SMA, RIP: Significant To the AT Industry, Not a Huge Change For Serotek

Today at the ATIA Conference, Mike Calvo, CEO of Serotek, announced that, as of today, “the Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA) is dead.” Apparently, Serotek had tombstones at their exhibit to mark their passing.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?

For years, the major players in the AT space–the people who make the screen readers for, generally, Windows-based computers, have sold “software maintenance agreements” (SMA’s), to their customers who wish to keep their screen readers up to date with the latest updates, features, and operating system and software application changes. These agreements differ somewhat in how they’re constructed, whether lasting for a year or a certain number of major version upgrades, and they cost somewhere between $150 and $350. Users are encouraged to buy a new agreement shortly before the old one expires, and not doing so usually means one has to pay for all the intervening upgrades from the one he owns to the current one. This could cost several hundreds of dollars. In any case, the SMA has been a pain in the ass for many a user of assistive technology.

So, Serotek’s announcement that they have dropped their SMA is significant, if only symbolically significant. More on that in a minute. Mike Calvo stated in an interview on their new Internet radio station that other companies may see the SMA as their bread and butter, but Serotek does not. Serotek seeks to add value in other ways, in ways that they believe their users will find relevant, useful, or at least enough fun to keep paying for (my words, not his, but, generally, his idea as I understand it).

Had Serotek done this a year or two ago, it may not have had the impact that I believe it will have now. Serotek is doing innovative things an really catching up and in some cases surpassing the more established players. System Access worked on 64-bit Windows before the “big guns” did. And let’s not even talk about the free web-based version of System Access, System Access To Go.

Now, they’ve laid down the gauntlet. They’ve issued the challenge. What will the other players in this space do? Will they drop their SMA’s and seek to keep their customers’ loyalty (and buying dollars) in other ways? Or will they continue to do what they are doing now?

I said earlier this was a significant statement, if only a symbolic one. While it’s true that Serotek had a software maintenance fee ($60/year, if memory serves), it’s also true that owners of the System Access software got their upgrades free as long as they were also members of the System Access Mobile Network, a $129/year subscription. Also, the software as a service offerings included software upgrades at no additional cost (not to mention access to the network). So there were a couple ways to not pay a software maintenance fee, and I suspect the number of people who just owned the software and not the network was a very small number. So in real terms, I doubt the SMA was a very small issue in Serotek’s real world dealings. Taking it away completely was, I suspect, no huge loss to them. As they said, the SMA isn’t (and wasn’t) their bread and butter. Rather, offering compelling reasons to use their other offerings and pay for them is what keeps them going. It’s what we in the rest of the world call capitalism. And clearly, they’re offering compelling products and services: easy remote control of your home PC’s, a completely portable and non-disruptive screen reader that does what most people want to do with their computers, an easy service with all the stuff you want right at your fingertips (great for the computer neophite), and all pretty inexpensively. I find it noteworthy that there are Web sites that don’t work with the big name screen readers, yet they work fine with System Access. That’s worth something in itself.

I’ll say it again. The AT space is changing rapidly. It’s changing for the better, as far as the average blind consumer is concerned. New companies are doing interesting, innovative things, and the prices are falling. You can now get a fully functioning machine, with a screen reader that will do most of what most people want to do (Email, surf the web, talk to their friends, write a letter, and so on), for under $500 if you look hard, under $600 if you don’t but are OK with putting all the software in yourself (or know someone who is), or under $800 if you want it to just work when you turn it on. Considering that the big boys charge more just for the software, this is even more significant than the death of the SMA, and it’s been a reality now for a little bit longer. Sure, you could get Linux running with Orca, let’s say, using Ubuntu, or Windows with NVDA, but you’d better be pretty comfortable with computers already. The price breakthrough is as significant, in its way, as Voiceover making any Mac not only usable, but eyes-free installable, without modification. This is the kind of development that’s changing this space, and the established players had better stay on their toes.

Easy-Peasy Activism: Petition Opposing Jerry Lewis’s “Humanitarian Oscar”

I received the below in my Email today, and I hope you will consider signing.


If you don’t normally receive emails from me, don’t worry, you’re not “on my list” now; this is an exception.

