37, No. 1
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 37, No. 1 January 1994
OF THE 2ND U.S./CANADA CONFERENCE
ON TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND
THE 64 SQUARES
OF THE CHESS BOARD
by Raymond Kurzweil
GOALS IN THE BLINDNESS FIELD
by T. V. Cranmer
COOPERATION IN THE FIELD OF TECHNOLOGY: AN AGENDA
FOR ACTION TOWARDS THE 21ST CENTURY
by Ruperto Ponz
ON THE STATE OF TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND
by David Andrews
PROFIT: OBSERVATIONS OF A FREE MARKETEER
by Tony Schenk
by James Morrell
SUMMARY OF THURSDAY AFTERNOON DISCUSSION
CHALLENGES OF THE GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE
by James Thatcher
by James C. Halliday
AND CHALLENGES OF THE GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE
by Curtis Chong
SUMMARIES OF PRESENTER REMARKS
SUMMARY OF FRIDAY CONFERENCE DISCUSSION
SATURDAY CONFERENCE DISCUSSION
Copyright National Federation of the Blind, Inc., 1994
[LEAD PHOTO: North-South view of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. CAPTION: On November 16, 1990, the doors of the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind opened for the first time. The facility was located in the central courtyard building at the National Center for the Blind, and was so spacious that it was hard to believe that Braille production and speech technology would ever fill it. During the first U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, held at the National Center for the Blind in September of 1991, the National Braille and Technology Center for the Blind became the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTCB), reflecting the growing worldwide significance of the operation. But time and technology march on, and by early 1993 it was clear that the array of embossers, synthesizers, computers, and related hardware and software was about to outgrow the space available in the central courtyard building. The decision was made to devote the street level, Johnson Street wing of the main building at the National Center for the Blind to an enlarged and expanded facility, complete with specially designed display tables, spacious offices, a museum, a large conference room, and a kitchen. Pictured here, the IBTCB covers 20,000 square feet of prime display space. It opened just in time to be the symbol and centerpiece of the 2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, which occurred November 4-6, 1993.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Euclid Herie (left), Mary Ellen Jernigan, and Kenneth Jernigan stand talking in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.]
[PHOTO: Conference attendees seated in 4th floor conference room at the National Center for the Blind. CAPTION: Approximately 65 people filled the large fourth-floor conference room at the National Center for the Blind for the opening session of the 2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind.]
PROCEEDINGS OF THE 2ND U.S./CANADA CONFERENCE ON TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND
November 4 to 6, 1993
Planned and Hosted by the National Federation of the Blind Conference Chairman, Kenneth Jernigan
Note from the Chairman: In September of 1991 representatives of four organizations, all members of the Committee on Joint Organizational Effort, planned the First U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, which was hosted by the National Federation of the Blind and held at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. (See the January, 1992, issue of the Braille Monitor for a full account of that important meeting.) The gathering was significant in part because those present, senior officials of service-providing and consumer organizations and technology producers in the blindness field, all had the authority to make policy decisions and set their own organizational goals based on what they learned and on what the group decided. One of several decisions made at the close of that meeting was to reconvene in two years. That gathering took place November 4 to 6, 1993, and again the National Federation of the Blind hosted the event.
It began Thursday morning with greetings from Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, and Dr. Euclid Herie, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, followed by the conference keynote address. After coffee the remainder of the morning was devoted to presentations by four speakers, and following lunch there was another panel discussion. The second half of the afternoon was devoted to tours of the newly completed facility occupied by the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. A reception and dinner completed first-day conference activities.
Friday morning began with a panel of speakers discussing the Graphical User Interface. Following coffee and again after lunch there were lively general discussions. The remainder of Friday was devoted to informal, small-group or private discussions, and on Saturday morning consumers and service providers discussed issues of mutual interest to them.
In my view and that of a number of other participants, this conference was, if possible, even more productive than the first one two years ago. Much will now depend, however, on what occurs as a result of the discussions begun in early November. It is extremely important that the technology experts among us settle down to work on the software and consumer-product access problems identified during our meetings and that the consumers and service providers then use our joint strength and creativity to influence mass-market computer program producers and consumer-technology manufacturers to insure that blind people have continued and increasing access to their products.
Gathering to become better acquainted and to exchange ideas was an important step. But the crisis facing the blindness field today is as serious as any we have ever faced. Blind computer users increasingly find that their inability to access the GUI- based programs being used more and more in the workplace is costing jobs. Unless something is done to counteract the trend, the situation will only get worse. As if this were not bad enough, household appliances and publicly accessible information terminals are increasingly unuseable to anyone who cannot read the LCD or CRT screen displays. Therefore, the future jobs of thousands of blind people and their ability to use household appliances and deal electronically with the rest of the world in years to come may well depend upon our capacity today to work together for the common good. The challenge is great. Let us all hope that we are now in a better position than ever before to meet it successfully. Here is the list of participants in the 2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind:
Kenneth Jernigan, President, North America/Caribbean Region, World Blind Union, Baltimore, Maryland
Euclid Herie, Treasurer, World Blind Union; President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
Marie Amerson, President, Association of State Educational Consultants for the Visually Impaired, Macon, Georgia
David Andrews, Director, International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, Maryland
Laurie Bellefontaine, National Director of Technology, Canadian Council of the Blind
Deane Blazie, President, Blazie Engineering, Forest Hill, Maryland
Geraldine Braak, President, Canadian Council of the Blind, Powell River, British Columbia
John Brabyn, Program Director, Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Foundation, San Francisco, California
Curtis Chong, Senior Systems Programmer, IDS Financial Services, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Charles Cook, President, Roudley Associates, Owings Mills, Maryland
Neil Cooper, Software Engineer, Syntha-Voice Computers, Inc., Hamilton, Ontario
Tim Cranmer, Chairman, Research and Development Committee, National Federation of the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky
Frank Kurt Cylke, Director, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Suzanne A. Dalton, President, Association of Instructional Resource Centers for the Visually Impaired, Tampa, Florida
Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Washington, D.C.
Frederick Downs, Jr., Director, Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service, Veterans Health Administration, Washington, D.C.
Shirley Dupmeier, Member of National Council, Consumer, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
Paul Edwards, American Council of the Blind, North Miami, Florida
Carl E. Foley, President, Blinded Veterans Association, Washington, D.C.
Paul Fontaine, Specialist, Clearinghouse on Computer Accommodations, General Services Administration, Washington, D.C.
Jim Fruchterman, President, Arkenstone, Sunnyvale, California
Ritchie Geisel, President, Recording for the Blind, Princeton, New Jersey
Greg Guidice, Vice President of Marketing for Adaptive Products, Xerox Imaging Systems, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts
James C. Halliday, President, Humanware, Inc., Loomis, California
Ted Henter, President, Henter-Joyce, Inc., St. Petersburg, Florida
Raymond Kurzweil, President, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, Waltham, Massachusetts
Mary Frances Laughton, Chief, Social and Informatics Applications, Industry and Science Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
Jose Luis Lorente Barajas, Technical Advisor, Spanish National Organization of the Blind (O.N.C.E.), Madrid, Spain
Greg Lowney, Senior Program Manager, Accessibility and Disability Group, Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington
Gary Magarrell, Executive Director, Ontario Division, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
Vicki Mains, National Manager, Technical Aids, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
David Mansoir, Chairman, Information and Technology Division, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Mountain View, California
Marc Maurer, President, National Federation of the Blind, Baltimore, Maryland
Barbara McCarthy, President-Elect, Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Richmond, Virginia
Dale McDaniel, Vice President for Marketing, Artic Technologies, Troy, Michigan
Peter Merrill, President, The Betacom Group, Mississauga, Ontario
James Morrell, President, TeleSensory Corporation, Mountain View, California
Caryn Navy, Vice President, Raised Dot Computing, Madison, Wisconsin
Gilles Pepin, Director, Visuaide 2000, Inc., Longueil, Quebec
Ruperto Ponz Lazaro, Chairman, World Blind Union/Committee on Technology, Madrid, Spain
Lloyd Rasmussen, Senior Staff Engineer, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Rachel Rosenbaum, President, National Council of Private Agencies for the Blind, Newton, Massachusetts
Noel Runyan, President, Personal Data Systems, Campbell, California
Mohymen Saddeek, President, Technology for Independence, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts
James Sanders, National Director, Government Relations and International Services, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
Leroy Saunders, President, American Council of the Blind, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Tony Schenk, President, Enabling Technologies Company, Stuart, Florida
Elliot Schreier, Director, National Technology Center, American Foundation for the Blind, New York, New York
Larry Skutchan, President, Microtalk, Texarkana, Texas
Yakov Soloveychik, President, BAUM U.S.A., Encino, California
Susan Spungin, Associate Executive Director for Program Services, American Foundation for the Blind, New York, New York
Joe Sullivan, President, Duxbury Systems, Inc., Littleton, Massachusetts
Marc Sutton, Access Products Manager, Berkeley Systems, Inc., Berkeley, California
Stephen Tappin, Technical Aids Coordinator, Ontario Division, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Toronto, Ontario
James Thatcher, Researcher, IBM Corporation, Yorktown Heights, New York
Tuck Tinsley, President, American Printing House for the Blind, Louisville, Kentucky
Jocelyne Tremblay, Director, Direction des Services hors-Quebec et programme d'aides technique, Sillery, Quebec
Louis Tutt, President, Council of Schools for the Blind, Baltimore, Maryland
David Vogel, President, National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, Jefferson City, Missouri
Dennis Wyant, Director, Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling Services, Veterans Administration, Washington, D.C.
Following are the texts of the presentations made at the conference. Summaries of those remarks not submitted in writing for publication as well as highlights of the discussions held during conference sessions are also included.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Raymond Kurzweil.]
THE SIXTY-FOUR SQUARES OF THE CHESSBOARD
by Raymond Kurzweil
From the Editor: Dr. Kurzweil was the founder of Kurzweil Computer Products and the creative genius behind the Kurzweil Reading Machine, which in the mid-seventies was the first successful attempt to scan printed text and read it aloud using computer technology and artificial speech. Dr. Kurzweil has gone on to pursue other interests and now heads another company, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence. He continues to be interested in computer access for blind people, and he accepted the invitation to keynote the 2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind. This is what he said:
Having been in this field for many years, I was impressed with Dr. Jernigan's ability to gather together all the leaders of this field in the first of these conferences. That was certainly a stirring and unprecedented event. This meeting actually marks a personal milestone for me. This week marks exactly twenty years that I have been in this field. I started Kurzweil Computer Products to develop a reading machine for the blind exactly twenty years ago with a $33,000 grant from Johnson and Johnson. The discussion at that meeting and the recommendations that came forth were quite substantial; and, given the expanded prominence of this group here, this is a very propitious meeting as well.
Dr. Jernigan asked me to talk to you today about the nature of information technology and the impact it is having on our world. We live in a world today in which all of our knowledge, all of our creations, all of our insights, all of our ideas, our cultural expressions--pictures, movies, art, sound, music, books, and the secret of life itself--are all being digitized, captured, and understood in sequences of ones and zeroes.
I speak to many different groups: computer scientists and engineers, librarians, musicians, magazine publishers, doctors, graphic artists, architects, researchers of different kinds. All of them, in diverse ways, are experiencing the same thing: the digitization of their knowledge bases, their methods, and the expressions of their work. Those of you who are working with information technology to help overcome communication barriers understand the significance of these developments all too well, and that's one reason I've been looking forward to speaking with you this morning.
As we'll discuss a little later, we will have the technology in the next ten to fifteen years largely to overcome the handicaps that are associated with visual, auditory, and other disabilities. What I like to call the age of knowledge is also transforming the nature of wealth itself and affecting deeply all of our political and economic institutions. So I'd like to talk to you today about the changing nature of wealth. I'd also like to share from my own experience a strategy for fostering innovation in this emerging information age. And then we'll talk a little bit about the impact of all this technology on the next decade and the next century.
Now you may have noticed that there seems to be an intense preoccupation of late with the economy; and, if you've paid attention to the news in recent months, you know that economic issues have been dominating the national consciousness. But for all of the attention, I think most people still find the subject confusing. I'm reminded of the economics professor who year after year has the questions to his final exam stolen by his students and explains why he's really not upset about this. "The questions are always the same anyway," he points out; "it's the correct answers that keep changing." A lot of people feel that's why economics differs from science. But if you pay close attention to computer science, you know that the correct answers keep changing here too.
Today the correct answer to the question of how to advance economic competitiveness is to foster the creation of intellectual property, which is information--that is sequences of 1's and 0's that have economic value. That has not always been the case in human history, and I would like to share with you my view of why the world has changed in this way.
Now I'm not an economist, but that won't inhibit me from sharing with you economic opinions. Very few people are inhibited from expressing economic opinions. That is, I am sure, very frustrating to economists. My own background is in signal processing and pattern recognition, and very few people express opinions about signal processing and pattern recognition, which is another reason I have been looking forward to talking to you today, for you are a group that understands the importance of accessing patterns of information.
In this field we recreate worlds inside the computer. And the ramifications of doing this go far beyond mere pictures and sounds but are part of a transformation of society the implications of which we are only beginning to understand. They say that war is too important to leave to the generals; I've always felt that signal processing and pattern recognition are too important to leave to us engineers. Ours is the first generation to live through the early stages of what I've called the Age of Intelligent Machines.
Translating information from one medium to another, transforming visual information to auditory information, for example, has always inherently been on the cutting edge of computer architectures, so we have perhaps a clearer vision than most of the importance of this era, but do we truly understand the significance of the invention of the computer?
When the telephone, another communication technology, was first invented, the chief engineer of the British post office dismissed the news with the statement, "This is no big deal; we have plenty of messenger boys." The mayor of Philadelphia had considerably more insight into the importance of this new development. "This is of great significance," he said. "Someday every city will have one." The first programmable computer ever built was the Zuse-3, built by a German tinkerer named Konrad Zuse. He presented his invention to his original sponsor, the German Aircraft Research Institute of the Third Reich. The chief engineer in charge explained to Zuse, "The German aircraft is the best in the world. I cannot see what we could possibly calculate to improve on," and they withdrew their funding.
The first commercially produced electronic computer, the Univac, was built by Remington Rand. They commissioned a market study which concluded that eventually, someday, a worldwide market would develop for fifty computers. If I look back on my own career, I think I have bought those fifty computers myself.
Today we may have more vision than the chief engineer of the British post office or the chief engineer of the German Aircraft Research Institute, but the common wisdom is, I believe, perhaps more akin to the view of the mayor of Philadelphia. Society today sees the computer as a mere facilitator of information, as a tool that provides some added efficiency. But I see it as something quite different. To me, the emergence of machine intelligence can be seen from two perspectives: as a turning point in human history and as a major milestone in the evolution of life on this planet, more significant than when animals first left their watery habitats and took their first steps on land.
Let me first share with you the former perspective--the significance of machine intelligence in the history of mankind. This will lead us to the latter perspective, the view from the flow of evolution.
The industrial revolution of the last two centuries, the first Industrial Revolution, was characterized by machines that extended, multiplied, and leveraged our physical capabilities. With these new machines humans could manipulate objects for which our muscles alone were inadequate and carry out physical tasks at previously unachievable speeds. As a result the world during this period was hungry for natural resources and labor.
Mao said that "power comes from the barrel of a gun." And that statement was true when he said it. But he said it in the last possible decade in which one could make that statement, because through physical coercion you could control natural resources. If you could control natural resources and compel people to labor, you could control wealth. And while not providing the happiest or most productive workers, it worked well enough.
The second industrial revolution, however, the one that is now in progress, is based on machines that extend, multiply, and leverage, not our physical, but our mental abilities. A remarkable aspect of this new technology is that it uses almost no natural resources. Silicon chips use infinitesimal amounts of sand and other readily available materials. They use insignificant amounts of electricity.
As electronics, computers, and other forms of information technology, (bioengineering, for example) grow smaller and smaller, the material resources utilized are becoming an inconsequential portion of their value. Indeed, software uses virtually no resources at all. If you pay three or four hundred dollars for a screen reader with synthetic speech, you know that you're not paying for the natural resources in this product, because you could purchase the same floppy disks without information on them for three or four dollars.
People then say, "Okay, that's true for this strange new world of software, but that's still a small part of our gross national product. It has little to do with economics." What a lot of people don't realize is that the same economic model holds for most hardware as well. The quintessential component of hardware is the computer chip. A central processing unit or an advanced signal processing chip or an advanced image processing chip that may sell for three or four hundred dollars costs no more to fabricate than a floppy disk. As with a software program, the bulk of the cost of a chip is neither raw materials nor manufacturing labor, but rather what accountants call amortization of development and what philosophers call knowledge.
It is estimated that for software today the percentage of their value represented by natural resources is about 2%. When we have full electronic distribution of software, it will go down to about 0%. I guess we'll use a little bit of electricity in the process.
The percentage of value represented by natural resources for chips is about the same today as for software, about 2%. Computers are about 5% natural resources because we still have a metal chassis and a power supply, but we won't have those for very much longer. In fact, you can draw a reverse exponential curve where the y axis is the percentage of value of a product represented by natural resources and the x axis is time, and the percentage of value represented by natural resources is asymptoting to zero as we go forward in time, and every product and service is on the curve. Some are closer to zero than others, and some categories of products are moving faster than others as they move down the curve, but every product is on the curve, marching on down to nearly zero contribution from material resources and nearly 100% contribution from intellect.
Indeed, over the past twenty years the value of commodity resources, as measured in constant dollars, has fallen substantially (about forty percent), and this trend is accelerating. So sell short on natural resource stocks. That will be my only stock tip for today. Other than to mention that my own company just went public two months ago. Okay, let's take some examples.
Musical instruments is a field I've had experience in. The percentage of value represented by natural resources and labor for instruments using the nineteenth century acoustic technology, such as pianos with their hundreds of feet of wire and hundreds of pounds of metal and wood, is very high--it's about 60 to 70%. For electronic musical instruments, which are basically computers, the figure is 5 to 10%. In this industry we are gradually replacing acoustics with electronics.
Consider pianos. And by the term "piano," I am not referring to synthesizers, but rather to instruments that look like a piece of furniture that you put in your living room for your eight- year-old daughter to use while she's taking piano lessons. Six years ago the percentage of pianos that used electronic technology was 4%. Today, it's 60%, and again I'm not including synthesizers or portable keyboards. In two to three years that figure is expected to hit 80%. So, if you take the industry as a whole, ten years ago the value of musical instruments was 60% natural resources; today it's down to 20%, and in five years it will be 10%.
How about the chairs you're sitting in? I recently toured newly constructed factories in the Far East, and it was an impressive display of the ability to convert intellect into products with value. Bags of plastic pellets, jars of silicon, and other inexpensive materials get turned into an astonishing variety of high-quality products from tables and chairs to radios and computers by computerized factories with almost no human intervention. One has only to tour these factories with their delicately programmed robotic assemblers and material handlers to recognize the increasing dominance of knowledge as the cornerstone of wealth.
