The Braille Monitor August/September, 2002
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An Open Letter to Federationists
by Lee Hamilton
Dr. Lee Hamilton and NFB president of Puerto Rico Alpidio Rolon
From the Editor: The three companies (Arkenstone, Blazie Engineering, and Henter-Joyce) that joined together several years ago to form Freedom Scientific always stood to be counted as good friends of the National Federation of the Blind. Since the beginning of Freedom Scientific we have hoped that the new company would also become a close working colleague in the blindness field. Such relationships take time to develop, and we have certainly been encouraged by the fact that the company made a substantial pledge to our capital campaign and gives every indication of fulfilling that pledge. Freedom Scientific has also been a generous sponsor of at least two of our national conventions, including this one.
However, as you will read in the next article, considerable concern and frustration with Freedom Scientific products have arisen among Spanish-speaking product users, and as a result the convention considered and passed a resolution reviewing the problems and urging the company to improve its Spanish-language products.
Lee Hamilton has recently been named president and CEO of Freedom Scientific, and he has written a letter to members of the NFB and has requested us to publish it here, which we are glad to do. Here it is:
Freedom Scientific, the international leader in assistive technology for the blind, welcomes input from our customers regarding the performance of our current products or suggestions for future products. Resolution 2002-15, sponsored by Mr. Alpidio Rolon of the Puerto Rican delegation, made it clear that we need to improve our Spanish-language products.
We appreciate this opportunity to communicate to you, as we did with Mr. Rolon during the convention in Louisville, that we are committed to resolving the issues raised by Resolution 2002-15. During the convention we met with Mr. Rolon and the Puerto Rican delegation and developed a corrective action plan to resolve the Spanish-language issues.
This plan includes dedicating engineers to address the Spanish-language issues and a commitment to fund the required Spanish translations. Based on this plan, we will deliver a Spanish-language solution for our Braille Lite M20 and M40 notetakers by October 15, 2002, and we will also resolve the critical Spanish issues with the Braille Lite and Braille 'n Speak notetakers by November 30, 2002. We will also release a Spanish-language version of OpenBook 6.0 by December 15, 2002. This version will include a Spanish spell checker and a Spanish dictionary if an acceptable one can be found.
Freedom Scientific was formed through the merger of three leading companies in the assistive technology industry: Blazie Engineering, Henter-Joyce, and Arkenstone. Integrating three companies is a complex task, and admittedly there have been challenges along the road to achieving our goal of providing best-in-class products and customer service, but we are absolutely committed to that goal.
We have taken many new steps in the last several months to improve our performance. Freedom Scientific recently hired a new vice president of hardware engineering, a new director of quality, and increased our development staff. We have also instituted customer satisfaction follow-up calls to those who have recently purchased our products, called our technical support group, or sent a product in for repair. All of this is to ensure that we are meeting your expectations.
We have also established a Freedom Scientific Product Advisory Board. The members are prominent assistive technology experts from some of the most recognized public and private organizations in the blindness field, including the National Federation of the Blind. The board will meet three times a year to provide feedback on existing products and help us identify new products.
Freedom Scientific is the only company that develops and manufactures both market-leading software and hardware products. Because most future products will require both, we are moving the hardware group to the corporate headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. This move will be complete by July 31, 2002. The PAC Mate, one of our new products, is an example of this trend. This is a revolutionary new product which combines our JAWS software with Microsoft Pocket Windows applications running on a hand-held hardware platform designed for blind users.
Customer input is key to the design and development of our new products. These new products include SAL, a unique Braille teaching device; Focus, a new line of Braille displays which improve productivity; and PAC Mate, which will be the ultimate laptop replacement.
Admittedly we have an advantage in developing these new products--our people. We have 150 employees, fifty of whom are visually impaired, and this is the most experienced, knowledgeable, and committed group of employees in the industry. With the accelerating pace of technology, Freedom Scientific has the resources and commitment to introduce innovative new software and hardware products to empower individuals who are blind.
We value the relationship we have with the National Federation of the Blind and look forward to increased opportunities for partnership. We at Freedom Scientific are committed to improving customer service and product quality, and at the same time continuing to develop new products that help persons who are blind to change their world.
President and CEO
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