. Even so, she assures me that their email template will be updated.

Second, my problem was liquid damage around the play button. She explained that she was able to examine the damage; I’m not sure if this was through the mentioned pictures of the damage or the actual unit. So, I guess it must have gotten splashed at some point. Fair enough. She explained that sometimes, such damage can be easily repaired, but sometimes not, and sometimes they will repair rather than replace if they are easily able to do so, although such damage is not covered under warranty, being as it’s accidental damage and not a product defect. (I did not suggest that perhaps some additional protection against liquid damage might go into the product design…like sealing the spaces around buttons maybe?)

Third, she has offered to replace my Stream free of charge, due to the poor way this case was handled on their part. I should be receiving this replacement sometime next week.

Finally, I thanked her for resolving this case, and for her apology for the way this was handled. I then asked specifically about the problems I mentioned with deaf-blind customers not getting assistance when they called using relay operators. She said that this shouldn’t be happening, and that they even do internal calls where they set up test calls pretending to be relay operators. All the techs and service people should be aware of how to handle these calls, and it’s important that they do so, since they do have deaf-blind customers and even specific products for the deaf-blind. They even have at least one deaf-blind person in product development, so clearly this shouldn’t be a problem. She suspects that there may be a problem with the receptionists, who are sometimes students, or in any case, may not be waiting long enough or don’t handle relay calls correctly, and she will address this with that department. Finally, she tells me that any such problems should be brought directly to her attention, and she will handle these concerns personally. She did not, however, give me an extension or a direct email address. She wrote to me from the info at HumanWare address. Also, individual email addresses appear to take the form first name.last name at humanware, so one can try that route.

Renee seems very sincere about changing their customer service interactions. I’d like to take her at her word on this, but I think it’s incumbent on the rest of us to do so as well. If you have less than great experiences with Humanware’s customer service, get in touch with Renee. Hold her to her commitment. I, for one, am eager for their service to equal the quality of their products, and I look forward to that happening more.

HumanWare Follow-up: Too Little Too Late? You Be The Judge

Four business days after my initial email from my previous post went out to Humanware, I finally received a response. Without further comment, as I think both their response and my response to it speak for themselves,, here is the latest exchange. I referred to Renee by first name, in part because I am informal, and in part because calling a male Ms. or a female Mr. would probably be even more offensive.

Humanware’s representative said:

Mr. Brannan,
Let me start off by saying that I am sorry to hear that we offended you.   We do appreciate  your constructive criticism and we will take the time to re-evaluate  both our marketing and email messages. Please be assured that HumanWare cares about its customers and we are determined to continue to offer quality products and service.   Feedback from our customers will help us achieve this objective.
Sincerely,
 

                                                       
   
Renée Gosselin
    Directeur, Relations Clients
    Customer Relations Director
   
 

I responded:

Hello Renee:

Thank you for your note, and for your apology on behalf of HumanWare. I’m sorry to say, however, that you seem to have missed at least some of the point. Perhaps it’s my fault for not being clear, so I will attempt to clarify.

First, you failed to answer the important question relating to my case specifically, which should be simple, seeing as how you have pictures. What, exactly, was the damage to my particular unit? I still don’t know, and, of course, this is a fairly major point of contention.

Second, while it’s true that I was offended on a personal level, it is as true, and more important, that I felt that not just I, but your entire blind customer base, was disrespected. You disrespected us, not only by not providing information that it should have been obvious would have been helpful, but you failed to provide said information while at the same time being accusatory and confrontational. Just one of those two things would be bad enough on its own, but both in the same Email is pretty inexcusable, especially from a company that should know better.

In part, your email says:
“Please be assured that HumanWare cares about its customers and we are determined to continue to offer quality products and service.”