Speaking of the Far East, despite the recent Asian recession the success of Japan is undeniable, and it's certainly not due to their natural resources, because they don't have any to speak of. The success of Japan, which two years ago was cited by Fortune Magazine as the wealthiest nation on the planet, is due entirely to their ability to create intellectual property in all of its myriad forms.
And how about Communism? Anyone here remember Communism? It was that totalitarian system that disappeared a few years ago. Well, I guess it's still around in a few places. So why did it collapse when it did? Was it because after seventy years it had just run its course? Was it the effectiveness of the Voice of America? The fear of Ronald Reagan? The fear of George Bush? I mean, why did it collapse just now? We should keep in mind that it was the bankruptcy of Communism as an economic strategy that caused its downfall. Communism was indeed viable during the late stages of the first industrial revolution. It became irrelevant only as we entered the second.
It's a fortunate truth of human nature that, whereas labor can be forced, creativity and innovation cannot be. To create knowledge, people need the free exchange of information and ideas. They need free access to the world's accumulated knowledge bases. A society that restricts access to copiers, mimeograph machines, and typewriters for fear of the dissemination of uncontrolled knowledge will certainly fear the much more powerful communication technologies of personal computers, local area networks, telecommunication data bases, electronic bulletin boards, and all of the multifarious methods of instantaneous electronic communication.
Controlled societies such as the former Soviet Union were faced with a fundamental dilemma. If they provided their engineers and professionals in all disciplines with advanced computer technology, they were opening the floodgates to free communication by methods far more powerful than the copiers they had traditionally banned. On the other hand, if they failed to do so, the professionals became increasingly ineffectual. In the end they did a little of both, and both did them in. The lack of true intellectual freedom caused economic disaster. And to the extent that electronic communication was made available, it made totalitarian control impossible. It was said that the 1991 August coup in the former Soviet Union was undone by cellular telephones and networks of personal computers. And that's true.
My company has a Russian research institute in Moscow, and it would be only a small exaggeration to say that it is as if they are working down the hall. We exchange messages, memos, data, software on a daily basis through the Internet. And they have shared with us that this type of network of personal computers and cellular telephones were critical to unraveling that coup.
Innovation, however, requires more than just computer workstations and electronic communication technologies. It also requires an atmosphere of tolerance for new and unorthodox ideas, the encouragement of risk taking, and the ability to share ideas and knowledge. A society run entirely by government bureaucracies is not in a position to provide the incentives and environment needed for entrepreneurship and the rapid development of new skills and technologies.
So, if innovation and invention, which is to say the creation of knowledge that has economic value, is increasingly the cornerstone of wealth and power, then we need the right strategy as we enter the second industrial revolution. On that note I'd like to share with you Ray Kurzweil's seven-point program for creating intellectual property in the 1990's.
What's the first thing you should do when you begin the task of creating a new invention, and I mean invention in the broadest sense as any intellectual creation with value? Well, I'll tell you what I always do. The first step in the process of invention obviously should be to write the advertising brochure. I have in fact done that in each major project that I've undertaken. I'll not only write the brochure, but I'll engage a graphic designer and have it printed up. Now it doesn't hurt to have a nice-looking brochure when you're looking for investors in your project, but that's not the reason I start by writing the brochure. The reason is that, if you write the advertising first, it forces you to articulate clearly who the thing is for and why you're doing it. Inventing is different from science. It's even different from engineering. The objective is not to create a device that demonstrates a new and interesting scientific principle, although that might be involved. The objective is not to create a device that implements a new and more efficient approach to engineering, although that too might be involved. The objective is to create a device or a process or an idea that brings some benefit to someone, hopefully a lot of someones.
Writing the brochure as your first step is harder than it may seem. It forces you to articulate clearly the features, the benefits , and the beneficiaries. Once you've written and printed it, show your brochure to potential buyers. If they don't immediately get excited and besiege you for a delivery date, then you're barking up the wrong tree.
This brings me to my second point. Now that you've identified the beneficiaries of your invention and you've gotten them excited about it, let them create the device for you. I mean, they want it so much, let them invent it.
Let me give you some examples. In the 1970's I was working on the Kurzweil Reading Machine, which as you know is a device that scans printed material, recognizes the printed letters in any type font, and then reads the print out loud in a synthetic voice. We needed funding, of course, so we approached the National Federation of the Blind. They said, okay, we'll help you raise the money you need, but you have to put us in charge of the human factors design and the user controls, and involve us in every facet of the engineering. Well, I wasn't expecting that request, but I was in no position to argue, so I said, "sure, come on down."
Well, the blind engineers of the National Federation of the Blind moved in and worked intimately with us on every facet of the development, and the design came out quite different from what we had originally expected, and, as it turned out, it was very well accepted by blind consumers. With the intended users having been intimately involved in every stage of the design process, it anticipated the users' needs in ways that we as well-intentioned but sighted engineers could never have anticipated. While the Kurzweil Reading Machine has now gone through six generations of technology, the basic human-factors strategy that was created by the blind scientists and engineers who worked with us remains the same today as it was almost seventeen years ago in 1976.
I'll give you one example. We were going to put little Braille labels on all of the user controls so that a new user would know which control was which. But one of the NFB engineers said that it would be very annoying to feel these Braille labels hundreds of times a day, every day. So I asked him how a new user could identify the controls without Braille labels. He suggested putting another prominent button on the panel, which he called the "nominator" key, and, if a user wanted to identify a control, he would simply push the nominator key, then hit another key, and that key would announce its name and describe its function. Then, after using the nominator key to explore the keyboard for a few days, a user would know where all the keys were and would not need to feel these annoying Braille labels hundreds of times every day. That made a lot of sense when we heard it, but since we were not the intended users of the invention, it is an insight that we never would have realized on our own.
With my music company, we did the same thing. All of the engineers are musicians, many of them quite accomplished, because there is really no other way to be sensitive to the nuances of sound and the subtle interactions of feel and response in a musical instrument. In my speech recognition company, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, our voice-activated products for doctors have been designed by physicians, and our voice-activated products for the hands-impaired have had significant involvement by their handicapped users. There is really no way truly to understand the needs and desires of your users without deeply involving them in every stage of the invention process.
Now that we're talking about the group that is involved in the creation of an invention, my third point is to understand the dynamics of this group process. Inventing today is not a matter of a single crazy inventor disappearing into his or her basement and emerging years later with a breakthrough. Actually it's a matter of a group of crazy inventors disappearing into their basement. Inventing today is an interdisciplinary process. The development of speech recognition, for example, requires linguists, speech scientists, signal-processing experts, psychoacousticians, circuit designers, programmers, and other specialists who can work together and, perhaps most important, understand each other's terminology.
The importance of this last point was first recognized by Norbert Wiener, who wrote in 1948, the year I was born, in his classic book Cybernetics: "Since Leibniz there has perhaps been no man who has had a full command of all the intellectual activity of his day.... There are fields of scientific work... which have been explored from the different sides of pure mathematics, statistics, electrical engineering, and neurophysiology; in which every single notion receives a separate and different name from each group, and in which important work has been triplicated or quadruplicated, while still other important work is delayed by the unavailability in one field of results that may have already become classical in the next field." From my own experience, this meshing of diverse disciplines is perhaps the most crucial element in developing interdisciplinary technology, which is becoming most of technology.
So after assembling our group of experts and our group of users, which hopefully are the same people, we throw out all of the words that we all came in with and create our own new terminology. By the way, this has advantages in terms of proprietary technology protection, because, if anyone overhears our conversations, they have no idea what we are talking about.
Then--and this is now my fourth point--to encourage thinking out of the box, I'll assign a linguistics problem, not to the linguists, but to the signal processing engineers, and a signal processing problem to the linguists. This doesn't always work, but it is possible in this way to achieve creative solutions to problems that could hardly be attained in any other way.
They say that a wise man can learn more from a fool than the other way around. So my fifth point is that you can learn more from failure than from success. Success has a way of covering up mistakes. When you're successful, you get the mistaken impression that you must have done everything right. As it turns out, you just did the right things right. You can, of course, turn your failures into successes, not only by considering them growth experiences, but by assessing in detail the lessons to be learned, which you'll find is much easier to do when you're not successful.
But more important, you should endeavor to turn your successes into failures. In other words, look for the failure in success. For example, in our apparently successful Gulf war of a couple of years ago, many of our weapons didn't work. The much vaunted Patriot missile, being a heat-seeking missile, was very successful in blowing up the hot launchers of incoming Scuds. Unfortunately, it was not the launchers that needed to be blown up, but the warhead, which in most cases had already separated from the launcher prior to the launcher's being destroyed. Now it didn't matter that much a couple of years ago, because the Scuds were so inaccurate. But if we fail to look for this failure amidst the success, it will matter the next time.
Point six is to design for marketability. This goes beyond identifying who the users will be and why they will want this new technology. You need to understand what unique characteristics your invention will have and why this is a well-leveraged fit for your target application.
Akio Morita, the well-known Chairman of Sony, who has made something of a career out of criticizing American business practices, provides an instructive example. The transistor, invented in the early 1950's at Bell Laboratories, certainly represented a primary technological breakthrough and today fuels a revolution that has transformed most industries. A transistor has two properties: it amplifies electrical signals, and it's small. So obviously its primary market is going to be hearing aids. And that was in fact the prevailing view of the Bell Laboratories scientists at the time.
Sony thought otherwise and became the first Japanese company to license the patent, in 1953, with the idea of developing a transistor-based radio. "Why bother with that?" they were asked. After all, you'll still have a very large speaker, not to mention all that furniture. But maybe you can replace the big speaker with a little speaker. But with a little speaker all the people gathered around the radio won't be able to hear it. But maybe it is good enough to have one person use it at a time. But a radio is too expensive to devote to just one person.
As the history is written, Sony applied a Gordian solution to this knotty and circular thinking and brought the transistor radio to market. Their motto became "one person, one radio." Junior may not want to listen to the same music as grandpa.
The transistor radio was a hit, and the transistor was off and running. And the Japanese consumer-electronics industry was off and running as well. The marketing creativity involved in rethinking the purpose of a radio in light of the new technological capabilities provided by the transistor was at least as important as the technology itself. It involved considering several variables at the same time, and not just the single issue of the transistor's size.
And finally here is a foolproof method to create your new technology. After you've come up with the breakthrough concept that will revolutionize some industry or other; you've written the advertising brochure, which as I said, should be your first step; you've printed it up; you have some customers clamoring for it; you've got your investors; you've assembled your experts, who are also, of course, the potential users of your new technology; you've thrown out all the common technical terminology and devised your own; now here's how you make the whole thing work.
Sit down or lie down and then imagine, if it existed, what would it look like? How would it work? Imagine yourself at a conference four years from now, and you're explaining how you and your team of experts accomplished your goal, how it works, and how you solved problems that at the beginning seemed so intractable. Let your thoughts wander. Indulge yourself in this fantasy as you're falling asleep. When you wake up the next morning, you'll know what to do. Or at least you'll think you do, until you run into some roadblock, something your fantasy failed to consider. But then just use the same procedure again. From my own experience I can tell you this technique usually works. But, if it doesn't, you probably won't realize it right away. After all, no one said that entrepreneurship was free of risk.
So on that note I'd like to let our imaginations wander a bit and consider the next decade and the next century. Let's imagine that the future exists. What does it look like? How does it work?
The first concept we need to consider is Moore's law. Moore's law is the driving force behind a revolution so vast that the entire computer revolution to date represents only a minor ripple of its ultimate implications. Moore's law states that computing speeds and densities double every eighteen months. In other words, every eighteen months we can buy a computer that is twice as fast and has twice as much memory for the same cost. Remarkably, this law has held true since the beginning of this century, from the mechanical card-based computing technology of the 1890 census, to the relay-based computers of the 1940's, to the vacuum-tube-based computers of the 1950's, to the transistor-based machines of the 1960's, to all of the generations of integrated circuits that we've seen over the past twenty-five years.
If you put every calculator and computer for the past 100 years on a logarithmic chart, it makes an essentially straight line (several straight lines, actually). Computer memory, for example, is about 16,000 times more powerful today for the same unit cost as it was about twenty years ago. Computer memory is 150 million times more powerful for the same unit cost than it was in 1948, the year I was born. If the automobile industry had made as much progress in the past forty-five years, a car today would cost about a hundredth of a cent and would go faster than the speed of light.
Moore's law will continue unabated for many decades to come. We have not even begun to explore the third dimension in chip design. Chips today are flat, whereas our brain is organized in three dimensions. We live in a three-dimensional world; why not use the third dimension? Improvements in semiconductor materials, including the development of superconducting circuits that do not generate heat, will enable the development of chips, or I should say cubes, with thousands of layers of circuitry, which, when combined with far smaller component geometries, will improve computing power by a factor of many millions. There are more than enough new computing technologies being developed to assure a continuation of Moore's law for a very long time.
The implications of this geometric trend can be understood by recalling the legend of the inventor of chess and his patron, the emperor of China. The emperor had so fallen in love with his new game that he offered the inventor a reward of anything he wanted in the kingdom. "Just one grain of rice on the first square, your Majesty."
"Just one grain of rice?"
"Yes, your Majesty, just one grain of rice on the first square, and two grains of rice on the second square, four on the third square, and so on."
Well, the emperor immediately granted the inventor's seemingly humble request. One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt because the doubling of grains of rice for each square ultimately equaled eighteen million trillion grains of rice. Another version has the inventor losing his head.
It's not yet clear which outcome we are headed for, but there is one thing that we should take note of. It was fairly uneventful as the emperor and the inventor went through the first half of the chessboard. After thirty-two squares the emperor had given the inventor about eight billion grains of rice. That's a reasonable quantity of rice--it's about one field's worth--and the emperor did start to take notice. But the emperor could still remain an emperor, and the inventor could still retain his head. It was as they headed into the second half of the chessboard that at least one of them got into trouble. So where do we stand now? Well, there have been just about exactly thirty-two doublings of performance since the first operating computers were built in the 1940's. So where we stand right now is that we've just finished the first half of the chess board. And indeed people are starting to take notice. As we head into the rest of the nineties and the next century, we are heading into the second half of the chessboard, and that is where things start to get interesting.
Let's take a moment to examine a few of the things we're likely to see as we go through the second half of the chessboard. One of my companies, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, is devoted to speech recognition technology. So I'd like to start out by sharing with you some scenarios that deal with this technology.
The state of the art today is that large vocabulary speech recognition systems can recognize very large vocabularies of 50,000 words, which is pretty much anything you might want to say. These systems are speaker-independent, which means they can recognize anyone without having been trained on that person's voice. The primary limitation is that you need to speak in what is called discrete speech, that...is...with...brief...pauses... between...words...like...this.
These systems are more popular than many people realize. For example, if you have the misfortune of ending up in one of our nation's emergency rooms, there is a ten percent chance that your patient record will be created by the doctor dictating the report directly to a large-vocabulary speech-recognition system that my company created, called VoiceEM for Voice Emergency Medicine.
We already know how to recognize continuous speech, which is the type of speech I am creating right now, but it requires substantially more powerful personal computers. Well, Moore's law will take care of that, and we expect to see accurate large- vocabulary continuous-speech recognizers emerge in the next two to three years. As we go into the next century, which is only about seven years from now, we'll see very accurate continuous- speech recognition integrated with a broad variety of other artificial-intelligence technologies. Translating telephones, for example, which combine large-vocabulary continuous-speech- recognition technology, with language-translation software and speech synthesis, will be demonstrated later on in this decade, Translating telephones will become a routine telephone service during the first decade of the next century.
At Kurzweil Applied Intelligence we are also working on developing listening machines for the deaf, which will convert human speech into a visual display of text, essentially the opposite of reading machines for the blind. So a deaf person listening to this lecture could follow along with real-time subtitles which could be built into a pair of eyeglasses. We expect to see listening machines for the deaf introduced later on in this decade. By 2010 we may all wish to use them, since these real-time subtitles can include immediate translation into other languages and other commentaries.
We'll also see speech recognition integrated with problem- solving software to provide knowledge navigators, essentially computerized personal assistants built into your personal computer that will talk to you with two-way voice communication and that will help you find information and solve problems. For example, during the first decade of the next century, you might ask your personal knowledge navigator to recommend the optimal form of financing for a new marketing program. It would access your company's on-line information systems to get details about the program, access national financial markets using cellular communication to on-line financial information services to obtain the latest rate information on different financial instruments, call your Vice President of Marketing personally to get her level of confidence in the marketing projections, and then assemble the information into a presentation. It would do this in seconds if it wasn't for the fact that it took a week and a half to get through to the one human being involved.
By 2010 your standard personal computer will come in a variety of sizes, from wristwatch size to large wall-sized displays. Unrestricted speech recognition will be a primary input modality. Your personal computer will perform a broad variety of functions. It will be your wristwatch. It will be your telephone, which will include high-resolution moving pictures. It will be your radio and television, which will be high-definition and interactive. It will also provide you with virtual books and magazines, which will also be interactive, will include moving pictures, and will have display qualities comparable to high- quality paper books today.
On that note, let's talk a little bit about technology for the disabled. Reading machines for the blind have certainly benefited from Moore's law. I examined this issue recently with regard to the Kurzweil Reading Machine. The current model, the Reading Edge, has eighty times the speed, contains 128 times the memory, and has a comparable improvement in overall performance as compared to the original model seventeen years ago. The Reading Edge today is now one twenty-sixth the price of the original Model 1 as measured in constant dollars. If we thereby regard the machine as now providing approximately eighty times the performance for one twenty-sixth the price, that's an overall improvement in price-performance of about 2,000 to 1. Now 2,000 is two to the eleventh power, which means we have doubled price-performance eleven times. That's exactly what you would predict from Moore's law in a seventeen-year period. And, of course, Moore's law will continue to improve all aspects of reading machine price and performance in the years ahead.
Just recently, two-dimensional scanning chips have emerged, which can scan a full page of text with 300-spot-per-inch resolution without any moving parts. These two-dimensional scanning arrays, which have over five million pixels, are prototypes and are therefore expensive. But within a few years these chips will permit the development of pocket-sized scanners, the size of a small camera, that can snap a full page instantly. Thus, before the decade is out, a full print-to-speech reading machine will fit in your pocket. You'll hold it over the page to be scanned and snap a picture of the page. All of the electronics and computation will be inside this small, camera-sized device. You'll then listen to the text being read from a small speaker or earphone. You will also be able to snap a picture and read a poster on a wall or a street sign or a soup can or someone's ID badge or an appliance LCD display and many other examples of real-world text. This reading machine will cost less than a thousand dollars and will ultimately come down to hundreds of dollars.
Algorithmic improvements will also provide capabilities to describe non-textual material such as graphs and diagrams and page layouts. These devices will also provide on-line access to knowledge bases and libraries through the information superhighway, which I will comment on further in a moment. By the end of the first decade of the next century, the intelligence of these devices will be sufficient to provide reasonable descriptions of pictures and real-world scenes. These devices will also be capable of translating from one language to another.
The scanning sensors of the future reading machine will ultimately become very small and could be built into a pair of eyeglasses. The advantage of doing this is that it would allow the user to control the direction of scanning through motion of the head in the same way that a sighted person does. Once these devices can provide reasonably intelligent descriptions of real-world scenes, they will evolve into navigation aids.