In fact, I haven’t really been doing activism for quite a while because of how sick I’ve been and other things I’m dealing with; however, this feels important to me, it’s easy for you to do, and numbers will count, so I’m making the effort to get the word out.
Please join me in asking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences not to give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2009.

Please do these two simple things:
1. Go to and sign the petition, and then,
2. Send copies of this email to your friends, family, and colleagues.

Why? Because Lewis is an anti-humanitarian. He has c onsistently made remarks that are offensive, demeaning, and dehumanizing to and about disabled people and gay people as well as promoting sexist and antifeminist attitudes about women.

You might think that his efforts on behalf of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) which promote the idea of people with disabilities as pitiful are simply misguided, but well-intentioned, but this is not the case. For decades, disability rights advocates — including former MDA poster children who appeared in his telethons — have tried every conceivable tactic to engage Lewis in dialogue about a more empowering and respectful way to help people with disabilities, one that focuses on rights, not pity. Lewis, with his considerable international fame, fortune, and clout, has responded with personal attacks and slurs.

A few examples:

– In 1990, Lewis wrote that if he had muscular dystrophy and had to use a wheelchair, he would “just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person.”
– During the 1992 Telethon, he said that people with MD, whom he always insists on calling “my kids,” “cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.”
– During a 2001 television interview, Lewis responded to telethon protesters: “Pity? You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!”

Jerry Lewis has also made derogatory comments about women and gay men. His outdated attitudes and crude remarks are dehumanizing, not humanitarian. If you want more details, see below. Otherwise, please sign the petition.
Thank you,
Sharon Wachsler
P.S. In addition to what’s below, if you read the comments some posted with their signatures, you’ll see that some former “poster children” who had personal experiences of Lewis’s telethons were hurt by his actions.

More on Lewis’s Lack of Humanity. . . .

– During the September 2007 MDA telethon, Lewis called a member of the TV crew an “illiterate faggot.” In October 2008, during a Sydney press conference, according to the Aussie newspaper Sx: “‘Oh, cricket? It’s a fag game. What are you, nuts?’ Lewis replied before camply brandishing an imaginary cricket bat.”

– I happened to catch Lewis on a TV entertainment news program talking about the candidates during Democratic primaries. Lewis said Hillary Clinton should not be considered a viable candidate because it was not a woman’s place to run the country, that the US “isn’t ready for a woman President.” He defended this statement by pointing to the (frivolous, “cute”) ac tivities of his young daughter as the more appropriate interests for women.

From Barb Bechdol of Chicago Disability Pride: He said publicly that people with disabilities live half-lives, and if people in wheelchairs don’t want pity, they should stay home. Whether or not you have disabilities, please join the protest of a person who used his considerable influence in a most inhumane way!

From Valerie Brew-Parrish:

– I urge all of you to watch Mike Ervin’s DVD, “The Kids Are All Right,” a documentary about Mike & his sister Cris being former poster kids. Mr. Lewis has done grave harm to our rights. He has maliciously attacked Mike Ervin in the press and tried to sue Mike & his sister for questioning MDA.

– Mr. Lewis also attacked Evan Kemp for questioning where the MDA monies went & actually requested the first President Bush to fire Kemp from his position as chairperson of EEOC.

– Lewis also got Diane Piastro, a wonderful syndicated disability columnist thrown out of many newspapers when she questioned MDA tactics.

– One more tirade: For a long time MDA refused to purchase vents for people & their camps discriminated against two former campers with MD. See past issues of the Ragged Edge. Anyway, this is our opportunity to say we don’t approve of Jerry Lewis!

From Lawrence Carter-Long:

This petition has been launched to object to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ announcement that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 2 2, 2009.

During his decades of hosting the Labor Day Telethon, Jerry Lewis has helped to perpetuate negative, stereotypical attitudes toward people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities. Jerry Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity as a fundraising strategy. Disabled people want RESPECT and RIGHTS, not pity and charity.

In 1990, Lewis wrote that if he had muscular dystrophy and had to use a wheelchair, he would “just have to learn to try to be good at being a half a person.” During the 1992 Telethon, he said that people with MD, whom he always insists on calling “my kids,” “cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.” Comments like these have led disability activists and our allies to protest against Jerry Lewis. We’ve argued that he uses the Telethon to promote pity, a counterproductive emotion which undermines our social equality. Here’s how Lewis responded to the Telethon protesters during a 2001 television interview: “Pity? You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!”