Unfortunately, I have no proof that this statement is true. Your saying so doesn’t make it so. In fact, since the community has gotten wind of our exchange, I have received several public affirmations that, in fact, quite the opposite is true, and that bad customer service is not uncommon. I had at least one person tell me that she now refuses to purchase Humanware products because service personnel refused to accept calls from a relay operator for the deaf, and that she couldn’t get service until a hearing friend called on her behalf. While this was, apparently, several years ago, it certainly does not back up your claim that HumanWare cares about its customers. It makes my exchange seem petty and insignificant by comparison.

Again, thank you for writing, though I would appreciate a fuller explanation of the damage not covered under your warranty, if only for my own education.

Cordially,

What To Do About HumanWare?

Back in August, I purchased a second generation Victor Reader Stream from HumanWare at a promotional price. While I thought that the included accessories were a bit stingy (a case with no belt clip and no SD card), I thought the device itself was well designed and well executed. The user interface was a worthy follow-up to the first generation. It has easy-to-use controls that are intuitive, and really, I liked mine so much that I often used it instead of other players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone.

Back in February, my Stream developed a problem. Some important controls (play, fast forward, rewind, and the sleep timer button) started acting strangely. They would either intermittently not work, or they would intermittently act as though multiple buttons were pressed at the same time, or one button was pressed multiple times. Both hoping the problem was a fluke and would clear itself up, and also because I had more important things to deal with at the time, I put the player aside. When, recently, I pulled it out again and the problem persisted, and my other irons in the fire were well into resolution, I called HumanWare tech support and sent my Stream off for repair. They received it Tuesday, and I received the following Email from them today:

Recently you sent us equipment for repair.

After evaluation,  the technician found out that the damages caused to your unit cannot be repaired.
We will have to replace the unit.
He also found out that these damages are not manufacturing issue and so cannot be covered under warranty.  We took some pictures.  If you need copy of them, please let us know.

Please find attached a copy of the quotation for a replacement unit.  As soon as we receive your purchase order or payment we will proceed the order and the unit will be sent to you.

Please take note that after receiving this quote, if you do not wish to proceed with the replacement unit, HumanWare will return the unrepaired unit and freight will be at your expense or a diagnostic fee, if applicable.  In case you do not require the unrepaired unit back, HumanWare will dispose of it for you. Failure to reply will lead to unit disposal after a period of 3 months following quote issuance.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the customer service department.

Sincerely,

Customer Service,
HumanWare Inc.

My first reaction wasn’t disappointment over my problem not being covered under warranty. (I did read the attached PDF and saw that I can get my out of warranty problem replaced for half the cost of a new unit.) No, my first reaction was to marvel at the sheer rudeness of the email. The problem wasn’t a manufacturing problem, it’s your fault, and we’ve got pictures to prove it. Rude and confrontational all on its own, but remember, this is a company whose primary audience includes people who are blind. This specific product’s main users, and buyers, are people who are blind. Those would be people who cannot see pictures, no matter how damning the evidence.

Of course, if this were merely an oversight, it might be excused, but it’s a pattern. HumanWare has put out several marketing campaigns with product teasers that were purely visual in nature. Hey, look at the picture of our new product! We won’t tell you what it is, nor will we describe the picture, but you’ll love it! Oh, by the way, it’s a braille display, we find out later. Really?

I should stress here that I don’t find fault with their conclusion necessarily. After all, I could have accidentally done something or other to break the thing. That sort of thing happens sometimes, in spite of our best intentions. My problem is with their delivery, which struck me as abysmally bad customer service. I therefore replied with the following:

Hello:

Thank you for your Email regarding my damaged Victor Reader Stream. While I appreciate your telling m that the repair is not covered under warranty, not being a manufacturing defect, I can’t say I appreciate your delivery. You have pictures and are happy to send them? Great! This would do me, as a blind person, and by the way one of your primary markets, any good, exactly how? Would it really have taken you that much more time to have explained, in plain language, what the problem was? “Unfortunately, it looks as though your Stream got splashed with water.” Or “Unfortunately, we found foreign matter in your play button.” Or perhaps, “Unfortunately, a peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot.”? Really, an Email that says, “Sorry, it’s your problem, and we have pictures to prove it” is rude and confrontational, besides being terribly unhelpful to a blind person, who is, I may stress, part of one of your primary markets. I would suggest that this is an unacceptably poor level of customer service.

