As you know, Serotek is not a conventional assistive technology provider. In fact, we take pride in our willingness to think outside the box and leverage products that make a distinct mark on the customers we serve, but, the price of pulling away from the pack means succumbing to all manner of speculation perpetuated by competitors and by customers who rely on bias reviews to direct their own decisions. We have never shied away from defending our approach to development, and so following in that tradition, today we address a question that comes to our attention from time to time: Is System Access a full screen reader?
Well, to begin on common ground, let’s first start by defining what a screen reader is. In the way of an impartial source, we can use the American Foundation of the Blind, which sets forth the following:
“Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer. A screen reader is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. The user sends commands by pressing different combinations of keys on the computer keyboard to instruct the speech synthesizer what to say and to speak automatically when changes occur on the computer screen.”
Well, if we’re going by these fundamental guidelines, then System Access is most certainly a full screen reader. Customers can install our product and interact with a growing number of popular applications that facilitate e-mail, word processing, web browsing and other key activities that are essential to daily tasks inside and outside of the office or classroom.
In its early days, it would have been fair to ask if our product could feasibly rise to the challenge of a traditional screen reader. Then again, we never promised more functionality than the product delivered. We understood that in its infancy, the product formerly known as Freedom Box that later included System Access 1.0 was a rudimentary solution with limited use of the off screen model to interact with applications, but even in 2002, many years after the birth of competing products, Freedom Box was hailed by the Teachers.Net Gazette as a product that “opened a new door for the blind and visually impaired, offering a new found freedom and a new kind of life.” That was high praise for a product that was so basic compared to the innovation we see today and when compared to the screen readers that had already been enjoying a prominent spotlight in the market.
There are at least three factors that feed people’s hesitation to see System Access for what it is:
First, customers respond to marketing tactics that feed on human instinct. When you are sick, and when given a choice between the less expensive and the more expensive treatments, your instinct is to want the more expensive treatment because the higher cost must surely mean that the results are better. The same is true of technology. Accessibility concerns aside, you could buy the new Kindle Fire, or you could put down more money and buy the more expensive iPad because the majority says the latter outperforms the former. So it comes as no surprise that if competing screen readers cost $895 and $1,095, the experience must surely be sweeter. We often hear that not all is peace in paradise, but it’s not our place to comment on other companies’ ability to live up to expectations.
Second, there is a persistent view that a product cannot be considered a full screen reader if it does not allow for scripting. Such a view presumes that the absence of this feature was an oversight rather than an implementation by design. For the moment, Serotek does not buy into the practice of opening its product to scripting languages, and even if this were to change in the future, it would not be a dominant focus of our development.
To understand this aspect of our approach, it’s important to recognize our distinction between user interface and user experience. User interface provides users with a core platform and enough tools to make that platform work for the specific needs of the end user. The manufacturer admits it does not know what the user might want to do with the product, so it provides scripting language support to help advanced users manipulate the platform to fit their needs. Such an approach is by no means a bad one, but it relies on users to devote many hours to learning the scripting language. It also sometimes requires many dollars to gain training if a consumer wants assistance with using the language to interact with and configure access to complex applications.
On the other hand, user experience boils down to nothing more complicated than creating a product that, to borrow Apple’s philosophy, just works. Serotek has never claimed to outpace competing products on all fronts. We continue to cultivate a product that works very well for the most popular applications like ITunes, various e-mail clients, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome and a growing range of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. The scope of what System Access can deliver might be painted as limited, but limitations are only as concrete as the real world use of the consumer in question. System Access need not be configurable through scripting if the product is already delivering a solid experience for what it is advertised to accomplish.
Finally, Serotek has a specific customer in mind as it develops new products and services. We are thinking of the consumer who cannot afford to pay for competing products or for the software maintenance agreements to keep those products updated. Starting with monthly payment plans as little as $9.95 per month, System Access is priced well below other options on the market, and we are the only company with enough faith in the evolution of our product and it’s ability to continue to attract new customers to have eliminated software maintenance agreements. Our option is economical enough for people who are recent adopters of screen reading technology who need a straightforward introduction to assistive technology before plunging into murkier waters. It is an economical solution for people who believe in having easy to use yet powerful options instantly at hand.
We are also thinking of the consumer who enjoys the bells and whistles of competing products but require a consistent companion on hand when the competing product crashes or is unable to be installed due to lack of access to admin rights on the target machine. Nothing is more frustrating than encountering silence and having no way to get around it than to reboot the entire system to get things talking again. We would never suggest that System Access is without faults, but as far as offering an approach that delivers immediate and intuitive access, we stand by our commitment to make it work as easily and as consistently as possible. We are also the only company that has developed portable solutions that work under a minute on any PC you plug your thumb drive into with our product or access them via our Internet sites on any compatible version of Windows without the need for admin rights.
So, while we may not be the best choice for the software developer who requires specific tweaks to make her environment inhabitable, we are a perfect tool for the vast majority of users who want to take accessibility on the go and work anywhere, anytime, something best exhibited in the free service available on SAToGo.com. After all, why limit yourself to timed demonstrations when you could take our product for a more uninhibited test drive?
At Serotek, System Access provides a fundamental platform upon which our other services have been launched. We rolled out System Access during the days before we had options like NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA), and in fact, System Access might have never been born if NVDA had been an option back then. As things stood, the only choices were too expensive for a vast majority of blind consumers, and our commitment to making products as affordable as possible is as vigorous today as it was when we released our first beta.
So, is System Access a full screen reader? We believe in presenting you the evidence and letting you decide for yourself. Ultimately, the proof is in the performance and if the product works for your spasific applications. Right?
 Screen Readers. American Foundation of the Blind: Last accessed December 6, 2011
 The Freedom Box, Technology for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Melanson, Dave. Teachers.Net Gazette. Last accessed: December 6, 2011