I will point out that access to the world of print has been a more important issue than navigation. Braille, of course, is a vitally important technology in that it provides access to the world of literacy for both reading and writing. It does, however, have the limitation that only a small percentage of books and topical literature are available in this alternative medium. Recorded material has the same limitation. Thus reading machines have provided the opportunity to overcome a principal handicap associated with the disability of blindness: access to ordinary print. But having worked with many blind persons over the past twenty years, I have come to realize that navigating within a building, or around the world, is not a handicap for a blind person who has been trained with advanced navigational skills. Until a navigation device can provide a level of intelligence sufficient to be truly helpful, the most useful navigational technology will continue to be the modern lightweight cane. There have already been electronic navigation devices developed, but they have not yet proved useful. Unless such a device incorporates a level of intelligence at least comparable to a seeing-eye dog, it is not of much value.
General purpose artificial vision is now being developed for robots and is in an early stage, although progress is rapidly being made. Today, robotic factory inspectors can outperform human inspectors in many visually demanding tasks. Vision has lagged other developments in artificial intelligence because of the enormous flows of data required to process visual information intelligently. With the advent of massively parallel computing and the continuing progress made through Moore's law, this difficulty is gradually being overcome.
Such a combination reading machine-navigation aid will be an assistant that will describe what is going on in the visible world. The blind user could ask the device (verbally or using appropriate manual commands) to elaborate on a description, or he could ask it questions. These artificial visual sensors need look not only forward; they may as well look in all directions. And they ultimately will have better visual acuity than human eyes. Everyone--visually impaired or not--may want to use them.
Persons with other disabilities will benefit from the continuing advance of computer technology as well. I mentioned earlier the speech-to-text sensory aid for the deaf, which I believe will be introduced within the next several years and will become a popular device by the end of this decade. A principal physical handicap is paraplegia, the loss of control over the legs. The most common prosthetic aid for this disability is the wheelchair, which has changed only in subtle ways over the past two decades. It continues to suffer from its principal drawback, the inability to negotiate doorways and stairs. Although federal law now requires most public buildings to accommodate wheelchair access, the reality is that access to persons in wheelchairs is still severely restricted. By the end of this decade we will see the first generation of effective exoskeletal robotic devices, called powered orthotic devices, which will restore the ability of paraplegic (and in some cases quadriplegic) persons to walk and climb stairs.
Overcoming the handicaps associated with disabilities is an ideal application of artificial intelligence technology. In the development of intelligent computers, the threshold that we are now on is not the creation of cybernetic geniuses. That will come later. Instead, we are today providing computers with narrowly focused intelligent skills, such as the ability to make decisions in such areas as finance and medicine and the ability to recognize patterns such as printed letters, human speech, blood cells, and land terrain maps. Most computers today are still idiot savants, capable of processing enormous amounts of information at very high speed and with great accuracy, but with relatively little intelligence.
When one considers the enormous impact that these idiot savants have had on society, the addition of even sharply focused intelligence will be a formidable combination. It will be particularly beneficial for the disabled population. A disabled person is typically missing a specific skill or capability but is otherwise a normally intelligent and capable human being. There is a fortuitous matching of the narrowly focused intelligence of today's intelligent machines with the narrowly focused deficit of most disabled persons. Our primary strategy in developing intelligent computer-based technology for sensory and physical aids is for the focused intelligence of the machine to work in close concert with the much more flexible intelligence of the disabled person himself.
There are an estimated twenty million disabled Americans. Many are not able to learn or work up to their capacity because of technology that is not yet available or technology that is available but not yet affordable or pervasive and because of negative public attitudes toward disabled persons. As the reality changes, the perceptions will also change, particularly as formerly handicapped persons learn and work successfully alongside their non-disabled peers. By the end of the first decade of the next century, I believe that we will come to herald the effective end of handicaps.
Another trend worth commenting on is the information superhighway. We now realize that the information superhighway will be here a lot sooner than we originally anticipated. We originally thought that we would have to wire optical fiber into every home and office. That massive new physical infrastructure would have taken twenty years to put in place. We now realize that we need only place optical fiber to within about one mile of its final destination. A couple of other technologies that do not require a physical infrastructure can then be used to carry the information for that critical last mile. For example, existing coaxial cable can also provide ten billion bit per second point-to-point communication for short distances. There is also a new wireless communication using frequencies at the microwave range or higher that can also provide very high bandwidth communication, again only for short distances, but the last mile is all we need.
It turns out that this last mile of communication represents about ninety percent of the infrastructure that we originally had contemplated. So eliminating this last mile of wiring means we can put the information superhighway in place in about four years instead of twenty. This next wave of communication technology will be here much sooner than we thought. That will be another major step in the ultimate realization of McLuhan's vision of the Global Village.
There are many other emerging trends we could talk about, but, in the time I have remaining, I would like to touch on one other scenario. This is a scenario that has not been extensively discussed in the popular literature but is a development I am convinced will occur within the lifetimes of most of the people in this room. It is a development that I have spent time researching and in fact am writing a book about.
As you are probably aware, we can simulate the functions of human neurons in software. These computerized neural nets, as they are called, have become increasingly popular, particularly in pattern recognition systems. We use them, for example, in our speech recognition systems. Today's simulated neurons are somewhat simplified from the real thing. An actual neuron is a complex computer, a hybrid analog-digital computer as it turns out. But it is feasible to simulate the full complexity of human neurons, and some of the more advanced neural nets now being developed provide reasonably realistic simulations of true neuron function.
A neural net, and this includes the human brain, uses a radically different computational paradigm from the computers we're used to. A typical computer does one thing at a time, but does it very quickly. A neural net, particularly the human one, is very slow, but every part of the net is computing simultaneously. We have about 100 billion neurons, and each of these neurons has an average of 1,000 connections to other neurons. Each of these connections can perform computations simultaneously, so that's about 100 trillion computations being performed at the same time. There are many subtleties to neural nets, but our computer-based neural net simulations have been limited primarily by two factors: the number of neural connections that can be simulated in real time and the capacity of computer memories. Although human neurons are very slow, in fact about a million times slower than electronic circuits, their massive parallelism more than makes up for it. Although each interneuronal connection is capable of performing only about 200 computations each second, with 100 trillion computations being performed at the same time, that comes to about twenty million billion calculations per second, give or take a couple of orders of magnitude.
How does that compare to the state-of-the-art in human- created technology? Specialized neural computers have been developed that can simulate neurons directly in hardware. These operate about a thousand times faster than neural networks simulated in software on conventional PC's. One recent model processes about two billion connections per second. That may seem like a lot, but it still about ten million times slower than the human brain. Again we look to Moore's law, which projects that our personal neural computers will match both the memory and the computational ability of the human brain, twenty million billion calculations per second, by around the year 2020.
Now matching the raw computing speed and memory capacity of the human brain, even if implemented in massively parallel neural nets, will not automatically result in human-level intelligence. The architecture and organization of these resources are at least as important as the capacity itself. There is, however, a source of knowledge that we can tap to accelerate greatly our understanding of how to design intelligence in a machine, and that is the human brain itself. By probing the brain's circuits, we can essentially copy, that is to say, reverse engineer, a proven design, one that took its original designer several billion years to develop.
Just as the Human Genome Project, in which the entire human genetic code is being scanned, recorded, and analyzed to accelerate our understanding of the human biogenetic system, a similar effort to scan and record the neural organization of the human brain can help provide the templates of intelligence. As it becomes clear that we are approaching the computational ability to simulate the human brain--we're not there today, but we will be there early in the next century--I believe that such an effort will be initiated. Indeed, this effort has already begun.
For example, an artificial retina chip created by a small company called Synaptics, is fundamentally a copy of the neural organization, implemented in silicon of course, of not only the human retina, but its visual processing layer as well. High-speed, high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners are already able to resolve individual somas (neuron cell bodies) without disturbing the living tissue being scanned. More powerful MRI's are being developed that will be capable of scanning individual nerve fibers that are only ten microns in diameter. Eventually we will be able automatically to scan the presynaptic vesicles that are the site of human learning.
This suggests two scenarios. The first is to scan portions of a brain to ascertain the architecture of interneuronal connections in different regions. The exact position of each nerve fiber is not as important as the overall pattern. With this information we can design simulated neural nets that will operate similarly. This process will be rather like peeling an onion as each layer of human intelligence is revealed. That is essentially what Synaptics has done. They copied the essential analog algorithm of center-surround filtering found in the early layers of mammalian neural image processing.
A more difficult but also ultimately feasible scenario will be noninvasively to scan someone's brain to map the locations, interconnections, and contents of the somas, axons, dendrites, presynaptic vesicles, and other neural components. Its entire organization could then be re-created on a neural computer of sufficient capacity, including the contents of its memory.
We can peer inside someone's brain today with MRI scanners, which are increasing their resolution with each new generation of this device. There are a number of technical challenges in accomplishing this, including achieving suitable resolution, bandwidth, lack of vibration, and safety. For a variety of reasons it will be easier to scan the brain of someone recently deceased than of someone still living. It is easier to get someone deceased to sit still for one thing, but noninvasively scanning a living brain will ultimately become feasible as MRI and other scanning technologies continue to improve in resolution and speed.
In fact, the driving force behind the rapidly improving capability of noninvasive scanning technologies such as MRI is again Moore's law, because it requires massive computational ability to build high resolution three-dimensional images from the raw magnetic resonance patterns that an MRI scanner produces. The increasing computational ability provided by Moore's law will enable us to continue to improve the resolution and speed of these noninvasive scanning technologies.
You might feel that I am veering off into the realm of science fiction, so let me say a word about the nature of this projection. If someone a hundred years ago were to have attempted a prediction of this past century, he would not have been able to predict most of the major technologies that have shaped it, such as computers, Moore's law, radio, television, atomic energy, lasers, bio-engineering--indeed most of electronics--just to mention a few. And indeed all but a handful of futurists at the time were unable to foresee any of these developments.
The century to come will also undoubtedly contain many such breakthroughs that we would have difficulty envisioning or even comprehending today. But the projection I am making now does not contemplate any such breakthrough. It is a modest extrapolation of current trends and is based on technologies and capabilities that we can touch and feel today. We can't do it yet, but we can describe right now how this capability can be achieved.
The ability to download your mind to your personal computer will raise some interesting issues. I'll mention just a few. There's the philosophical issue. When people are scanned and then re-created in a neural computer, people will wonder just who are those people in the machine?
The answer will depend on who you ask. If you ask the people in the machine, they will strenuously claim to be the original persons, having lived certain lives, having gone into a scanner here, and then having awakened in the machine there. They'll say, "Hey, this technology really works. You should give it a try." On the other hand, the original people, who were scanned, will claim that the people in the machine are impostors, people who just appear to share their memories, histories, and personalities but who are definitely different people.
There's the psychological issue. A machine intelligence that has been derived from human intelligence will need a body. A disembodied mind will quickly become depressed. Ironically, it will take us longer to recreate our bodies than it will take us to recreate our minds. We are making exponential progress in providing the computational resources to simulate intelligence with the linear passing of time. But we are only making linear progress with the linear passing of time in robotic technology. So it will take us longer to recreate the suppleness of our bodies than the intricacies and subtleties of our minds.
There's the ethical issue. Will it be immoral, or even illegal, to cause pain and suffering to your computer program? Will it be illegal to turn your computer program off? Perhaps it will be illegal to turn it off only if you have failed to make a recent backup copy. Maybe they'll want to turn us off.
No one worries much about these issues today, but our most advanced programs today are comparable to the minds of insects. But when our programs are of the same complexity and subtlety as a human mind, which will be the case in a few decades, and when our computer programs have, in fact, been derived from human minds or even portions of human minds, this will become a pressing issue. And, of course, there will be the usual line-up of economic and political issues. We are likely to see the Luddite issue, the concern over the negative impact of machines on human employment, become of intense interest once again.
Before Copernicus, our speciecentricity--I made up that word, by the way, in case you never heard it before--was embodied in a view of the universe literally circling around us as a testament to our unique and central status. Today our belief in our own uniqueness is not a matter of celestial relationships, but rather of our intelligence. Evolution is seen as a billion- year drama leading inexorably to its grandest creation: human intelligence. The specter of machine intelligence's competing with that of its creator will once again threaten our view of who we are.
We have now peered about 80% of the way through the chess board. We might wonder what happens at the end of the chess board. In the year 2040 we will reach the sixty-fourth. square. In my view Moore's law will still be going strong. Computer circuits will now be grown like crystals with computing taking place at the molecular level.
By the year 2040, in accordance with Moore's law, your state-of-the-art personal computer will be able to simulate a society of 10,000 human brains, each of which would be operating at a speed 10,000 times faster than a human brain. Or, alternatively, it could implement a single mind with 10,000 times the memory capacity of a human brain and 100 million times the speed.
What will the implications of this development be? Well, unfortunately, I've run out of time, so you'll have to invite me back. But I'll leave two thoughts with you, written by people who did not have the benefit of a voice-activated word processor. Sun Tzu, Chou dynasty philosopher and military strategist, wrote in the fourth century BC: "Knowledge is power and permits the wise to conquer without bloodshed and to accomplish deeds surpassing all others." And Shakespeare wrote: "We know what we are, but know not what we may be."
Thank you very much.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: T. V. Cranmer]
EMERGING RESEARCH GOALS IN THE BLINDNESS FIELD
by T. V. Cranmer
From the Editor: Dr. Cranmer chairs the Research and Development Committee of the National Federation of the Blind. He is also an inventor and an expert in technology issues in the blindness field. He was the first speaker on the late morning panel which addressed the conference on November 4. Here is what he had to say:
It is a distinct pleasure to be here. I have been attacked by my computer, have been humbled by it as late as yesterday. I purchased WordPerfect 6.0 a few days ago and installed it. (It took sixteen megabytes on my hard disk.) I thought to myself, I'll wait until I get back from the conference to look into this new program; but yesterday morning, having a couple of hours to while away, I couldn't resist, and I tried a new feature, the grammar checker. That's where the humility comes in. I ran Grammatik, and in the first paragraph it said that my sentence constructions were awkward, that I used the incorrect tense (or was it tenses?), that I was using the passive voice, and that the material was not appropriate to the kind of talk I was making. I wondered if I should come at all. So I sought solace in a usually reliable place; I explained my humiliation to my wife. And in her usual way she rallied to the occasion and said, "Well, you write the way you talk." Nevertheless, I am going to plow forward and read my comments, in which I have imbedded some humor and whimsy. I hope that they are not too well disguised.
What better thing to do on a Sunday afternoon than discover a tide of change in the way humans communicate? This thought gave little comfort when, not many Sundays ago, I went with my sister to K-Mart to buy some simple necessities. Stopping near a counter, I touched a shrink-wrapped package and asked, "What's this?"
"Turn it around so I can see," Irma directed. I rotated the package ninety degrees so she could get a good view. "That's a bath set," she said, "with a toilet seat cover, tank cover, bath mat, and matching towel and wash cloth."
"Is that what it says?" I asked, with some surprise at the completeness of the identification of the package contents.
"No," she replied, "that is what the picture shows." [And I thought: Aren't graphics just for computers?]
Near by on the same counter there were other packages containing just towels, towels and wash cloths, bath mats, and so on--all identified by pictures alone.
These things were not on my shopping list, so we moved on to the rack of bagged candies, where I made the only purchase of the day--a mixed bag of butterscotch and mint flavored taffy kisses. Returning to our car, I opened the candy and invited Irma to try a piece and at the same time pick a mint taffy for me. She handed me the kiss.
"Does it say 'mint'?" I asked.
"No; it just has a leaf on it," she said. "The butterscotch has a cow on it."
That's when it hit me: the moment of truth! While I had been chained by love to my disk for the past four decades, the rest of the world had been accelerating a swing away from words to pictures to convey information, away from text toward icons.
I learned a lot more during the ride back to the office. Traffic lights, at least in my town, don't bear the words "stop," "caution," and "go," depending instead on the colors red, yellow, and green. What about drivers who are color blind? The stop light is on top; the go light is on the bottom.
How about traffic signs? The stop sign is a red octagon. Mile markers are green vertically oriented rectangles with rounded corners, and highway exit signs are green horizontal rectangles. If that's not enough, diamond-shape signs signify danger, and round ones stand for railway crossings.
Like any responsible investigator, I contacted our state highway department to verify the accuracy of what I had been told about traffic lights and signs and to ask why different colors and shapes were used. The state official informed me that it was so that "people won't have to read them if they aren't interested."
Motorists: can you recall when the image of a horn first adorned the horn button on your car? When did the picture of a smoking cigarette first identify the cigarette lighter?
It was at about this point in my new awareness that I flashed-back to PC-Magazine for July, where the editor proclaimed:
WordPerfect 6.0 is here. The question is, should you invest in what might be one of the last significant DOS programs, or is it time to switch to a Windows word processor? Hold on, PC-Magazine! Is Windows our only choice? IBM just might offer an alternative environment--not that it is guaranteed to provide any advantage to the blind.
In either case I wonder what use word processors will have in the world dominated by graphic images. I ponder but won't pursue here the question, does our emphasis on pictorial information have a direct connection with the reported increase in illiteracy in our society?
For those of you who require more evidence to support the notion that we may now be approaching the end point of a swing away from words toward symbolic representations, I invite your attention to developments in the musical instruments industry. Compare the classical organ and its modern equivalent, the electronic synthesizer. The pipe organ has stops clearly labeled with names like flute, recorder flute, oboe, piccolo, violin, and viola. The synthesizer may have similar voices labeled with pictures of the instruments they are supposed to imitate but without text labels. Furthermore, these electronic instruments may have a dynamic visual display that includes pictures of the instrument or instruments currently being synthesized.
It is just a matter of time till photos and illustrations will dominate the print publishing industries. It is no longer possible to find a book that is not illustrated. Many textbooks for primary grades devote as much space to pictures and illustrations as to text.
So the challenge to the blind and to the researchers in the blindness field emerges: How are we to decode the visual information that surrounds us and back-translate the messages into words? How are we to extract the message in the graphic and say it in words?
The interpretation of visual information may be more involved than it first appears. To hark back to my earlier reference to the picture of a leaf on the peppermint taffy, it clearly is not enough to say "leaf" unless the blind observer is also given the information that the leaf is on the wrapper of a candy kiss. Only then will he make the connection and conclude that the leaf is from a sprig of mint. For all the same reasons, informing a blind computer user of current information on his graphical user interface requires much more than speaking the identity of the icons, dialog boxes, radio buttons, et cetera. More often than not, it will also be necessary to know the juxtaposition of certain depictions, what is currently selected (active) and what is required of the blind operator to accept the current display or to change conditions.
Microsoft Corporation has demonstrated initiative in solving some of the problems resulting from their emphasis on the Windows computer environment. Mr. Greg Lowney has shared information with the NFB on his work at Microsoft and will surely discuss the progress he has made at some point in this conference. IBM has also addressed the issue of access by blind people to their Program Manager graphical user interface. Blazie Engineering is expected to make an important contribution to mastering the Windows program with their product, Windows Master, now in development. This ingenious approach allows the blind computer user to control and otherwise operate a computer running Windows, using only a Braille 'n Speak and the Windows Master software. You may coax Mr. Blazie into divulging more information about this unannounced product.