Allow me, if I may, to craft an Email that you may use in future dealings of this nature. I’ll even give this to you at absolutely no cost. Feel free to use it in full or in part. Do not, however, use the Email you sent me in future dealings of this nature.

———-Cut———-

Dear [Insert customer name here]:

We are writing to follow up with you regarding your recent repair request, with RMA #XXXXXX.

After inspecting your [product name], our technicians have determined that the damage cannot be repaired, and a full replacement of the unit will be required. We found the following problems:

* There was foreign matter dropped into the controls.
* Liquid damage from [water, coffee, etc.] is apparent.
* A peanut butter sandwich will not fit in the SD card slot. Please do not attempt to put one there.
* A crack in the control board indicates a drop from a significant height.
[And so forth]

If you wish to inspect the damage as outlined above, we can provide photos upon request.

Unfortunately, this damage is not covered under the limited manufacturer’s warranty, as it is not a manufacturing defect. Please see the full statement of warranty here:
[insert URL to limited warranty]

Since your [product] was returned to us within the warranty period, we are prepared to offer you a non-warranty replacement at half retail price plus applicable shipping and tax. Please reference [invoice number] when you phone if you would like to take advantage of this offer. For your records, we have attached an accessible PDF with full offer details. This offer is good for 90 days from today.

Alternatively, if you wish to have your damaged [product] back, we require that you pay return shipping charges. If you do not wish to take advantage of our replacement offer and do not want your damaged [product] back, we will be happy to responsibly dispose of it for you at no additional charge.

If you have any questions or concerns, please phone or Email. We are available weekdays from [range of hours], Eastern time.

We appreciate your business. Thank you for being a HumanWare customer.

Sincerely,
Joe Schmoe
HumanWare Customer Service

———-CUT———-

Let me stress here that I have no doubt that you really do have pictures of the damage. I also have no problem believing that the problem is not covered under the warranty terms, not because I know what caused the problem (I don’t), but because, let’s face it, stuff happens, sometimes stuff even happens of which one is unaware. It would, therefore, be really helpful if you could tell me, in plain language, the nature of the problem, so that I know what caused the keys to do the strange things they were doing. I would really appreciate this information.

I really love the Stream. It’s a fantastic product. It does what it does very, very well. It is well designed and easy to use, and I’ve found that I have started using it in favor of other book players I have around here, including ones on the iPhone. So, yes, it really is a great product for the tech savvy blind guy, too. I would even like to get a second one for my wife, who has just lost all of her remaining vision, has very little feeling in her fingers, and is not at all technology friendly. She has a first gen Stream and likes it a lot, and I know she’d like the new one even more. Unfortunately, due to the nature of your communication, I honestly don’t know what I want to do about either a replacement or a second unit. How can I, in good conscience, support a company with so little regard for its target audience? After all, your Email is only one of several such instances; I reference the several years of product teasers (at least one of which was for a braille display) that were purely visual in nature. Can I, indeed *should* I, support a company who, essentially, thumbs its collective nose at the population it purports to serve?

Cordially,

Whether HumanWare was right or wrong in their determination isn’t really the point. Well, I guess it kind of is, because I have no idea either way, having been given no information about it. But even if they were correct in their assessment, their handling of how I was updated on my repair status left pretty much everything to be desired. In short, their Email was a great example of how not to do customer relations. If you do customer relations this way, stop it. Please. Just don’t.

I gotta pay how much to use Facebook?!