Jerry Lewis has also made derogatory comments about women and gay men. His outdated attitudes and crude remarks are dehumanizing, not humanitarian.

Therefore, we the undersigned support the actions and arguments of the coalition group The Trouble with Jerry. We protest the Academy’s characterization of Jerry Lewis as a “humanitarian.” And we ask that the Academy cancel its plans to give Lewis the Hersholt Humanitarian Award.



Sign here:

Posted by:
Lawrence Carter-Long
Director of Advocacy Disabilities Network of NYC
548 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012

PETA’s Vice President: We don’t want to take your dog away | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times

PETA’s Vice President: We don’t want to take your dog away | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times

This, in particular, makes me unspeakably angry:

There will never be a perfect world, but in the world we’re in now, we support some working dog situations and decry others. Hearing dog programs that pull dogs from animal shelters and ensure that they are in safe and loving homes have our stamp of approval; they live with the family for their entire life, they learn interesting things, enjoy life, and love helping. On the other hand, we oppose most seeing-eye-dog programs because the dogs are bred as if there are no equally intelligent dogs literally dying for homes in shelters, they are kept in harnesses almost 24/7, people are prohibited from petting or playing with them and they cannot romp and run and interact with other dogs; and their lives are repeatedly disrupted (they are trained for months in one home and bond, then sent to a second, and after years of bonding with the person they have “served,” they are whisked away again because they are old and no longer “useful”). We have a member who is blind who actually moved states to avoid “returning” her beloved dog. We feel that the human community should do more to support blind people, and give dogs a break. A deaf person can see if a dog has a medical issue such as blood in her urine, a blind person living alone cannot, and so on.

Excuse me?

How about you actually know what you’re talking about before you spew?

Thank you.

Building a Wifi Radio Out of a Cheap Router

For a long time, I’ve been interested in those Internet radios. You know, looks like a radio, tunes stations from the Internet using your wifi Internet connection, acts like a radio, ostensibly to allow one to listen to streaming content without tying up/sitting in front of a computer. There were only two real problems I had: 1) they cost more than I really wanted to pay, and 2) even if I did want to pay the freight ($150 to $300) for one, rumblings are that the things are fairly inaccessible. Well, that’s a shame, since many of them, such as the ones based on Reciva’s platform, are GNU/Linux underneath with proprietary bits added. So it’s conceivable that it could be made accessible if someone wanted to bother, though not easily owing to the aforementioned proprietary bits. But then, there’s the Sharpfin project. Great idea, but it’s moving slowly, due to lack of smart programmer types interested in the project. I’m interested, just not smart. And besides, I want to spend less. Or at least, feel like I have.

So I did some more searching and found two similar projects. This one is very detailed, detailed enough for me to follow it even, so that’s where I started. Although, I found this one first. I expect I’ll borrow from it as well.

But there’s one little thing. Being blind, and, more pressing, all thumbs, I wasn’t about to tackle adding a serial port to my Asus WL-520GU router. Not only do I not need or want an LCD, I’m sure I’d toast something, and I didn’t have anyone nearby that would like to tackle it either, I’m sure. So, I’ll have an uglier box with more junk on the USB connection. No matter.

So, I didn’t tackle the hardware mods, nor did I do anything about the LCD display. Which meant I had to telnet in and do everything over the network. When I goofed up the channel assignment, that set me back a little bit, but not for long. Thank god for spare ethernet cables. So, a couple of speedbumps later, I actually have something that plays music! It isn’t pretty, but if I add things to the playlist, they play. Ultimately, here’s what I want to do:

  • Control the player from a USB numeric keypad
  • Have a speech synthesizer announce the current stream or song when asked (via the numeric keypad, using espeak
  • Possibly use vlc or mplayer with no output (just the bits that play the audio) in order to get Windows Media streams as well as MP3/ogg/etc.

Obviously, this will all take some time, and I’m sure I have a lot to learn to make it work, but it should be a fun diversion. Anyone wanna play with this with me?