The success of the work of Microsoft, IBM, Blazie Engineering, and others must depend on strategies for interpreting visual information through speech and Braille. The NFB Research and Development Committee and other members of the Federation will play an important role in developing these strategies.
One member, T. V. Raman, is a doctoral student at Cornell University, a recent NFB scholarship winner, and a member of our research discussion group on the Internet. His work can be glimpsed through two brief quotes from a paper posted to his file area on the computer science archive at Cornell:
I have developed AFL, a language for expressing audio formatting rules. AFL is used to produce audio renderings of electronic documents with heavy mathematical content. The system surpasses current-day reading machines in both the type of documents handled and quality of audio renderings.
My research on audio formatting, though motivated by the need to generate audio documents, is more generally applicable to the areas of user interface and information access in audio. [or Braille]
After taking his Ph.D from Cornell in December, Raman hopes to extend his work to include audio formatting of complex graphical computer displays. Raman's papers can be retrieved via the Internet using file transfer protocol to ftp.cs.cornell.edu and changing to the sub directory /pub/raman.
Once the information in a graphical display has been extracted and converted to language elements, some will want to forego use of a speech synthesizer in favor of a Braille display. The amount and kind of processing required to achieve a satisfactory Braille format will depend on the size of the Braille display available. We are presently limited to a single line of refreshable Braille as the output of a computer, reading machine, or consumer product. This is a serious limitation. It is difficult, if not impossible, using a single line of Braille to convey page layout and other format characteristics that contribute to the reading process.
Inventors and researchers alike are now responding to the need for a larger and affordable Braille display. While none have as yet found the right combination of materials and technologies to produce a full-page, refreshable display, there are numerous signs of serious work and some progress worth noting.
In recent years several materials and mechanical devices have competed for the role of the technology of choice to make refreshable Braille. The piezoelectric ceramic bimorph has emerged as the clear winner. This is the technology used by Telesensory in the U.S., Tieman of Holland, Tiflotel in Italy, and others to produce one-line displays. Affordable multi-line piezoelectric displays have not yet appeared in the market or the laboratory.
One company, Piezo Systems of Winchester, Massachusetts, has been funded for the first phase of a project to build piezoelectric displays with four and eight lines of forty characters each. The number of lines in future displays may be any multiple of four. The number of characters per line is limited only by the maximum line length that would be acceptable to consumers. Piezo Systems has thus far produced a proof-of- concept model consisting of 4 columns and 4 rows. The company is now awaiting funding for phase II of the project. A date of early 1996 is projected for producing the first practical prototype with four lines of forty cells. While we can expect to see one- line piezoelectric refreshable displays for many years to come, it is clear that this technology will never be applicable to a page-size Braille panel.
Braille computer screens and reading machines that rival a Braille book will come when the tactile equivalent of the pixel is designed. The monitor at the airport, the screen on a personal computer, and a television set are examples of a remarkable application of the phenomenon of phosphorescence. These displays are manufactured by coating the inside of the front of a glass tube with one or more phosphors which emit light when excited by impinging electrons. An electron gun at the rear of the video tube sweeps an electron beam back and forth over the phosphor coating. By turning the beam on and off as it traverses the entire area of the coated surface, some points are made to emit light while others remain dark. It is thus possible to produce patterns of light and dark points to form pictures. Each point of light or dark is called a pixel--for picture element. Sophisticated elaborations of this simple technology have led to the development of all of the displays mentioned immediately above, as well as high definition color television.
During the first U.S./Canada Conference on Technology, the work of Dr. Toyo Tanaka with phase transition gels was cited as a possible approach to designing a tactile equivalent of a pixel. These gels exhibit the property of dimensional change in the presence of visible or invisible light, temperature variation, or an electric field. Theoretically it is possible to create a smooth, flat panel containing cells filled with a gel material. Braille patterns of raised dots could be produced on this panel under computer control. Maximum exploitation of this concept could result in a transducer capable of displaying high quality Braille, raised lines, dots, textures, and other tactual graphics. Professor Toyo Tanaka, Assistant Professor Steven Leeb at MIT, and Dr. John Gardner at Oregon State University have teamed up to explore this application.
These statements are from the MIT grant application to the National Science Foundation:
The principal goal of this project is to explore the practicality of fabricating actuators suitable for use in an inexpensive Braille-type display that could be used with a personal computer or other information- processing tool. This project proposes to explore novel actuation technologies based on polymer gels, which could, in theory, be used to construct actuators that provide direct linear motion quietly, swiftly, and with high force. Small actuators based on polymer gels could be used in a Braille display and in other miniature machines.
One or more prototype Braille displays, [will be made] based on these actuators, which will operate in concert with a standard personal computer to provide a tactile display of Braille text and graphics. The NFB R&D Committee welcomed the opportunity to comment on the draft of the MIT proposal. We have endorsed the application and will maintain communication with Gardner and Leeb as this work proceeds.
For at least a decade there has been a steady murmur of discontent among the blind as a number of consumer electronic products came to market with displays and control systems that we cannot readily use. Listening to this background of discontent, one can occasionally pick out clear ideas of what should be done to remedy the situation. Some say we need to pass a law to mandate all industries to produce only products that can be used by blind people. I might say that there is some agreement on this point, but it ends at the conceptual level. No one has clearly described the details of just how a universal display and control system might be designed and implemented across the diverse field of consumer electronic products. Some say Braille displays must be installed; some insist upon synthetic speech on everything. Whether Braille, large print, or speech is the medium, the language required may be English, Spanish, or Swahili. Almost everyone agrees that there should be no more touch panel controls, in which each button is shown as a visible spot that cannot be tactilely located. From out of the gray background, I begin to hear the boys in the corporate board rooms murmuring about the need to have all electronic equipment talk a common language so that anything can communicate with anything else. It is yet to be made clear why we might want our photocopier to talk to our microwave oven.
Understanding the problem may be the first step in finding a solution. The problem can be reduced to two elements: an ever increasing diversity of products with visual displays on one side of the problem and a finite group of handicapped individuals requiring different modes of sensory input on the other side. Stated in other terms, consumer products are now designed to display information that cannot be decoded by blind and visually impaired individuals.
We may be ready to recognize that there cannot be a global solution to the problem of consumer access to electronic products. Several solutions must be identified. It is at this point that NFB offers a two-dimensional approach to bring consumer products within reach of all disability groups.
Manufacturers of consumer products will be asked to make simple and inexpensive provision to accommodate blind and visually impaired consumers. The first is to employ only controls that can be tactually perceived. Examples include all conventional mechanical knobs and buttons as well as touch-pads and membrane switches with discernable tactile borders or markers.
The second accommodation requires that all products continually send complete information appearing on their visual display through an infrared light transmitter. From a hardware point of view, this is a very simple design modification. It will require the addition of one light-emitting diode (LED) and the simple circuitry for modulating the LED with text information that corresponds to the information on the visual display. In effect, these new products will have two equivalent displays. The LCD, gas plasma, or other visual device for the general public and the infrared transmitter to display the equivalent information to handicapped consumers. Development of a detailed description of the protocol for transmitting information through the infrared transmitter is one goal of an NFB research project.
It should be instantly apparent that blind people cannot see and interpret information on a beam of infrared light any better than they can read an LCD display. Something more is clearly needed to make access happen. The blindness industry must respond to the standard infrared display by offering a variety of products to receive the encoded information on the infrared light coming from the CD-player, VCR machine, programmable telephone answering machine, et cetera, and then decode the information and present it to the blind individual in synthetic speech, Braille, large print, or other communication medium of his choosing. Demonstration of a consumer receiver system is another goal of the NFB project.
It is safe to assume that manufacturers and vendors will respond to this new opportunity to serve blind and visually impaired customers. We can expect to see the Braille 'n Speak, Braille Lite, Braille Mate, and a host of other products equipped with infrared receivers and associated software to translate display information to Braille or speech. We can anticipate speech synthesizers capable of functioning as the display reader. We can also expect to see add-ons to retrofit these and similar products so that they can be used to receive the display information. For example a simple plug-in module could convert a laptop computer to a large print display for an office telephone operator. Imaginative vendors will think of additional, novel, and useful products based on this technology.
Emerging research goals in the field of blindness that command our resources, energy, and leadership include the areas described above. Success in these areas--translating visual presentation of information to spoken language and Braille; design, building, and deploying a large affordable refreshable Braille display; and the provision of a consumer access port to electronic products--will together lower some of the barriers to full participation by blind men and women in an increasingly complex technological society. You can continue to count on the NFB to be a supporter, a partner, and a leader in research as we move into the future.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Ruperto Ponz Lazaro]
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION IN THE FIELD OF TECHNOLOGY: AN AGENDA FOR ACTION TOWARDS THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
by Ruperto Ponz
From the Editor: Ruperto Ponz chairs the World Blind Union Committee on Technology and is also one of the leaders of ONCE, the Spanish organization of the blind. Mr. Ponz was invited to attend the conference and address the group. He requested that the English translation of his remarks be read for him since he is not fluent in English. Ronald Meyer, who was recording the conference, did so. Here is what Mr. Ponz said:
Let me first of all express my satisfaction for the opportunity which has been given me to share with you my views and goals as Chairman of the WBU Committee on Technology, and let me also convey to you warmest greetings from the leadership of the Spanish National Organization of the Blind (ONCE), in which I have the responsibility of heading the Department of Social Services. In the 1980's ONCE as an organization and Spain as a country undertook the most dramatic and rapidly improving changes in the field of services to the blind that have ever occurred in such a short period of time anywhere in the world. Technology has not been absent in this forward-looking transformation.
In the late fifties and early sixties, when I was attending a residential school in Spain, the most sophisticated technology we were using was the slate and stylus. A Braille writer looked to us like an impossible dream. In the late sixties and early seventies, when I was employed as a teacher in ONCE's educational system, the Perkins Brailler and the cassette recorder were already commonplace tools in our schools. In the early eighties, when I became headmaster of one of those schools, the Optacon, CCTV magnifying systems, and other optical appliances and low- vision techniques were introduced in our system. Now in my current field of responsibility, which also encompasses all aspects of technical research and development, import of equipment, and national production and distribution of low- and high-technology devices, I am faced with the exciting challenge of creating the necessary conditions to place within the reach of blind people in my country the considerable advances that electronics and computer science have brought about to benefit blind and visually impaired people. And I can say now with pride that we in Spain have moved from a position of total technological dependency to one where we are beginning to be technological contributors.
I have dwelled on the description of my technology-related professional itinerary in order to give you an idea of where I stand now. Although on a strictly personal level I remain faithful to the stylus and slate of the fifties, on a professional level I am committed to do everything possible to assist in opening all doors of technological progress to my fellow blind in Spain and all over the world.
I accepted the proposal to chair such an important committee of the World Blind Union in order to share with others my experience as a teacher and school administrator as well as a member of the management team of a major organization in the blindness field, and to put at the disposal of the international community the human and other resources of ONCE. However, the success of our endeavors will largely depend on the pooling of imagination, critical judgments, and constructive suggestions of people with knowledge and expertise from throughout the world. In this venture the contribution from North America is essential. Aware of the fact that international cooperation is more easily said than done, I trust that we will succeed in making steps forward in the years ahead in the achievement of some of our goals.
Let me finally outline the main activities we would like our Committee to be involved with between now and 1996.
1. Information collection and dissemination. Further efforts need to be made to improve the mechanisms for collecting information about research and development and the availability of products and especially to improve the means for making existing projects and products known to all their potential beneficiaries. The advantages of electronic networks must be fully exploited.
Mechanisms for effective and objective evaluation must be further improved. A worthy example in this regard is the International Braille and Technology Center of the National Federation of the Blind in the USA.
The basic concept of these North American technology conferences deserves to be applied at a world level. We do need to create a truly universal forum for researchers, manufacturers, service providers, and consumers. We must critically analyze current realities, identify areas of cooperation, and establish future planning mechanisms. Tentatively such a conference could take place in the second half of 1995 or the first half of 1996.
2. Influencing general research and development, manufacturing, and standard-setting bodies.
Strategies must be implemented to bring to the attention of all those concerned the unique needs and potential of blind and visually impaired people. We are potential users of almost any product or service, but things are increasingly designed and produced as though everyone could see.
3. Further defining research and development priorities and setting up implementation mechanisms.
During the previous WBU term of office the Research Committee undertook the meaningful task of determining priorities. This needs further expansion and revision, and it is imperative to make a serious attempt to implement those priorities in a concerted manner.
The World Blind Union lacks resources of its own to promote significant projects by itself, but we can do a lot through the mobilization of knowledge and expertise and the pooling of funds. We could explore the feasibility of establishing a WBU Award for the most excellent contributions to the implementation of our agreed priorities.
4. Involvement of consumers in the design and development process.
We the organized consumers nationally and internationally know best what we need and how it should be done. We must put pressure on all concerned bodies to see to it that we are consulted at the earliest possible stages. In this case the WBU should be the representative voice of consumers internationally.
5. Technology transfer to the developing world.
If we do not exert the appropriate solidarity mechanisms, advances in technology run the risk of widening the gap between developed and developing countries. The majority of blind people live in developing countries, and in essence their basic needs are similar to ours. If their quantitative importance could be brought to bear in the design and production of certain items, production would become far more cost-effective for us also.
It should be one of our priority aims to assist in making technology available everywhere. Rapid advances often make useful products obsolete in a very short period of time. Such appliances could be more helpful in the hands of students and professionals in the third world than in our storage rooms. This is only one possible example of an opportunity to carry out a positive technology transfer.
In this exciting program I trust that I will be able to count on the unreserved cooperation and the immense treasure of knowledge and expertise which exists in the field of technology in the U.S. and Canada.
Thank you for your kind attention.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: David Andrews]
OBSERVATIONS ON THE STATE OF TECHNOLOGY FOR THE BLIND
by David Andrews
From the Editor: David Andrews is the Director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind at the National Center for the Blind. Today he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about Braille production and speech technology. Here are his remarks:
In the next few minutes I hope to give you some observations and insights into technology, past and present, that I hope can be used to prepare us for the future. As the Director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, I have the opportunity to look at and work with all of the computer- related technology which is available for blind persons. This unique opportunity gives me a broad view of what is happening today with technology. I would like to take the next few minutes to reflect on what I have observed, both good and bad, including some of my pet peeves.
I got my first taste of technology in 1983 with the old Kurzweil Reading Machine. Even though I had one in my office at the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Handicapped, I found myself using it rarely. This was in part because it was usually broken. It was also in part because it was difficult to understand and really didn't do that great a job. I sat down with the machine and read a whole book about telecommunications. It of course repeatedly mentioned AT&T, which the machine insisted upon calling a7&7. The machine was a technical achievement, and my hat goes off to you, Ray Kurzweil, and certainly it was necessary to get us where we are today. Unfortunately, it was more of a marketing achievement than a reading solution. Today's generation of machines is very reliable and much more able.
I next moved on to a VersaBraille Classic. We just called it the VersaBraille at the time. By 1985 I added an Apple 2e computer and Braille-Edit and an old Echo II. These tools were necessary to realize much of the power of the VersaBraille. In 1987 I got my first MS-DOS computer, an old Zenith Z-159 XT, a powerful machine at the time. In 1988 I moved up to a NEC 286 machine, and I added a 286 laptop and laser printer in 1990. In 1991 I bought a 33 Mhz 486 Zeos Computer, and I later bought a smaller 486/sx to use to feed mail and messages to computer bulletin boards in the Baltimore area. Along the way I have bought, traded, and sold various pieces of access technology--I sold my Optacon to buy my first computer, and I sold my VersaBraille to buy my second. I have also bought, sold, and used various speech synthesizers, owning as many as five at one time.
All of this is a long way of saying that what is best in this field is competition. This is true both in the general computer market and the access technology field. In the early 1980's you could count the number of high-tech devices on your two hands and have fingers left over. Now in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind we have twenty Braille embossers, nine Braille translation programs, over twenty-five speech synthesizers, twenty screen review programs, five stand-alone reading machines, nine computer-based reading systems, eight kinds of refreshable Braille displays, two Braille laptop computers, seven portable electronic note takers, three kinds of printers for creating Braille and print on the same page, two devices which allow a deaf-blind person to use a telephone, and a wide variety of miscellaneous software and hardware, all designed for blind and deaf-blind people. It is truly amazing when you consider that most of this development has happened in the last five years or less. In less then three years the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has filled a 3,000-plus square foot room with devices and has had to move to a space over twice as large. Dr. Jernigan, our Finance Chairman, may well hope that the rate of acquisition slows down a little so that we can stay in the new premises for a longer time.
A good example of competition and the way in which it has improved things is in the area of stand-alone reading machines. The first machines (financed, incidentally, through the National Federation of the Blind) cost over 50,000 dollars and came on the market some fifteen years ago. I am sure that Dr. Jernigan and Ray Kurzweil could tell us some war stories about those days. Kurzweil's current model is priced at about ten percent of the cost of the original and is smaller and better. I have said to people in the past that Kurzweil Computer Products made the reading machine market, and Arkenstone made it competitive.
The other thing that has helped reading products immensely, but isn't as available in other access technology areas, is piggybacking on commercial developments. Optical character recognition products, scanners, and OCR software are now widely available and used. This has encouraged a number of companies to develop products in these areas. Arkenstone, Kurzweil, and others have benefited from this interest and effort. Unfortunately for blind people, Braille printers, Braille translation software, screen review programs, and speech synthesizers aren't general market items. I would expect that this could change in the case of speech synthesizers, but not for at least five years. I believe that ultimately most computers will operate in part by recognizing the operator's voice and responding to his or her commands. If you are talking to your computer, you won't necessarily be at the keyboard and won't be looking at it. Thus, speech synthesis and voice prompting are natural outgrowths of speech recognition. At this point cheap and improved speech synthesis is possible. Until then our numbers are too small to promote much research and development in this area. For all intents and purposes, there have not been any major improvements in speech for approximately ten years. We have seen incremental improvements and a number of new products and, in a couple of cases, lower prices; but there has not been a major improvement in speech synthesis in some time.
The price of the DEC-Talk has dropped dramatically, and it is increasingly used. However, the danger is that, because it is pretty good and more affordable, we will accept it as the norm and depend on it. Its widespread availability and acceptance don't promote new development. Likewise, reliance on the SSI 263 chip, used by Artic Technologies, Aicom's Accent, the Braille 'n Speak, and others, doesn't promote new products. It offers relatively low cost, good performance, and acceptable speech quality; and people know how to write for the chip; but it really isn't that great. We are just used to it. In my opinion the best thing that could happen to the speech synthesis field is that the SSI 263 chip would go away. That would force us to develop alternatives.
Another positive development is the increased involvement of blind persons in the access technology field. There are quite a number of very talented blind programmers out there, and a number of important companies are owned and run by blind persons. Caryn Navy of Raised Dot Computing and Noel Runyan of Personal Data Systems, both of whom are here, are notable examples, and there are others. I wasn't trying to leave you out, Ted, Larry, and the others. There just isn't time for everyone.