Today, GW Micro announced a new product called SocialEyes. This is a piece of software that is meant to give blind Windows users a more accessible, consistent interface to Facebook and all of its features. As you can imagine, discussion of this new offering on the GW-Info Email list was quite heated, both for and against. Some people said that it was ridiculous to charge for access to Facebook, and it would be well to just include better Web support in Window-Eyes to begin with, while others said that those guys should be grateful for the work that GW is doing and quit their gritching. This is a somewhat simplified accounting of the discussion, but it’s the usual sort of thing. Find below my contribution to the discussion.

Hi,

My comments about product naming aside, I guess for better or worse, I’m weighing in, too.

OK, GW Micro asks what people want to see better access to. Consumers (you and me, except I didn’t) respond. GW listens. This is excellent, actually, since GW Micro listened to the needs and wants of their users and put something together to accommodate.

But it’s too expensive! Sighted people don’t have to pay $50 to use Facebook.

Neither do you. What you do have the option to pay for is something to make using Facebook more convenient. You can choose to have that convenience, or not. Yes, convenience. You know those little stores on the corner? Like 7-11, Circle K, Diamond Scamrock, places like that? They’re called “Convenience stores”, and their prices are generally higher than similar or identical goods in a big box store or grocery store. Why? You’re paying for the convenience of not having to go all the way to a grocery store, search the shelves, and get what you want. You’re paying for the convenience of a short drive and a quick nip into the store for a gallon of bread and a loaf of milk. In similar fashion, subscribing to this app, or the Socializer in SAMNet, or GW Connect, can be viewed in a similar way.

Beyond that though, full disclosure. It’s no secret that I work for another AT company, I’m fairly sure that most people probably know which one. Even so, I’m a Window-Eyes user. I’m also an NVDA user. And, of course, a System Access user. And a Mac user. And an iPhone user. And to a limited extent, a Chromebook user. Yep. Fingers in lots of pies. Anyway, all that to say, I have some idea of what goes into making some of this stuff go, especially as concerns things like keeping up with the ever-changing landscape of things like Facebook, things that change on seemingly nothing more than a whim. Keepin up with that takes people. People gotta eat. In our current system of doing things, this means money, and that’s got to come from somewhere. If this was a do once and forget it kind of deal, that would be fantastic, but it’s not. Anyone who’s ever looked at the Facebook site from month to month, even week to week, knows that. So if the product is needed, and enough people see the value in it, it will get bought and maintained and succeed. If not, it will fail, and the developers will go off and do something else for a while. Pretty simple. TANSTAAFL and all that.

Someone, or someones, mentioned NVDA. NVDA is fantastic. It’s well done, it’s matured nicely, it does lots of great things, and it’s free. Let’s be clear though, NVDA is free software in the GNU definition of free. This means that you have the freedom to redistribute it, to modify it, to share your modifications. It also happens to be no cost, or “free as in beer”, but it doesn’t have to be in order to be “free software”. But I digress somewhat.

You’ll note that development of NVDA, even though it’s free, takes money as well. Some of this money is had through grants from big companies. These grants, to some extent, likely also drive the direction it goes (i.e. it will have better support for Adobe Reader because Adobe threw money at them). Some of this money comes from you, the end user, which is why you are asked to donate every time you update. You can choose to, or not, but understand that someone, somewhere, has to pay something. Even if no on pays anything, the developers pay in cost of their time, which could be spent doing something that did pay them. TANSTAAFL, again.

Would I like everything to be free and work for us without any extra effort? Damn skippy I would. In my ideal world, we wouldn’t need companies like GW Micro, Serotek, Freedom Giantific, and the rest, because access would be built in, would not be an afterthought, and would work 100% of the time for all populations who need it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality, and it likely will never be the reality. Sure, it’s a lot better now. The fact that we’re even entertaining this discussion, that we can even think about expecting such access, would have been unheard of five years ago. It will likely get even better in the future, and a day when universal access is the norm rather than the exception seems likely to me. (This will present its own set of problems, but this post is long enough already.) And anyway, that day isn’t here yet.