There still aren't enough of us at the top, though. Look around the room and observe how many of you are sighted and how many are blind. Further, some of the big companies (TeleSensory, HumanWare, and Kurzweil spring to mind) have few if any blind sales reps. You might take note of Arkenstone, which has in large part made its fortune thanks to the efforts of numbers of locally-based entrepreneurs, many of whom are blind.
In a few years technology has become very important to many of us. While it won't and can't replace basic skills like cane travel and Braille, some of us couldn't do our jobs without it.
Now to my pet peeves: In working with all this technology, I think I have a unique perspective on what could be better overall. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, access to information has been placed in a whole new light. It is now becoming much more commonplace to get Braille agendas at meetings or menus in restaurants. It has become easier to get a Braille menu, in some cases, than to get a Braille manual out of some of you. Let me give you a couple of examples. We purchased the $15,000 David Braille computer from Baum U.S.A. in the summer of 1992 and did not get Braille manuals until a year later. We did not get Braille manuals for the DMFM/80, the $25,000 refreshable Braille display we bought from Baum, until late October of 1993. We bought the DMFM/80 at the same time we bought the David. This is inexcusable for completely Braille-oriented products which will be used by blind people only. Baum U.S.A. said that it was making changes and didn't want to publish the manual too soon. If they had that many changes, perhaps the product was released too soon.
I am not trying to pick on Baum. There are other offenders. I finally printed my own Braille manuals for the Braillex IB80 and Notex 40 from Papenmeier of Germany. I was unable to get manuals from two different companies--Adhoc Reading Systems and ATR Computer. I am still waiting for Braille for the $16,500 Braillex 2D refreshable Braille display.
While I got Braille with the Alva Braille Carrier (a $9,000 Braille note taker/display sold by HumanWare), it was unformatted, unburst, unbound, and all in computer Braille. American Thermoform did the same thing with the manual for the Braillo Comet, a $3,795 Braille embosser. On the low end, the Braille manual that came with the Porta-Thiel (an $1,895 Braille embosser, which is sold by Blazie Engineering, among others) was atrocious. It also was unformatted and in Computer Braille.
Further, those of you who send out Braille need to be more conscientious at times. For years TeleSensory has distributed Braille spec sheets on its VersaPoint embosser. These sheets are usually in Computer Braille. All people see is that it isn't in Grade 2 Braille. You are only hurting yourselves by not translating and proofreading your documents. Speaking of TeleSensory and Braille, I just got a Braille document from them. It concerns the Everest printer, which they sold in the past, and the problems many have had with feeding the paper properly. The paper-handling notice was in Braille, but the backs of all the pages, which were printed in interpoint Braille, had words missing from the right side of each line. It made for difficult reading, as you can imagine. While the formatting and translation were fine, it is obvious that none of the pages was proofed by a Braille reader. and TeleSensory is not the only offender in this area. They just come to mind as the last one to cross my desk.
Most of the screen review vendors do not offer Braille, not even a reference card. Omnichron with Flipper and KANSYS, Inc., with PROVOX have traditionally offered Braille manuals upon request. IBM had a nice, extra-cost hardcover manual with Screen Reader for DOS but took over a year to come up with a Braille reference card for Screen Reader/2 for OS/2. Many of you do not label your disks or cassette tapes in Braille either.
So that I won't be perceived as entirely negative, I will say that there is some good Braille out there. Telesensory, Enabling Technologies, Kurzweil, and Arkenstone, among others, have all traditionally offered good Braille manuals. Enabling Technologies is noteworthy in that some of their manuals have contained servicing instructions. They are also willing to send some kinds of parts to individual blind users to install themselves. It is nice to be treated like the adults we are. You are in the business of providing hardware and software products to blind people. Some of us read Braille; some of us like tape; some of us prefer disk-based documentation; and some of us would rather have large print. Each alternative is what we need, though, and this won't change. You need to consider these alternate formats as a part of the cost of doing business with us. It isn't always enough just to put the manual on disk and leave it to us. You owe us more than that, particularly with expensive Braille-oriented products.
Before we leave manuals, I would like to touch upon the writing itself. It looks as if some of you don't own a spelling checker or don't have access to a good human editor. If this part of your products is so sloppy, it makes me wonder about the programming or inner workings. I have also come to hate most European manuals. They tend to rely on many figures, tables, and drawings--and the translation is often terrible. If you are going to import a product to the U.S., you need to take the time to produce a good manual that Americans can digest. We aren't stupid--but the style, usage, and conventions are different here.
My next cross to bear is difficult installation programs. This is particularly a problem with screen review programs and to a certain extent may be unsolvable. If the user doesn't have a working synthesizer, it can be difficult to get speech up for the first time. However, there are things you can do.
Make initial installation instructions and warnings accessible in a variety of formats so everyone can read them. I get programs all the time that have the instructions on disk and in print. If I don't yet have speech up, I am already stuck until I can get a human reader. Don't bury important warnings. SlimWare Window Bridge did this with warnings about the memory manager QEMM-386. I didn't figure it out until I had lost one of my two possible installations from their copy-protected installation disk. This copy-protection is another bone of contention with me. Virtually everyone in the general software market, as well as the access field, has dropped copy protection because of the problems it causes users. About the only people using it anymore are game makers, who generally sell their products for less than $50 a pop. If Synthavoice was offering SlimWare Window Bridge at a minimal cost, the copy-protection might make sense, but at $695 it is one of the more expensive Microsoft-Windows-access products.
The Window Bridge installation does do one good thing. They are able automatically to identify and configure themselves for a wide variety of synthesizers, simplifying the process. Others are starting to identify more synthesizers automatically, but Window Bridge initially made big progress in this area.
The Thiel Bax-10, a high-speed interpoint Braille printer that cost over $80,000 at the time we bought it, comes with a software-based setup program that is virtually impossible to use with speech. It seems that they could do better.
Some of you could engage in more responsible marketing. I realize that the competition at times is fierce, but you will ultimately not do yourselves any good by misportraying the abilities of your products. As I said earlier, technology, as important and useful as it is, isn't a substitute for good basic skills. We have seen both the BrailleMate and the Mountbatten Brailler portrayed as solutions to our Braille literacy problems. While these devices and others may be aids to literacy, they will not magically make a blind child know Braille. They should also not be substituted for using the slate and stylus.
A marketing ploy that seems unethical to me is the practice of pre-announcing new products. This is telling people that something bigger and better is just around the corner. It is a problem for two reasons. First, it has the effect of freezing the market, and the competition suffers. Second, some people perpetually wait for the bigger and better thing. You and they are denying them the use of potentially useful technology while waiting for that perfect solution that XYZ, Inc., just announced.
It is understandable that some pre-announcement is necessary. It would seem to me that one to three months, maybe four months, is reasonable. But we have seen wait times from six months to a year or more from companies like Artic Technologies, Blazie Engineering, and Index, among others. These periods seem unduly long. As a consumer I don't want to buy product X on Monday and find that the company started selling Y on Tuesday and that Y is much better. On the other hand, if I am waiting around for Y for a year or more, then I didn't get the use of X for all that time. There comes a time when we all must make the technology plunge. If it is good and appropriate technology for us, it will still be useful even if it isn't the latest and greatest. Companies might offer trade-ins or upgrades, or suspend sales of a given device, prior to a new one's coming on the market. Ultimately all of you will be better served by attending to the needs of your customers, not by bad-mouthing the competition or trying to take their business away by pre-announcing new products and freezing the market.
Finally, some of you exaggerate the specifications and benefits of your products. Fudged specs are most noticeable in the Braille embosser segment. You might rightfully point out that you are not fudging. You are just measuring noise or printing speed differently from me. While this could be true, I think some of you could be more practical and realistic in your measurements. One example is the Everest printer. Index and TeleSensory have said that it prints at 100 characters per second. While I have not measured this scientifically, this appears to me and others to be the measure for printing one sheet of paper. It doesn't take into account the time it takes to change pages on this sheet-feeder type embosser. Most of my documents, while not hundreds of pages, are longer than one page. A realistic measure would account for a multipage document.
One of two things needs to happen. The first is that all of you agree on how these things should be measured and described. The second solution is that someone (those of us at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, for instance) will measure them in the way we see fit and tell the world. We may do this anyway!
I hope that you accept my remarks in the spirit in which they are offered. While there are problems in this field, there is also much good to be admired and noted. Your energy, dedication, and commitment are outstanding. Most of us, if we were in it for the money, should have taken the advice offered to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and gone into plastics or something. Most of you vendors are doing this because you are doing what you want to do. I hope that we can all work together so that you can make an honest living and offer blind people better and cheaper technology at the same time. While not easy, it is possible.
Mohymen Saddeek, President of Technology for Independence, Inc., was the final speaker on the morning panel. "Technology for Independence" was his title. A summary of his remarks appears elsewhere in this issue. =================================================================
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Tony Schenk]
OBSERVATIONS OF A FREE MARKETEER
by Tony Schenk
From the Editor: Tony Schenk is the President of Enabling Technologies Company. Mr. Schenk was the first speaker on the Thursday afternoon panel. Here are his remarks:
As I thought about how to contribute to a dialogue which brings together such a broad range of consumers from our marketplace, I couldn't help recalling hotel magnate Conrad Hilton's memorable moment on NBC's "Tonight Show." Asked by Johnny Carson if he had a message for his customer base which could be summarized in just a few words, Hilton shot back, "Yes! Remember when you take a shower in my hotels, the curtain goes inside the tub, not outside."
Now that's what I call getting your point across. Of course, Mr. Hilton could afford to be brief because people already knew what he stood for, since most of them had probably been in at least one of his hotels at one time or another. Fortunately we have been given a bit more time for our remarks than guests on the "Tonight Show" typically receive, but otherwise my situation is not so different from that of Conrad Hilton. You already know me and the people who work with me through the products we manufacture, deliver and support. Your impression of us has already been largely formed by your experience with what we offer, and there is nothing I can say here today which would add very much to, or take very much away from, that impression. This is exactly as it should be.
Throughout my eleven-year involvement with Enabling Technologies, first as a developer of software and hardware and later as president of the company, I have been acutely aware that what we say matters a good deal less to the people we serve than what we do or don't put into the boxes we pack and ship every day. Nevertheless, there are a few observations I want to share with this select group about some of the ways in which access technology is bought and sold. Some strange things occasionally happen in this wonderfully topsy-turvy, dynamic field of human endeavor. One or two of these could perhaps affect what you pay for access technology and what kind of choices you may have.
My first observation is that only the kind of free market we enjoy together could have produced the stunning array of choices which currently exist for buyers of access technology. It is amazing to me how many companies and how many products have managed to survive and even prosper in a marketplace which is considered too small for notice by the giants in the technology industry. I hope nothing ever happens to restrict this free market situation, and I believe that any such development would immediately begin to diminish the variety of products and services available. But I digress. The wide range of choices available to the consumer goes far beyond the matter of which device to buy. And some of these decisions impose difficult choices on us as a manufacturer.
There are a lot of ways of describing my job and the job of my vice president, B.T. Kimbrough, but most of it comes down to highly refined listening in order to make what we are going to do next responsive to what the marketplace tells us it wants. I say that our listening is a refined skill, because we have to do much more than simply hear what people say on the telephone, in national conferences, and at regional meetings. In order to truly receive the message from the marketplace, we have to hear what people don't say but imply in their buying decisions; we must ask questions and pay careful attention to the significance of the questions people ask us. And beyond that we have to be alert when using our own products because this is our best chance to put ourselves in the place of the user when we design the next generation of product.
Much of the message about what the marketplace wants in a Braille printer, which is our chosen field of focus, is so loudly and universally expressed that I could recite it in my sleep, and according to my wife I occasionally do. Consumers have come to expect subsequent generations of product to contain significant advancements over earlier models. Everyone wants to see the next product cheaper, faster, lighter, more portable, quieter, more flexible, and easier to operate. While at least two of these characteristics, simplicity and flexibility, are somewhat mutually exclusive, I dare say that any new product which does not incorporate at least some of the issues of lower cost, greater speed, less noise or greater versatility, will have very little chance of success.
But step below this layer of certainty, and you start hearing an ever-widening stream of differing and conflicting priorities as you penetrate all the many submarkets which we call a customer base. Many of our consumers want a Braille printer to make Grade Two Braille without the intervention of a computer; some want Braille and print on the same page, while others will only consider the product if it can be leased or rented. Regardless of its capabilities, some government customers will buy it only if it can be obtained from a local dealer. (I will have more to say about this trend later.) Still others will only buy the product if they are given a sizable discount. (Again, more of this later.)
Some state purchasing authorities disregard all product characteristics except speed and price, apparently believing that this will at least give the appearance of obtaining the best product at the lowest cost. These purchasers are not end users, but they control the money. Although the Braille readers who will be using the machines are usually quite specific about the product or at least the features they want the state to obtain for them, the purchasing authorities are usually quite simplistic in the specifications they set. As a result, users sometimes do not get the device they prefer, and manufacturers are encouraged to place undue emphasis on speed because this is the only major characteristic specified in too many bids.
Purchasing agents who represent government and private industry are among our most frequent and most challenging customers. Anxious to make the transaction as simple and brief as possible and insulate themselves from any possible later contact with the Braille reading end user, these buyers sometimes insist on involving a third party, a tactic which can have wasteful consequences. Typically this third party is a local computer dealer who has never handled an access technology device and has no interest now except the making of a quick buck. Theoretically this dealer is supposed to install the device, follow up with the user, and deal with any small problems which might arise in combining several separate products into a functional system. But the dealers chosen for this role are not to be confused with the reputable and capable dealers of access technology who can and do add value to the transaction by providing installation and support when needed. The inexperienced local computer dealers of whom I speak add nothing to the transaction except the cost of an extra middle man. The manufacturer must give the dealer his piece and then absorb the extra cost of whatever support might be needed, occasionally coping with dealers who try to look good by making a sage-sounding diagnosis of a problem which could be dealt with in seconds by someone knowledgeable.
These are modest but typical examples of what we might call restrictions of convenience, which an informed marketplace should be able to shrug off with little difficulty. Now let's speak of a different, and a much more dangerous type of restriction. I'm not sure what to call it; institutional power play describes it pretty well. This twisted transaction usually concerns one or another of the small technology display and training centers which are happily springing up all over the country. These technology centers generally have a mission to acquaint potential users with expensive devices and give them a chance to select a preferred one before making a sizable investment. Many of these centers, including our hosts at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, carefully plan and fund their acquisition of a complete, or at least a representative group of competing devices designed for speech, Braille, and large print users.
But a few such centers have taken a different approach. In these institutions devices are not bought for the technology center, they are donated. And the requests for contributions usually go something like this: "We have no money, but we will recommend your product if you give us one. If you don't, your competitors will, and we will recommend theirs instead." We like to have our products tested and reviewed and compared with other machines, and we politely decline this opportunity to buy a cheap and meaningless recommendation. But I have to wonder how many users are getting a distorted view of what's available from a few so-called regional or local technology centers who didn't raise the money to do it right or didn't spend it on technology in any case.
Again I emphasize that the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind pays for its demonstration units in hard cash, as do many other reputable centers across the country. Oh, they may ask if a discount is offered, but there is no hint that a positive or negative recommendation hangs on the answer, or that a purchase will not be made unless a specific price is met. Incidentally, like many of our colleagues, we are glad to offer substantial discounts to technology centers. Sometimes they offer the consumer the best chance to make an informed buying decision. But when it comes to a required donation in exchange for a bogus recommendation, we can only say, as many Americans have said before us: Billions for defense; but not a cent for tribute. And my last comment on this subject is that I have no intention of naming the institutions or people who have approached us in the way I have just described. It is my belief that simply exposing this regressive tactic in this setting will generate enough negative reaction to see that it is not repeated.
I do not want to leave with you the impression that we find our involvement in this industry a negative experience. Quite the contrary, the infinitely rich interaction between the people I hire to design and build good tools and the people who take them and make them mean something is extremely satisfying. And that reminds me to comment on something I saw in a recent issue of the Braille Monitor. We do not consider ourselves responsible for or claim credit for creating a welcome rise in Braille literacy, any more than a builder of good hammers deserves credit for a real estate boom. We consider ourselves first and last to be builders of precision tools, which do not so much empower people as they give one more option to combine with many options blind people can use to empower themselves. We are gratified by the rise in the flow of Braille both in this country, Canada, and many other parts of the world. We believe in the future of Braille so unreservedly that we are prepared to stake our working lives on it. We are proud to say that we have found Braille to increase the productivity of each of our customers and with hard work and dedication by our engineering, production, marketing, and customer support staff, braille has produced a modest profit for our investors. If our products are reliable, practical and productive, I believe we have nothing to apologize for in terms of that profit. If our products fail our customers, no apology would be sufficient anyway.
And that brings me to my closing message, which is about as close as I intend to come to the style of the Conrad Hilton comment I mentioned at the beginning. When asked if they have a message for all their consumers which can be summarized in a minute or two, Tony Schenk and B. T. Kimbrough eagerly respond, "Read the manual. Please, before you call or decide that it isn't working right, at least look at the major headings. We have shortened the manual for our newest products, so it won't take very long. It's in Braille, it's in print, it's on disk. After you've read it, call us if you need to. We thrive on the demands of our customers. So go ahead! Push us and challenge us. All you will do is bring out our best work, and perhaps we will wind up doing the same thing for you."
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: James Morrell]
LISTENING FOR EFFECTIVENESS
by James Morrell
From the Editor: James Morrell has recently become the President of Telesensory Corporation. This is what he said:
I want to thank Dr. Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind for inviting me to this conference. When the invitation was first extended, my reaction was that there would be little I could contribute to such a meeting. I am not an engineer, and I have spent the greater part of my forty plus years in business in non-technical assignments for non-technical companies. My experience in this field is limited to several years as a member of TeleSensory's Board of Directors and the last ten months as its President and CEO. I am quite literally the new kid on a new block.
My career has been spent running business operations ranging from small start-up companies to a corporation with annual sales of one and a half billion dollars, 55,000 employees, a dozen operating divisions, publicly owned, and registered on the New York stock exchange, and named several times as one of 100 companies that were the best places to be employed. From 1986 to 1991 I operated my own consulting company, lectured, wrote, and joined the board of directors of half a dozen organizations and spent a lot of time working for my alma mater in institutional development activities (read this as raising Money, attempting to vitalize alumni activities, and cultivating foundation and corporation support for the college and its programs.)
I tell you this about me only to get to the point that in my experience I did become expert in marketing and organizational planning and developed a reputation as a manager who could lead people and get things done and one who was particularly devoted to the theory that business success stems directly from an understanding of customer needs and wants. In addition, I found that all sizes of organizations were more successful and more rewarding in terms of the personal satisfaction of their employee constituents when they developed, achieved, stressed, and focused on customer satisfaction as the central philosophy and orientation of management.
This has been my message to the employees of TeleSensory. So, on reflection, I came to the conclusion that I might be able to make a small contribution to this group--not in so far as contributing ideas and concepts about specific and particular technologies that may be of benefit to individuals with vision loss seeking technological assistance and products, but rather on the approach that I believe will yield the greatest number of successful outcomes and contributions from the companies that supply technology to this group of consumers.
Therefore, while at this conference, I would like to: (1) Tell you how I believe supplier companies like TSC should approach the decision of what developmental projects they will do; (2) tell you some of the things TSC is planning to do and get your response about the desirability of these actions; and (3) most important, listen to what is discussed at this meeting and learn from that discussion how TSC should proceed in the future.
In short, I am seeking answers to the following questions:
1. What is TSC doing that it should not be doing? 2. What is TSC doing that it should continue to do? 3. What is TSC not doing that it should be doing?
For a company to define a rational and effective product line, or group of products, it must do two things. The first step is to analyze where it stands now, at this time, and do so with a great deal of candor and honesty. We must look at them in terms of customer acceptance, competitive challenges, profitable return to the corporation, technological excellence and reliability, probable future viability, and pride--pride of the company and its people in the work of producing and marketing the product. Of this list, all of which are important, customer acceptance and corporate pride are far and away the most important factors. *** Determining customer satisfaction and acceptance of current products is not an easy thing to do, and it is not a simple thing to do. There is no single measurement of customer acceptance that gives one a total answer. Rather, customer acceptance is the synopsis of a number of inter related measurements, all taken in an objective manner--a single conclusion that blends the measurements together. We are trying to develop such a system at TeleSensory. We are measuring customer complaints and compliments, not just in total number, but by specific topic. We are doing surveys of existing customers, and general surveys of others who participate in our industry, to try to determine why people purchase, or do not purchase, our equipment. These take the form of interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, and listening to general feedback from the industry professionals that we are in contact with on a more or less daily basis. We are also interested in the comments of people who stop at our booth at conventions, in the data we receive in letters from friends, and in the feedback we get from our company sales representatives, whether they be company employees or independent business representatives. And we are trying to learn to listen to the sales data we receive on a daily, weely, monthly and quarterly basis. Numbers can talk too, if you allow them to do so, rather than trying to use them to reach an already finalized idea.
Mostly, determining where you are at the present time is based on listening. We all have a number of possible ways to listen and an infinite capacity to store the data we listen to. The question is, do we do it?
The second step is describing where you want to go in the future. What is the vision of the organization? What should you be doing when you arrive at the place you want to be? How did you get there?
Creating a corporate vision also depends mostly on listening. You must listen to what the needs and wants are of the market you intend to serve. You must listen to determine where a new product is needed, when an old product should be maintained, what things need to be fixed, what things need to be left alone-- in short, what will be the easiest things to do to satisfy your customers and reach or attain your vision. Really, you must listen in order to even have a vision.
So the first thing that I think technology based companies will need to do to be successful in the future is develop the capability to be very good listeners and synthesizers of the data they receive from listening.
Then--and only then--the corporation needs to develop product ideas based on three important screens. One is the screen of core competencies, the second is the idea of strategic assets, and the third is the screen of reliability and value.
The idea of core competencies is that any organization has a few things that it can do very well, and rather than trying to be all things to all people, the organization should stick to its knitting and do what it can do....very well. Core competencies tend to be technical competencies and they allow engineers and designers to create products that utilize those competencies to their fullest. As an example, we at TSC think we have three core competencies..three technical competencies that we believe we understand. They are tactile information displays, digital and analog video processing, system and human interface software.
If we are right, and we are willing to bet that we are, all our products should be based on one, or all, of these competencies. So our first screen after determining what our customers want is to ask if we can devise an answer to that want by utilizing these three central skills.
The next screen is the concept of strategic assets. Every organization excels in the performance of certain tasks. These particular skills give the organization an extra edge in solving problems that involve those skills. When the organization is able to utilize those skills in serving customers there is a greatly improved possibility of success.
At TSC we think our strategic assets include after sales support, distribution system, manufacturing facilities and capability, and federal program capability.
Whenever a new product idea needs to incorporate any of these assets in order for the product to be made, provided to an end-user, and utilized effectively by that end-user, we believe we have an increased chance of performing well and therefore of successfully adding that product to our offerings.
The third screen is the screen of reliability and value. Our products cannot work intermittently. We must work consistently. Therefore, it is not our first priority to design the most recent technology into our products. It is not our first priority to design the most cost-efficient products. It is our first priority to design the most reliable products. Cost-efficiency becomes the second most important item, and technology becomes the third item of consideration. Of course, we want our products to incorporate new, exciting technological capabilities, but only if they are reliable and only if they can be provided to our consumers at a cost that make owning and using them feasible.
Reliability is value-related. If the product qualifies for consideration based on reliability, then value becomes the determinant of selection between alternate product offerings. How do we measure value? We think value is the resulting sum of features and price. The management task is to know our customers' needs and wants well enough that we can provide the features needed, and desired, at a price that makes the product desirable.
To summarize, the products we develop should come from listening to a wide variety of sources within the industry, a broad sampling of our customers, and the feedback we obtain from our own employees and others who come in contact with our company. From gathering input from all sources we will determine what we will do by screening those ideas against our core competencies, our strategic assets, and our ability to create solutions that are reliable and combine features and price in a way that creates value to our end-users.
Dr. Jernigan asked me to speak directly to those products we are planning for the future. As of this moment, my answer will be less than complete, and I will explain what I mean by that statement.
We do know that we are introducing two new refreshable Braille products that update our existing Navigator line. One product is an 86-cell unit, with a 46-cell unit that will follow closely behind. These products are planned to incorporate up-to- date technology utilizing on-board speech as well as an expanded Braille capability. A second entry to this product line is a less sophisticated product that is a slim line portable product made to nest with a notebook computer. Both products will be in the market place no later than March of 1994, and hopefully the portable unit will ship before the end of 1993. In addition we have already introduced the speech software for these packages which is also marketed as a stand-alone product. Its called ScreenPower and will be expanded to be the basic software driver of most future TSC access products that you will see.
Products beyond these three introductions are not known at this time. That's because we have launched a strategic study of our blindness product line and what that line of products should be. We have set up a special team of people to participate in this effort, made up of members of our industry, existing customers, product users who do not use our existing products, members of our distribution team, and corporate staff members including engineers and marketing managers who have considerable experience in this area. We have given them a very broad assignment: Listen, Review, Evaluate and Recommend the current status of our products, tell us your vision of where we should be in three to five years, and give us your recommended road map of how we will get from the Here and Now to the There and Then. We should receive their report before February 1, 1994, and we plan to take immediate action to begin the process of incorporating their recommendations into the future of TSC and its product users.
There are some outcomes of the study that are predictable. We will incorporate computers and a lot of software into our products. These two parts of electronic technology are firmly a part of successful current applications, and it is reasonable to expect that they will continue to be central to solving future problems. You should also expect to see products based on the use of Braille cells and refreshable Braille applications. We know that is basic to your view of product needs, and we agree with you. You will also find speech as a part of the offering, and frequently optical scanning as a related product. We expect we will continue to need the capability of a separate, but integrated note-taking capability, and certainly, we will want to interface well with printers and other computer peripherals.
We expect our equipment will be used by individuals in the workplace, including education as a workplace. A second application will be individual use at home, and a third will be as part of equipment configurations made by other manufacturers, incorporating our skills and equipment in concert with theirs.
By concentrating on these three markets we will be able to adapt individual products and the technology that drives them to all three situations. Each situation has its own needs, but the core competencies that lead to the specific solutions are very similar.
Finally, our products will be affordable. We have adopted this concept as a basic cornerstone for TSC in the future. Others in the industry can attain this goal of affordability. What TSC can do to further differentiate itself is to provide excellent service and training. We have already taken steps to make these additive services real. We are strengthening our service network here in the East and have provided training resources to the division that markets blindness products.
The future will require that we revise our mission. We are no longer in the business of developing products for those with visual loss. We are in the business of developing products for people who have visual loss who want to utilize the products to achieve their goals.
I hope my presentation has been helpful. I want to thank you again for the opportunity to attend this meeting. TSC has been a leader in this industry for many years. We intend to continue to seek improvement in how we serve the industry, and we will not feel that we have succeeded until we are certain that those we serve are served well. Thank you.
The other two panelists in the afternoon session were Elliot Schreier, Director of the National Technology Center at the American Foundation for the Blind, and Deane Blazie, President of Blazie Engineering. "Future Technology for the Blind: What is Coming? What Can We Do About it?" was Mr. Schreier's title, and "Research and Development at Blazie Engineering" was Mr. Blazie's. Summaries of their remarks appear elsewhere in this issue. =================================================================
SUMMARY OF THURSDAY AFTERNOON DISCUSSION
During the discussion after these panel presentations the following issues were raised and comments made:
Dr. Kurzweil urged that this conference establish access to the Information Super Highway as one of its first priorities because of the vast amount of information that will be available to all users, including those who are blind, through it. But graphics will be a significant component of the available data, so we must solve the graphics-recognition problem. Jim Fruchterman said that developers in this field have a hard time finding research and development money from sources other than their own pockets, and it would be helpful if sources could be found to assist in this area. But perhaps an even more pressing problem is that facing people who would like to buy this expensive equipment but don't have sources beyond themselves or their employers to help. The money-lending entities in this country do not understand about access equipment, so they are not usually willing to make the loans. This is a real problem which should be addressed.
Dr. Jernigan pointed out that the National Federation of the Blind has a low-interest (three percent) loan program for technology purchases, and he announced that the organization would increase that pool of funds from $60,000 to $200,000 in an effort to help. Admittedly it won't solve the problem, but it is a start. Paul Edwards pointed out that the Technology Act is now funding programs in forty-two states, and there has been very little effective programming for disabled people. This conference might consider making a forceful statement to those who conduct the program out of Washington, encouraging them to broadcast widely any creative efforts to develop ways of funding technology for disabled people.
Ritchie Geisel said that he has been appointed to an advisory panel of CEOs working with the National Information Infrastructure (NII), the Information Super Highway. People interested in working with him on this project should contact him. Paul Edwards immediately volunteered.
Tony Schenk then clarified his earlier statement to say that organizations that base their evaluations of technology on whether or not the technology has been donated to them make things difficult within the industry. He was not speaking of agencies that maintain display settings where the equipment is examined by potential users.
Dr. Herie commented that agencies that find themselves holding newly purchased but now outdated equipment are very unwilling to pay hard money up front the next time around. He urged vendors to admit when their products are outdated or have not been successful.
Louis Tutt, President of the Council of Schools for the Blind, offered the facilities represented by his organization as locations for any experimental hardware or software that vendors would like to have tested. He promised that it would be returned at the end of the trial period.
Noel Runyan said that his company has been working with the Recycled Technology Project, a Bay-area organization that collects old technology for use by other people. Companies like Blazie that have buy-back programs could help, and entities like the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind could act as clearinghouses announcing what equipment and programs were available. For example, three-quarters of the Optacons ever produced are probably sitting out there on shelves, not being used. They could be helping people.
Dr. Jernigan then explained that the NFB's policy with respect to the evaluation of technology is clear. The NFB regards itself as a watchdog on the field. But under no circumstances would the organization's political assessment of a vendor or individual color a technology evaluation. The minute that happened, the entire system would be compromised. However, if a product was good and the producer harmful to blind people in the view of the Federation, the organization would have no hesitation in adding to its excellent evaluation a statement urging consumers and agencies not to buy the product. He went on to say that he thought that a growing number of agencies and organizations in the blindness field are increasingly concerned about the attitudes of vendors toward blind people as well as the quality of their products.
He concluded by saying that the ultimate solution for finding the funds to purchase the technology that blind people need is to see that they have good jobs with which to finance their own purchases. Most sighted people own cars despite the fact that they cost close to $20,000. Blind people should be in a position to make equivalent purchases for themselves.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: James Thatcher]
PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES OF THE GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE
by James Thatcher
From the Editor: Early in the Friday morning, November 5, conference session Dr. Jernigan made several general introductory comments about language versus graphics. He pointed out that humankind's first effort at written communication was pictorial. Though this was useful for conveying some kinds of information, the pictures had to evolve into an alphabet and mathematical symbols before truly complex ideas could be represented. There are, however, types of information for which graphical representation is faster and more accurate--maps and architectural drawings, for example. But it is the nature of humanity always to believe that the latest invention is vastly superior to everything that has gone before. Radio was the rage until television with its action pictures displaced it.
Dr. Jernigan concluded by raising the question whether the Graphical User Interface is merely the latest fad, replacing words once more with pictorial representations, or whether computer graphics truly do convey information more quickly and efficiently than words on a screen can. If the former is the case, then we have a right to insist that the most accessible operating system be used. If, on the other hand, computer users really are more efficient working with the newest, graphics-based system, blind people must not attempt to stand in the way of progress.
The first speaker on Friday morning to address the question of the Graphical User Interface was Dr. Jim Thatcher. He is the Manager of Interaction Technology in the Mathematical Sciences Department at IBM Research and a man whose concern for the problems faced by blind computer users and intuitive grasp of the way in which information is absorbed by those using screen-review programs almost certainly are responsible for IBM's ScreenReader Program for the OS/2 operating system. Here is what he said:
Blind computer users have been worried about access to Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) for several years. And, who can blame them? They have been shut out of access to graphics programs like Flight Simulator for DOS and from certain parts of even their favorite text-based programs. The preview facility of WordPerfect and the graph facility of Lotus 1-2-3 both enter graphics mode and become inaccessible. But blind users may be willing to get along without access to that very small fragment of the computing environment.
The graphical user interfaces in MicroSoft's Windows under DOS, in IBM's Presentation Manager under OS/2, X Windows under UNIX, and the Apple MacIntosh are quite a different story. In these environments all programs (including Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect, mentioned above) run all the time in graphics mode. The environment is radically different, especially for blind users and the people who develop access technology for them.
In this speech I will first explain the difference between text-mode and graphics computing. Then, I will discuss the advantages of the graphical user interface--advantages shared by blind and sighted users alike. Together with these advantages, I want to present my view of how a screen reader should respond to this new environment. Turning to issues even more specific to screen readers, I will then discuss two problem areas that I see as critical to the continued evolution of screen readers for graphical user interfaces. The first relates to automatic announcement of error or status messages; the second is what I refer to as the "active point issue."
Text-Mode Compared to Graphics-Mode Computing
Let's take a look at the two different computing environments. Text-mode computing is simple and accurate. It uses a model of the display that is a twenty-five by eighty array of pairs of numbers. (The size of this array can vary. For example, it can be 25 by 132 or 53 by 80.) The first number in the pair is the ASCII value of the character that appears in that position on the screen, and the second number is the attribute--it gives color information for foreground and background colors and tells whether or not the character is blinking.
For example, if the background is blue and there is a white "I" in the upper corner of your text-mode display, then the first pair of numbers in the array will be "73, 31." Seventy-three is the ASCII value of capital I, and 31 is the number that represents white on blue.
In text-mode computing everything is stored in display memory, and it is stored there in a useful form. This is what I mean by text-mode computing being accurate. It is accurate because the display hardware uses only display memory to form the image on the screen. Display memory actually contains this array of pairs of numbers. This is what gets displayed, nothing more, nothing less. The ASCII numbers that represent characters are exactly what a screen reader sends to the synthesizer for it to translate ASCII text into speech. When 73 is sent to the text-to-speech device, it says "I."
For graphics-based computing there is still display memory, but now the numbers in that display memory represent only pixels, which are just dots of color. (Pixels are also referred to as picture elements or PELs.) For example, a white on blue "I" is made up of about 128 pixels--some are the color blue; others, comprising the I, are white. The display memory holds only pixels. It contains no ASCII values.
Several methods of reading graphics-mode display screens are being discussed. The first method would be to use character recognition or, better, document recognition to figure out what is on that display. I believe that today character recognition is feasible for a static screen, but not for the changing screens we find in a computing environment.
The second solution is to create what Berkeley Systems first called an Off-Screen-Model (OSM) when they introduced outSpoken for the MacIntosh in November, 1989, the first screen reader for a graphical user interface. To the best of my knowledge, all screen readers for graphical user interfaces use some form of OSM. The idea of the off-screen-model is to intercept everything that is going to the display before it becomes pictures and record all relevant information in a separate data structure (data base) called the off-screen-model. The information recorded there will include the text, its position, color, font, and window handle. (A window handle is a tag that identifies the window.) That is the minimum the OSM will contain. Different screen readers will contain more and different information depending, in part, on the level at which the drawing calls are intercepted.
Once you have the off-screen-model, a screen reader can be built that accesses the OSM instead of the display buffer, to determine the text and/or icons that are on the display. The screen reader uses the off-screen-model to report text on the display, rather than using the display memory as it did for text-mode computing.
Advantages of GUI's
The idea of Common User Access (CUA, IBM calls it) is good news for both sighted and blind users. Basically one uses the same ways of navigating in many different applications. Text-mode programs were heading that way as they added menu bars, pull-down menus, dialogs, and the like. Still navigation in text-mode Word-Perfect 5.1, Lotus 1-2-3, and Quicken were all different. The GUI versions (OS/2 and Windows) of these applications do in fact have a common interface. The ways to get to menus, to move around menus, to pull down menus, to interact with dialogs are all the same.
That common access is reflected in how the screen reader works. In addition to having a model of the display, the GUI screen reader is hooked into messages and actions of the GUI and so knows when menus are active or dialogs have appeared. Most screen readers for GUI's will speak all of these events automatically, without configuration of any kind.
What had become markedly complex and difficult for text-based computing (action bars, color bars, pop-ups) is now almost automatic. In 1988, before OS/2 1.1 was released, I was showing a demonstration program that spoke menus, dialogs, entry fields, and window titles as the user moved around the Presentation Manager GUI. That is the easy part; that can be done by a competent GUI programmer. But not only are these standardized controls relatively easy for the screen reader, they are the heart of common user access.
This common access includes help and documentation as well. In all applications I have seen for OS/2 and Windows, F1 will give context-sensitive help. That unification is truly welcome. Online documentation is the rule rather than the exception, and most applications use the GUI's information presentation facilities, so getting around that documentation will be familiar across different applications.
In summary, the use of standardized controls simplifies access for blind users and sighted users alike. In addition, that access is what had become so difficult with text-mode screen readers. I believe these benefits far outweigh the designers' real and perceived difficulties in creating screen readers for the GUI environment and the blind users' concern about mastering this new environment. It is my contention that, because of common user access, the environment is easier to master than was the text-based DOS environment.
Status Announcements--What Was Easy Is Now Hard
It seems to be the nature of things: just when the really difficult parts of screen access get easy (menus, popup dialogs, and the like), the easy things, like status messages, have become difficult. For me to talk about this it is easiest to refer to the facilities of IBM ScreenReader. Its 1984 precursor, called PC SAID, had a concept of Autospeak: in a profile the user could specify any part of the screen (or any expression) to watch; when there was a change in that part of the screen or the value of that expression, PC SAID would take a specified action, usually making an announcement.