So, yeah. Buy it if it’s useful and convenient for you. Don’t if it isn’t. It’s really pretty simple. Even though I have the Socializer, and even though I use lots of other things, it is likely that I’ll buy it myself, if for no other reason than to have another option, because it’s convenient.

A Note of Thanks to Amazon

I just sent the following note to Amazon, and hopefully it goes to the right place. Last time I sent a note to them about Kindle, it was a lot less happy than this one.

You can send your own feedback to kindle-feedback@amazon.com . Please do, actually. Here’s mine.

Hi,

It’s been a week, and I’ve been remiss.

I’ve been remiss in expressing my sincere thanks for the accessibility improvements for blind readers that have been made in the latest version of the Kindle app for iOS. I’m sure that you’ve seen the excitement surrounding this, and I hope you’ve gotten many notes of appreciation and thanks.

Since I connected to the Internet for the first time 22 years ago (yes, really), I have seen that the Internet could,and would, afford more access to more information to people with print disabilities than we’ve ever had. This has been true, in spite of many artificial barriers that we’ve had to conquer from time to time. But even with as much access to information, not to mention pleasure reading, that we’ve had due to having open and ubiquitous access to the Internet, we knew that there was still much that was off limits to us. Now, with ebooks surpassing print books in popularity, this is a new world. The Amazon Kindle app becoming usable for print disabled iPhone users, it is safe to say without any danger of hyperbole, truly is the beginning of our information age. This is to us a bit like Gutenberg’s printing press, where we have books available to us on a scale that was absolutely unheard of two weeks ago. Even better, it is technologically possible for us to have these books in braille or synthesized speech or large print, as our needs dictate. (The high cost of braille displays is another matter that needs addressed, but I won’t address that here.)

It’s true that we want, and need, access to hardware Kindle devices, not to mention Kindle on other supported platforms, for the field to be truly level. With this recent release, I feel confident that Amazon will indeed deliver on this need. Had you asked me two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been so confident, but I’m glad that you guys took the time to do it right, instead of hurrying to do it right now. Here’s hoping for more in this vein, although hopefully in a shorter time. I, for one, would love to whip out a Kindle full of books, although, I must admit, I’m very content with a phone full of Kindle.

If you’d like to read my thoughts on the NFB press release about the release (obviously, I have some, and they don’t seem to agree with it by much), you can do so here:
http://buddy.brannan.name/blog/2013/05/amazon-kindle-accessibility-what/

The Budcast: Chromebook Accessibility

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so I figured it was about time.

In this episode of the Budcast, which is un-numbered because I can’t count that high, we look at the initial setup of the Chromebook and the state of its accessibility. Google has asked several people in the blind/VI community to assist with accessibility testing, and I was lucky enough to be one of those.

While there are a couple rough edges, and a show stopper or two (which we don’t get to in this episode), Google has a great start on making the Chromebook accessible. We do see a couple of those “rough edges” in this podcast, and I’m sure we’ll find more. Hopefully though, as time goes on and more of us have our hands on this stuff, things will improve.

As ever, you can contact me via Email or Twitter with any comments or questions.

Enjoy!

Thoughts On Technology and Artificial Sight

Today, in reading through one of the far too many Email lists I’m on, I saw this article posted. I read it with some interest. I mean, it’s technology. It’s electronic. The future is now. Right? We’re living science fiction today. OK, you get the idea. Then, I read this one-line response to the article. It said, and this is a direct quote, “No thanks.”

No thanks?

No elaboration?

OK, we’re all entitled to an opinion, and, like myself, I’m sure the poster of this particular opinion is an expert on her opinion. But the inevitable question, in my mind anyway, is “Why not?” To flesh that out a bit more, I’d ask, and in fact, did ask, this way:

Why not? I think it’s possible that such sensory substitution could be useful some day. I also feel fairly confident that such sensory substitution won’t replace sight or turn blind people into sighted people. If such technology could be developed and implemented such that adjustment to it would be fairly straightforward and take relatively little time from our otherwise productive and busy lives, what objection do you have?