By the time PC SAID came out as the IBM ScreenReader product, other screen readers had basically the same function. The uses of Autospeaks in all screen readers is more or less the same. The blind user needs to be notified of spontaneous status messages or error messages that appear somewhere on the display-- maybe the top, maybe the bottom, but certainly not where the user is currently focused. Some examples are the following messages: "String not found," "Unknown Command," "The system will go down in five minutes," "Drive A not ready," and "WAIT." For most text-mode applications, the position where that message appeared was fixed for the application, and with relatively simple configuration activities the user could both hear the message when it appeared and review it. Remember: the text-based model is simple and accurate; so the message was to be found in row 23, column 16, or row 1 column 76, or maybe two rows above the cursor (as examples).
The situation for the GUI is totally different. Those status or error messages are still there. But their location is quite another question. To take just one example, the concept of row 23, column 16 is no longer relevant. The number of rows or columns in a graphical screen depends on how much text you have put there. Maybe a status message appears at the bottom of the window, but when there is no status message, the last line may be the text you are currently typing. A status message may consistently appear at some pixel position on the display. But windows can be moved, and they come up in different positions, depending on the order of invocation. Relative positions are not good either because windows can be resized.
I am aware that all of this may seem somewhat mysterious and even alarming to blind users. But I want to discuss it here in order to explain the IBM ScreenReader/2 solution to this difficult problem because I believe it is the only one currently available for GUI screen readers.
Those Autospeaks that were the key innovation of the first IBM ScreenReader for DOS have been generalized to be able to watch the results of procedures. Those procedures in our Profile Access Language (PAL) can be defined to search the window tree of the application for the status message and return the text of that message (for example) if it is present. In this way the status message can be announced. As I said in the beginning of this section, it is not easy, but it can be done. I look forward to other innovative interactive methods for accomplishing this task as screen readers for GUI's evolve.
The Active Point Issue
This is a subject which is not discussed by application or operating system developers or planners. This is, I believe, an issue peculiar to screen readers and screen enlargement software. Any screen reader must be able to follow and describe the active point because the blind user must know what keyboard actions will do, what the enter key will do, and where characters will be placed when entered from the keyboard.
It seems to me to be easiest to describe the active point issue with reference to text-based DOS computing. The cursor in that arena is usually the active point. The information about the cursor (position, shape, color) for text-based DOS computing is held in registers in the display hardware. A screen reader in that environment can know the cursor position by reading those registers.
For contrast, in the mid-80's, IBM had a 3270 emulator that ignored the cursor hardware and instead highlighted a single character. The active point in that emulator was a single highlighted character. The software was inaccessible by screen readers of that time because the effort required to find that highlighted character was just too great. Note that many screen readers of that time, especially IBM ScreenReader/DOS, could find that cursor character, but not in a useful or practical way.
In the late '80's DOS text-based programs more and more had a CUA type interface, with action bars, pull-down menus, and dialogs. These introduced the active point issue into text-based computing. Screen readers adopted methods for watching for highlight bar or color bar changes so as to track the active point. Some applications (like Lotus 1-2-3) always had the hardware cursor follow the highlight or color bar in an invisible mode. In these cases tracking the active point was a lot easier. Initially these applications were difficult for screen readers; but, because the required information was available to the screen reading program, those screen reading programs adapted.
For the graphical user interface the active point issue is of special concern. There may be absolutely no way for a screen reader to detect the active point. The reason is that the active point--the cursor, insertion bar, highlight, or selected item--is indicated with some graphical object--a line, a box, or a color change. The ways to draw such an object on the display are practically unlimited. The graphical screen reader depends on knowing the drawing method. This means that it is quite possible, as we know, for a screen reader to come out as a product, and the next application (one not yet tested) could be completely inaccessible because a cursor or highlight is drawn in a way not yet imagined by the screen reader developer.
I can conceive of the following approaches to address the active point issue:
1. Test as many applications as possible prior to product release; try to generalize cursor and selector drawing methods found in tested applications.
2. Make absolutely certain that the screen reader handles all cursors and selectors that are standard for the GUI. "Standard" means "created by a CreateCursor type of call or found in standard text editing widgets."
3. Get on application developers' beta test programs so that those applications' problems with active-point tracking can be caught before they become products.
4. Encourage application developers to use standard cursors and selectors in standard ways.
5. Add a hookable call to the GUI, which would inform screen readers of the active point. This would be called by the standard cursor routines in the GUI, for example, WinShowCursor in PM. But also it would be called by applications using unusual, non-standard cursors, if those applications wanted to be accessible. When a screen reader hooked this call, it would be passed the active point information it received.
In effect, the previous suggestion could be implemented independent of the operating system, following the access-aware ideas proposed by Berkeley Systems and similar ideas proposed by Microsoft. Here a separate library would be provided, and the non-standard applications would use it to inform screen readers of their active points.
6. Do research. For example, can artificial intelligence techniques be applied in such a way that a screen reader would be able to learn that certain graphical objects are to be interpreted as an insertion bar, cursor, or the active point?
I believe that the off-screen-model concept solves the problem of the graphics screen for the graphical user interface, and I think that technology is well understood by screen reader developers. Common user access is a big plus for the computing environment, and with access to the GUI this advantage is shared by blind users. We need to work more on being able to configure screen readers easily to announce automatically all we would like; but that will, I think, come with the advancing screen reader technology.
I mentioned the active point issue, because it is important and because I do not know what the solution will be. It must be remembered that most applications work just fine regarding this active point issue. The ill-behaved applications are the exception, not the rule.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: James Halliday]
A QUESTION OF WINDOWS
by James Halliday
From the Editor: Jim Halliday is the President of HumanWare, Inc. The following are the remarks he made:
It is, once again, an honor to be asked to speak to this esteemed group of industry leaders. I want to express my gratitude to Dr. Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind for this opportunity.
I recently attended two major exhibitions: REHA, in Desseldorf, Germany, and Closing the Gap in Minneapolis. One of the hottest topics at both conferences was access to windows. Everywhere I turned, someone was announcing a new solution.
Some products seemed more complete than others. Some had more pizzazz. Some seemed easy but limited, and others seemed powerful but complicated. Some seemed to work fine in the Windows Program Manager and selected applications, but there seemed to be some question in everyone's mind about other applications. This planted a seed of worry in my mind. Some solutions preferred speech output, and others Braille. Several solutions included varying degrees of both. As I walked from booth to booth, I felt as if I was going into a car dealership for a test drive but kept finding myself in the service bay, being shown how to change the sparkplugs on the vehicle instead. When working in a Windows environment, I use MS-Word for word processing and Excel as my spreadsheet. Everyone demonstrated their access working with Word, but when I asked about Excel, I heard comments like, "We haven't implemented that yet," or "That application isn't written to Microsoft's standard rules, so we can't work with it, yet."
This last comment shocked me because I was referring to Excel, a program actually written by Microsoft. How is it possible that Microsoft does not keep its own rules? I wandered from booth to booth and programmer to programmer, becoming more confused by the minute. I learned that screen readers require an off-screen model of what appears on the screen, and this text-based model is actually what the access program reads. Some companies are writing their own off-screen models; some are using the one under development at Berkeley Systems. Some seem more dependent on this model than others. I found it hard to know what questions to ask. All of the developers sounded brilliant and knowledgeable, and I was becoming more confused by the minute. They all professed to having the best concept, if not the best solution. I asked myself how this was possible, yet I was too ignorant to ask intelligent questions that would expose the strengths or weaknesses of a particular product. It became increasingly clear that, in order to know what questions to ask about Windows, one must have a fundamental understanding of the Windows environment itself and the unique challenges of access. Part of my problem was a perspective rooted in the MS-DOS environment. DOS is a fundamentally different paradigm from Windows. Over the years the DOS environment has become concrete, like a hard-boiled egg. It doesn't always stand up the way we want, but at least we can get our hands around it. Windows, on the other hand, seems more like a sticky, gooey raw egg that runs through your fingers each time you try to pick it up. I guess that's why they call Windows a GUI (gooey). (Up till now I always thought GUI stood for Graphical User Interface). Of course, gooey is okay when mixed with the proper ingredients--raw eggs can be extremely versatile, whether you are baking a cake, whipping up a Hollandaise sauce, holding together a meatloaf, or making a gourmet omelet. The fact that it starts out as a slippery mess shouldn't deter us from implementing its use.
Success comes from having the courage to keep trying things despite the inevitable mistakes we make. One does not become a gourmet overnight, and Betty Crocker is not going to come to our rescue with a basic cookbook for Windows (although such a cookbook might not be a bad idea). Many of us are already successful computer users. Sophisticated access technology has enabled people who are blind to function on an equal basis within MS-DOS applications. In other words, we know how to cook, and we know the kinds of foods that taste good. But cooking in DOS is more like cooking over an open fire. Just give me a cast iron pot and the appropriate ingredients, and I'll cook up a great stew. Windows, however, gives us a full kitchen in which to work.
We can have several things, including our stew, simultaneously cooking on the stove, while at the same time bread is baking in the oven, veggies are thawing in the microwave, and pop tarts are crisping in the toaster. Accomplishing several tasks at the same time (multi- tasking) is one of the real strengths of Windows. Another thing that Windows does for us (when the rules are properly kept) is that, even though various appliances (applications) have different capabilities and functions, the basic controls (screens, menu bars, and icons) have a consistency that, once learned, makes it easier to understand new applications. In other words, instead of the stove's having knobs, the oven's having dials, the microwave's having push buttons, and the toaster's having levers, all of these applications have the same basic interface. Once you learn the interface, your knowledge is more easily transferable to other appliances (applications). Even if you walk into the laundry room, the interface on the washing machine will seem familiar and thus easier to learn how to use with minimal reference to the owner's manual. Understanding this interface is the initial challenge we all face with Windows. For a sighted person the learning curve can be quite rapid because of the visual nature of the display. For a person who is blind, however, another form of access is necessary. Part of our problem is that we need good access to learn how to interface with this wondrous new environment because without good access it doesn't seem so wondrous.
In fact, it often seems monstrous. So how do we determine what is considered good access without understanding Windows in the first place? Are we putting blind users in a Catch-22 situation where they can't determine good access without understanding Windows, yet they can't learn about Windows without good access? If this is the case, we are all totally dependent on specialists. Ahh yes, specialists will know the answers, and we will just have to trust what they tell us. But as I walked around the exhibits in both Desseldorf and Minneapolis, I kept hearing myself say, "Why is that important?" I heard answers like: "Our program is an application; so, even if the operating system changes, our solution will still work." Another said, "What good is transferability between operating systems, if you still can't run most of the major applications written for Windows? Our program can access almost all applications!"
In reply, another said, "That other program will be obsolete when the operating system changes, and they'll have to rewrite the whole thing!" And another said, "Anyone who tells you he can access any application is lying through his teeth!" So much for the specialists. As I wandered from booth to booth, I realized that everyone was talking about Windows 3.1. This is essentially a DOS-based system. In other words, it is initially loaded from a DOS prompt. In another year or year and a half, Microsoft plans to release Windows 4.0, an operating system that some say will be independent of DOS and others say is essentially the same platform as 3.1. Will all or any of the current access solutions work with Windows 4.0? They all cross their fingers and say, "We think so," or they say, "It's going to take a lot of reprogramming."
In addition to Windows 3.1 and 4.0, there is Windows NT (another operating system from Microsoft specifically aimed at network applications), but Microsoft needs to release the appropriate hooks to developers before access will be possible, and questions regarding security are lurking in the background of access to NT. OS/2 is another graphical user interface under which you can run Windows 3.1 applications. This appears to be one of the most stable solutions currently available. How will that work with Windows 4.0? Then there are Unix and X-Windows, for which there has been no direct access at all. (I believe IBM has been working on Screen Reader for Unix, but I don't know the status). As I pondered the number of unknowns, I became even more skeptical that we as an industry really know what questions we need to be asking. Accessing the Windows GUI environment appears to be one problem, and accessing Windows applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, data bases, communications programs, and so on is yet another.
Most access solutions appear to work reasonably well within the basic environment, but they all seem to have different capabilities as soon as an application is loaded. I was told at the conferences, "We have to write special drivers for each application, but we haven't finished that yet." I asked, "Is the solution simply a matter of writing a driver?" The answer to this question varied depending on the specialist with whom I was speaking. When walking around those exhibits, I began comparing MS-DOS and Windows in terms of driving versus flying. DOS screen readers allow users to take the wheel and drive around a two-dimensional screen that displays a fixed grid of eighty columns by twenty- five lines. A Windows screen reader, on the other hand, allows us to fly through what seems more like a three-dimensional screen, in that there can be multiple layers of files, applications, and utilities displayed as a combination of windows, consisting of graphical icons, menu bars, toolbars, rulers, text, and graphical text. (Yes, there is a difference. Screen readers can interpret text, but not graphical characters that look exactly like text.) To confuse the issue still further, there is no fixed grid in Windows that can be used as a base-line.
All screens are presented in a variable number of lines and columns. With the exception of the consistencies inherent in the GUI environment itself (menu bars, drop-down menus, prompts, etc.) every new screen can be fundamentally different from the last one, e.g., one line may have ten characters, and the next may have a hundred fifty. The more I wandered through the exhibit halls discussing Windows, the more I drifted back in time, vividly imagining those magnificent men and their flying machines, courageous explorers searching for solutions to flight, ingenious pioneers on the brink of invention. But my metaphor had a chronological glitch because DOS screen readers are already as sophisticated as today's automobiles, where Windows screen readers seem to be still exploring the fundamentals of flight. This has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, we have a better understanding of the power that is possible and needed based on our experience in DOS. (Of course, it took us thirteen years to get to this point with DOS.) Nevertheless, we require and expect equal, if not better, sophistication in a Windows screen reader. Jobs are at stake. The pressure is on. Everyone has a flying machine, but I keep asking myself, "Does anyone have an airplane that can really fly?" Perhaps they all do, but how do we know? And how do we find out? If we talk to these magnificent men, we find that they can all keep their machines in the air. Some of them can even keep them from crashing throughout a complete demonstration. But these machines don't come with a pilot, and learning to fly a plane is much more complicated than learning to drive on grid-like roads in the land of DOS. How about some flight training? That's a good idea. But who is going to pay for it? Nobody seems willing to pay for training in the U.S. Plus, who is going to pay for travel expenses?
We all know about travel cutbacks. Can we expect users to learn to fly without any training? How about a flight simulator? Tutorials might be a cheaper way to teach someone to fly. Another good idea, but do we teach Windows or access to Windows? Which comes first? I can hear our Catch-22 problem re-emerging here. We tend to forget pain once it has passed, but I would like you to go back and try to remember what it was like learning DOS the first time. It was an ugly experience for the average computer user, but the fixed grid in DOS made it possible to understand and ultimately to grasp. Oh, there were some whiz kids who learned to drive without any help, but flying presents a whole new set of problems. I am concerned about our collective naivete with regard to our expectations for Windows access. I am concerned that we do not even know what questions to ask. I sent one Windows access program to three different people to evaluate.
Each came back with totally different problems and questions. It was almost as if I had sent out three completely different programs. I believe that we must put a priority on creating a forum for dialogue at all levels of our community, from the specialists to the novice users, if we hope eventually to make intelligent decisions about real solutions. I would like to propose that you, as the major leaders in our industry, accept the challenge to create this forum for dialogue. Betty Crocker is not available with a Windows cookbook, but, if we publish a monthly newsletter specifically dedicated to questions and answers regarding Windows, we will soon have a cookbook. This publication can be available in print, large print, and Braille; or perhaps an audio format would be more efficient and cover more information. We have to be careful about sending out a fire hose and expecting people to drink, but we must also recognize the urgent need for quality information. Although developers, manufacturers, and distributors can be valuable sources of information and support, I don't think that HumanWare or any other company can take the lead on producing this publication. Regardless of our objectivity, the unavoidable commercial connection would taint our credibility.
This cookbook must be created month by month by one of your organizations or a consortium of the organizations represented here today. Part of the cookbook must focus on the GUI environment and why flying can be so exciting. Understanding the Windows paradigm is essential to this excitement. Otherwise we will remain frustrated trying to drive a 747 around a poorly marked tarmac, complaining about how much nicer it is to drive our DOSmobile. Flying offers some exciting new thrills, but how do we get access? Another section must focus on access solutions and what questions we need to be asking developers. We need in-depth questions regarding access to specific applications and why some applications seem more challenging than others. We need to learn which questions to ask in order to understand the fundamental differences between various screen readers better. How do we understand the value of their inherent strengths and limitations? Not everyone needs a 747. For some people a Cessna will do just fine. We need a section on training. Who's going to do it? How will trainers be compensated? What techniques work best in teaching the fundamentals of Windows? And the list goes on. Perhaps the metaphors I've used in this speech have been ill-conceived, but this further drives home the need for better information sharing. If there is something I or HumanWare can do to help get this cookbook off the ground, please give me a call. Ignorance is our worst enemy, and it is time we recognized our mutual responsibility, as leaders in this industry, to educate each other and the people we serve. I am not talking about reviewing specific products, but rather giving our readers a basic understanding of the questions that need to be asked and answered regarding Windows and Windows access. The more intelligent our questions become, the more we will each be able to evaluate the difference between a flying machine and a reliable solution that will enable us to fly as high as the GUI bird allows.
"Microsoft's Approach to the Graphical User Interface and Accessibility" was the title of remarks by Greg Lowney, Senior Program Manager for the Accessibility and Disability Group of Microsoft Corporation. A summary of his remarks is reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
[PHOTO: Curtis Chong seated at computer in International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. CAPTION: Curtis Chong.]
PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES OF THE GRAPHICAL USER INTERFACE
by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: Curtis Chong serves as President of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science. He is also a Senior Systems Programmer for IDS Financial Services. He is extremely knowledgeable about computer access for blind people. Here is what he said:
It seems that there was never a time when blind people weren't concerned about how they would access this or that computer system. Back in the 1960's, the problem was being able to read punch cards and computer listings. In the seventies and early eighties, punch cards and computer listings gave way to video display terminals, which in turn gave way to the microcomputer. Each step in the evolution of computer technology posed a different set of problems for the blind; and, with varying degrees of success, each challenge was confronted and overcome.
For the blind the access challenge for the nineties is most definitely the graphical user interface, or GUI, as it is more often called. It is not that GUI applications are anything new. Many GUI programs have been written to run under the Disk Operating System (DOS), and for the most part these programs were of little concern to the blind. This is because in the DOS world GUI programs were in the minority, and the operating system itself was compatible with existing screen-reading technology. Moreover, most of the commercial software that blind people needed and wanted to use was written specifically to run under DOS and displayed information in text on a screen with fixed dimensions--typically, 25 rows by 80 columns.
Access to text-based applications running on computers has made it easier for blind people to work in a wide variety of jobs. These have included customer service, pizza order taking, computer programming, and secretarial positions, to name only a very few. Blind secretaries will tell you that with a good word processor it is far easier today to proofread documents instead of relying upon one's ability to type perfectly all of the time. Computer programmers will tell you that it is nice to use a computer to write and debug programs independently on the big mainframe. Some people will even go so far as to say that the computer has opened up a whole new world of information and given new freedom to the blind. However, I don't know if I would go quite that far.