Hearing none, apart from “Everything else works fine”, this time paraphrasing, plus another pointing out that such a lot of noise or music for everything we “saw” would be distracting and bothersome, I asked:

By way of playing devil’s advocate, no one says that it has to be sound substitution that’s used in some eventually useful device, as opposed to something that’s merely a proof of concept. For instance, there’s the thing that projects images onto the tongue. This would not be my preferred medium, as I flap my gums too much to want anything to interfere with that. Still, nothing says that the sensory substitution has to be sound, or for that matter, has to be in any way connected to the ears. It could be sound via bone conduction like the Aftershokz headphones, for instance. Maybe someone will do something useful with the Flanagan Neurophone. What do I know? I’m just saying I think it’s a mistake to dismiss any such developments out of hand. Besides, nothing says one would have to use something like this all the time, nor that alternative techniques of blindness will overnight become obsolete or lose their effectiveness. But if at some later date such a technology could be implemented such that it is useful in whatever circumstance, and could be trained with a minimum of interruption to our already busy lives, what’s the objection? Especially f it could be turned off when it is either not useful or distracting in some situation?

People ask me occasionally, as I’m sure someone asks most blind people at least occasionally, if I wouldn’t like to be able to see. When I was a kid, I never gave it much thought, but adults seemed to want this thing for me, so I guess I thought it would be all right, but it was never something I just yearned to have. As I grew up (or grew older, anyway), I had more occasion to think about this and understand what it means. C’mon, let’s face it, when you’re a kid, someone asks you something like that, do you really know what it means? I don’t think I did. The conclusion I came to was, no, I didn’t really have this burning desire or need to be able to see. I now lead a full and productive life. I have a family, a job, fulfilling hobbies, more fulfilling relationships and friendships, in short, all the best things that life has to offer, all the things that really matter. How would sight change these things for me, or make them better? Besides, I’d have all sorts of adjustments to make; no one knows how to see, it’s something you learn as a baby, as a toddler, and as you grow up and integrate this thing into your life. I’d have to learn, not only what things look like, but how to do pretty much everything, from reading to cooking to walking around and not being scared that something is going to hit me. Sure, sometimes being blind is a pain in the ass, but in reality, the only thing that I really wish were different is that it’s a pain not to be able to drive a car. And that’s mostly because driving is so necessary to society. Don’t get me started on what people seem to feel is their God-given right to be out on the road, or on how horribly inadequate public transportation is, or any number of things. But I digress. Anyway, if I were to suddenly get eyesight, this wouldn’t change for me.

When I express such a view to people, I get one of two reactions. Shock that I wouldn’t want such a monumentally wonderful thing as eyesight, or else understanding. Maybe it’s pretend understanding but shock in reality, that might be the third reaction.

So, in a way, I see what the “no thanks” people are saying. But in another way? A couple dozen hours isn’t that much time. So, if some method for some sensory substitution were developed that would minimally impact my life, requiring a minimum of training, and would be actually useful, would I do it? Maybe, I’d have to weigh the benefits versus the cost in time and so on, and also the potential gain in opportunity, knowledge, freedom, and so forth. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, though, because every step leads to other things. Maybe some day we’ll have Geordie’s Star Trek visor, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

If some such technology became widely available, and useful, and if I could turn it off when it got annoying, I’d probably do it. Heck, I’d probably participate in a research study for such a technology, if only because it would be interesting, and again, if I could turn it off.

Two things that would provide some food for thought if you haven’t read them. One is a factual account, the other is science fiction, and i bring it up only because its portrayal of what adjustment to sight might be like seems unrealistic on several levels. First, the speed at which the adjustment occurs, second, the fixation on Helen Keller and the things the blind character couldn’t do blind but then was expected to pick up sighted. But besides that, they’re really good books.

I’m not going to link to all three books in the trilogy, but if you like the first one, you have to finish the other two also.

Would love your thoughts on this, so keep those cards and letters coming.