Anybody who knows anything about the computer industry will tell you that the word "computer" is synonymous with "change." It would appear that the industry is now undergoing a fundamental shift. Text-based operating systems such as DOS and Unix are being overlaid by graphically-based shells such as Windows and X Windows. In addition, new graphically-based operating systems such as OS/2 and Windows/NT are gaining acceptance. One reason for this shift, I believe, is the fundamental desire on the part of sighted computer users to be free of the physical restraints placed upon them by a character-oriented screen. People are not content to have simple text presented on a computer display. They want pictures, icons, pop-up menus, dialogue boxes, and other pictographic representations. Application software developers, cognizant of this desire, are developing new versions of their products to run under graphical platforms. Combine this with the growing use, in today's major corporations, of graphical front-end systems to make applications more user-friendly, and you have what is shaping up to be a severe problem for the blind--particularly, the blind person whose job depends upon having independent access to the computer. Even blind people who use computers at home cannot escape the problem. More and more new releases of off-the-shelf software are being written to display information using the graphical user interface, meaning that for home use it is becoming more difficult--if not impossible--to get the latest and greatest program for the familiar DOS environment.
As consumers we find ourselves in a situation in which more and more of the systems we need to do our jobs are less accessible to us than they were even two years ago. To an ever greater extent companies are embracing Windows, X Windows, OS/2, and other graphically-oriented platforms. For the blind this means that knowledge of and access to a text-based screen reading system simply won't cut it. Although in some cases, with a little sophistication and some technical know-how, we can continue using a PC that runs only DOS applications, today, as many of us look for jobs, we are running squarely into the GUI problem. Moreover, as text-based applications give way to the more user-friendly graphical user interface, those of us whose jobs already require the use of a computer are in real danger of becoming unemployed.
Some rehabilitation agencies, lacking sufficient creativity, have dumped their blind clients into customer service or other service jobs requiring immediate access to computerized information. I am here to tell you that, unless something is done very soon, your clients will be walking the streets looking for work. Why? Because the graphical user interface is simply too attractive to system designers, who are continually trying to make the computer easier and more visually appealing to use. For them the graphical user interface is the best way to accomplish this goal.
We are fortunate in that a growing number of screen-access technology companies are developing programs to address the GUI problem. An early contributor, Berkeley Systems, Inc., developed the one and only speech screen-reading system for the Apple Macintosh: outSPOKEN. I don't remember exactly when outSPOKEN was released, but I think it is important to recognize that outSPOKEN represented the very first attempt to provide blind people with access to a GUI platform.
At the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, IBM demonstrated its screen-reading system for the graphical OS/2 Presentation Manager. At the 1993 NFB convention, Artic Technologies and Berkeley Systems exhibited their Windows screen-reading products; and two additional companies, Henter-Joyce and Syntha-Voice, discussed their approaches to making Windows accessible to the blind at the NFB in Computer Science meeting. I am aware that even more companies are working on, but not officially announcing their screen access products for the Windows platform. No one has announced a commercial package for access to the X Windows platform yet, but I believe it is only a matter of time before we see something in the marketplace. Strangely enough, the largest company in the blindness field, TeleSensory, has not given any indication that it is working on a GUI-access product.
Although it is improving at an accelerating pace, GUI screen access technology for the blind is still immature. I would say that we are at about the same stage in our ability to access GUI applications as we were in the early 1980's, when blind people first began gaining independent access to microcomputers such as the IBM PC and compatible machines. However, there are some significant differences. Ten years ago, when blind people began taking an interest in using microcomputers independently, companies such as IBM and Microsoft couldn't be bothered with such an economically insignificant group. The screen access programs we needed had to be developed by third-party companies with little or no help from these key players. Today, partly because of anti-discrimination legislation and partly due to increased understanding, major computer companies such as IBM and Microsoft are giving serious consideration to the question of how to make the GUI accessible to the blind. IBM, which now has a major presence at National Federation of the Blind conventions and other conferences where technology for the blind is discussed, attacked the problem by developing its own screen- access program: Screen Reader/2. Microsoft, which is only now beginning to devote some resources to the problem, is providing technical information to third-party developers on the theory that this will give them a jump start in developing screen-access programs for Microsoft GUI platforms.
In discussing the problems and challenges of the GUI, we should also take note of the Unix operating system and the X Windows graphical user interface. For here, too, the blind have a problem. Although we can use a PC to communicate with Unix over a network for access to text-based applications, X Windows, being a graphical interface, is not as straightforward. Yet Unix and, by extension, X Windows are gaining acceptance in the workplace. How will blind people use this interface independently?
In this regard the work of the Disability Action Committee for X (DACX) bears watching. This committee is directed by the Trace Research and Development Center in Madison, Wisconsin. It consists of Unix workstation vendors such as Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corporation, and IBM; researchers such as the Trace Center and the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology; screen access vendors such as Berkeley Systems; the X Consortium; and other interested parties. The goal of the committee is to design and implement standard access solutions to X Windows for people with various motor and sensory impairments. I can tell you that a good deal of the committee's work focuses on how to make X Windows accessible to the blind. However, aside from the prototype developed by the Mercator Project at the Georgia Institute of Technology, no commercial screen-access programs exist for X Windows today.
Although the GUI may be more intuitive and appealing to sighted computer users, it is not intuitive and appealing to the blind--at least not yet. Any blind person who has to learn to use a graphically-oriented system will find that a significant effort is required to master the intricacies of this interface. Even the most technically sophisticated among us will need to learn more about how GUI applications work before we can begin to formulate any recommendations of substance in this area.
There is one important question that as blind consumers we must continue to raise with developers of access technology for the GUI. Can graphically-oriented information--including icons, dialogue boxes, push buttons, scroll bars, and the like--be conveyed to a blind computer user efficiently enough to permit him or her to compete with sighted colleagues? Developers of GUI access programs are, of necessity, concentrating on trying to convey the textual information that is displayed on the graphical screen. To the extent to which access programs for the GUI attempt to convey information about icons and other pictographic objects, efforts seem to be oriented toward presenting the information as menus or lists from which the user makes a selection. Inasmuch as most of the blind computer users with whom I am acquainted have very little experience in this area, it is not clear whether this approach will be the best one in the long run.
I would like to say a few words to the trainers and technology specialists who work in rehabilitation agencies for the blind. You cannot content yourselves with present knowledge and expertise, which is largely centered on DOS-based screen access systems. Although these systems may have played a key role in helping some blind people to get jobs, they will soon become a thing of the past. You must keep up with what the bigger companies are doing and gain experience with platforms such as Windows, OS/2, Unix, X Windows, and GUI applications used by today's businesses. Equally important, you must keep pace with the developments taking place in the screen access technology market--for the developments will come, and at an accelerating pace.
Today the graphical user interface presents many problems and challenges for the blind. All of us--consumers, rehabilitation professionals, and screen access technology developers--need to stop wishing for the GUI to go away and confront the problem head on. The major companies developing graphical operating systems, most notably IBM and Microsoft, need to continue their efforts to help blind computer users access and feel comfortable with their graphically-oriented platforms. Also these companies need to make it easier for third-party developers of screen-reading technology to reach into a GUI application to extract the information that a blind person needs in order to use it. More important, the computer industry as a whole needs to make accessibility a primary consideration instead of an afterthought.
As I said earlier, computers are synonymous with change. We shouldn't look back. We should forge ahead and ensure that everybody gets a crack at this technology, which promises so much.
SUMMARIES OF PRESENTER REMARKS
From the Editor: As noted earlier, several of the speakers did not have prepared remarks. The following are summaries of the presentations they made to the conference:
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Mohymen Saddeek]
Ever since I entered this industry, I have been frustrated by the gap between technology for the blind and that intended for the general public. Broad market producers have been slow to recognize the possibilities for talking technology. Now that they realize there is actually demand for such items, the cost is finally coming down.
My company, Technology for Independence, seeks to identify the area between general-market technology and technology for the blind and then work in that niche, where costs can be underwritten by both markets rather than the blindness market only. For example, we approached Johnson and Johnson, producers of the Lifescan blood glucose analyzer, to see about developing technology that could make it speak the information it gathers. Company representatives admitted they had never recognized the 212,000 blind diabetics in the United States and the 47,000 new ones each year as a significant potential market for the Lifescan.
I don't mean to criticize producers in our field who develop devices designed to do a single, very specific thing. Their products are necessarily expensive. In fact, my company has modified a commercially available cassette recorder to create our Talkman 5, which is very small and records and plays four tracks. By the time we designed several necessary parts and made other modifications for use with National Library Service cassettes, the cost had almost doubled. Many people were still very happy with the product, but I was not. In the end Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Herie, and Mr. Geisel of Recording for the Blind helped to increase the market and therefore lower the price. It shows how important cooperation in this field can be.
I do think that much can be accomplished simply by going to the mainline producers and pointing out that blind consumers can't use some of their products or that they have to pay much more for appropriately modified versions. We worked with one of these companies and helped them to produce a product that talked. They produced thousands and sold a few hundred to blind people, and the rest they successfully sold to sighted customers who found the speech option attractive.
Of course, we are interested in remaining competitive, but our mission is to produce high-quality products for blind people as inexpensively as possible. In talking with producers of medical technology, we have learned that it may actually be possible for them to manufacture blood glucose analyzers so that they could be made to talk from the beginning or to develop them to do so with only a slight further modification. If it can be done, the talking unit might well cost only $15 or $20 more than the version with a print readout. This is the ideal kind of solution, and it is what we are working toward in all our product development.
[PHOTO: Elliot Schreier standing at podium microphone. CAPTION: Elliot Schreier]
While the problem of the graphical user interface is extremely important, I wish to speak about problems of access for blind people to what I will call public terminals and what service providers, consumers, and vendors can do together to solve the difficulties. The VCR is only the most obvious example of consumer products with complicated video displays which include graphics and which are very difficult or impossible for blind people to use efficiently. They are also not very easy for many sighted people to use. In the past the solution to making such items accessible has been to get inside the box and hard- wire in a talking or Braille display. But these were expensive, one-of-a-kind solutions.
For several years at the American Foundation for the Blind we worked on developing a camera that could read the LED or LCD display. But the technology in all such equipment changes so quickly that the AFB engineers kept finding themselves two steps behind. Eventually we abandoned that effort to solve the problem, but it may still have merit.
The so-called smart house, whose owner will be able to program instructions for appliances from a distance, will provide a solution to this problem since the data for each programmable device will have to pass through a single point, and a trap could be built in, permitting the translation of the information into an accessible format.
Perhaps infrared technology holds the solution. It is inexpensive and doable, but line-of-sight constraints are a problem. A user must be near the appliance with the transmitter or receiver pointing in the correct direction in order for it to work.
There are a number of kinds of public-access terminals that are inaccessible to visually impaired people. Transportation system monitors are now mounted high on walls and poorly lit. Moreover, they may use almost incomprehensible abbreviations to identify airports or stations. AT&T has now installed series 2,000 phones in airports and some other places which include an entire CRT screen of information to which there is no access for anyone who cannot read it directly. Today there are public-access fax and photocopy machines and terminals that provide visual displays of information to those who punch in the proper code, often using a key pad on a touch screen which itself is unusable by blind people. All this replaces the information desk with a person to answer questions.
Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are now beginning to be accessible. Some manufacturers have put Braille key-caps on the keys, but without a method of reading the print display there is still no way to know whether one has made an error during the transaction. Moreover, some banks provide screens of customer information or the option to conduct transactions in different languages. These features are inaccessible to the blind user. The technology is, however, already available to mark the ATM card with a strip that would automatically cue the machine to provide large-print text, for example.
One possible tool for solving some access problems would be to use high-frequency radio-wave transmitters and receivers. We might go to the Federal Communications Commission to petition for designation of one frequency to be used for disability-related technology. Manufacturers would then have to agree upon a method of encoding information about what appears on the LCD displays of equipment and in what form it appears. Legislation similar to that which requires that televisions manufactured after July, 1993, include a closed-captioning chip for use by deaf people could require installation of high-frequency transmitters for the use of disabled consumers. The small radio receivers could then be adapted to the needs of the individual user: Braille, voice, large print, etc. There are many applications that could be developed and some problems to work out--how does one sort out information coming from or going to different appliances simultaneously? These problems are solvable, and the group assembled for this conference is the most powerful one around and the most likely to lobby successfully for what is needed.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Deane Blazie]
These remarks are chiefly about the thought process involved in research and development. The first problem is to get over the hurdles, the obstacles to finding new solutions. One must look hard at what it will take to solve a given problem. In 1986 I didn't want to look at what had to be done to make a Braille notetaker small enough to be truly portable. Having abandoned a wooden case several years before when we were producing the Cranmer Modified Brailler in favor of vacuum-forming the box, I had trouble picturing the Braille 'n Speak with anything other than a plastic case, but I was told that we should be injection- molding the cases. I had to learn about this new technology and risk a lot on it, but having done so, we found that the Braille 'n Speak cases are very inexpensive because they are injection- molded.
I didn't want to hear that we should develop a disc drive for the Braille 'n Speak. Since 1987 people have been telling me that they wanted one. I thought buying a PC for $1,000 was a better solution, but we finally listened to people and developed what they wanted. It is a good piece of technology--probably the biggest bargain we offer, considering what is in it.
The same thing happened in developing the Type 'n Speak. People who didn't know Braille but who wanted a lightweight notetaker began talking about having Blazie Engineering develop such a device. Since they could use laptops with speech output, I didn't take them seriously for a couple of years. But finally we did design a notetaker that was small, light, and easy to use, like the Braille 'n Speak. The decision required that we examine our consciences to determine whether we just didn't want to do it because it would be lots of work or whether it was not in the best interest of users. Now I am glad that we decided to go forward.
There are certainly still hurdles we haven't yet gotten over in some projects: cost and technological barriers, for example. But we must always listen to our customers and to the little voices inside our own heads. The first tell us what we should be doing; the second indicate what we have to overcome.
All of us in this room are service providers. Those who think they are only technology producers had better think again. If you don't make a point of listening to customers and giving them what they need and want, you will have real problems. At Blazie Engineering our problem is that, despite wanting to stay small, we keep growing, which means hiring more people and, for me, doing more management work. This means in turn that I have less time to talk with customers and keep in touch with what they want. The person who leads the company and has the ideas must be the one to talk to the customers. I don't have a good solution to this problem since I don't like letting anyone else run the company either.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: Greg Lowney]
From the Editor: Immediately before Mr. Lowney spoke, Dr. Jernigan admitted to the group that, despite all that had been said that morning and in previous discussions, he still did not understand whether icons are more useful than words on a computer screen and what the precise nature of the GUI problem is. Before turning to his assigned subject, Mr. Lowney attempted to address Dr. Jernigan's questions. This is the substance of what he said:
The challenge of an operating system like Windows is to allow the screen reader to recognize the symbols on the screen so that it can interpret them in words to the listener or Braille reader. Mostly these problems have now been solved, thanks to many of the people at this conference. Once the symbol- interpretation problems have been solved, it is really no more difficult to write a screen-reading program for applications using a GUI-based operating system than for those using DOS. The major difference is that, instead of there being only text to interpret, there may now be graphics as well.
We often overlook the fact that most of the GUI applications such as word-processing, spread-sheet, and data-base programs are not very graphic. There may be a picture of a printer, but even when the user points a mouse at a picture, it is also possible to accomplish the same thing by using a keyboard with text menus.
People are moving toward the graphics-based programs because they allow one to mix art work and text simultaneously, rather than pasting up the art later. Also people like to see the fonts and other graphic alterations they are writing into their documents, and it is possible to do so with GUI.
Virtually all the GUI applications on the market today could be produced fairly easily in a pure text mode. The reason they are not probably has to do with limited resources. If only one version is to be produced, it will use a GUI platform simply because it is more popular.
Finally, one reason people prefer graphics is that lots of them recognize pictures faster and remember what they convey longer than they do reading words. So, while most generally- recognized symbols--stop signs, rest rooms, and lodging signs, for example--still incorporate words as well as pictures, there are many people for whom the graphic is the effective element of the symbol.
The question, however, which I intend to address today is what does it take to make an environment like Windows, or any other environment for that matter, accessible?
(1) The operating system must have a fundamental level of accessibility built in. A mouse, for example, must not be the only means of moving around the screen; keyboard access must also be possible. Moreover, there must be a fundamental level of access to the application program--even when specialized programs (like screen readers) are not available--on public-access terminals or for the use of blind people trouble-shooting problems on a sighted colleague's computer, for example. Work is currently being done to establish the ground rules for such access by a group at the Trace Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
(2) There must be a range of access aids for users to choose among, depending on their personal preferences and computer needs--for example, a number of screen readers on the market.
(3) The creators of the application programs must do what is necessary to make it possible for specialized vendors to write the accessibility programs. They must, for example, provide documentation that will allow screen-reader programmers to build on and hook into the operating system. However, without doing additional work, Windows programmers cannot provide more information to other programmers about the system than it actually has available.
(4) It is therefore necessary for operating-system programmers to define new mechanisms designed to deliver more information to specialized applications vendors so that they can get the data they need to solve their problems. Examples of this need would be identifying the active point--what I call the visual locus--the point where the computer user's attention is focused. Another would be to have the applications programmer signal the presence of a graphic image and what it means. We have not yet gotten to the point of accomplishing these things, but we are moving in the right direction.
(5) Having defined what we want applications programs to do in order to work well with a screen reader, how do we insure that applications will be well-behaved? For the first time Microsoft is now producing guidelines for general market Window-application producers to tell them what their programs need to do to be accessible to people with disabilities. The problem is that, no matter how many guidelines we establish about what should happen, there are always many more areas in which something profound can go wrong. In addition, the mainstream-application producers depend on distinguishing themselves from everyone else and demonstrating why their products are superior to the competition's. This natural tendency, which is unquestionably strengthened by market forces, works against our efforts to persuade these people to design programs that behave consistently enough for the access vendors to deal with them all.
I believe (and a number of other people agree with me) that the only way around this problem is to create new Application Programming Interfaces (API's) that can be used by access programmers. These programmers don't care what a particular application does; they just need to know what is happening. How can we make these applications producers do what is necessary? One way is by legal requirement. In my view the Americans with Disabilities Act is currently useless in this respect. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act now has more teeth than it used to, and this is making some applications producers sit up and take notice, but only those who do enough business with the federal government to have the loss of that business make a difference to their profits. Lawsuits may be another possibility, but I don't think they will work very well, and the time for that strategy is in the future. The profit motive would be the best method to use if there is a way to make the argument that application producers will lose money by refusing to accommodate blind users, but we don't have figures to show how much business they would lose. We don't even know how many blind people are using GUI, much less the dollar amount of their business.
But even if an application producer were to decide to write a well-behaved program, its programmers wouldn't have any idea how to do it right. Perhaps the motivation to solve this problem could be provided by establishing access certification, reports of which could then become a part of mainstream reviews of the application. Such certification would have to be done by some impartial body. How much would it cost? Who would provide the funding and the personnel? These are important questions, and the group in this room should have a hand in answering them. My own view is that we must find ways of tying the features needed by the access community to attributes that will be noticed and wanted by the larger computer-buying public. For instance, when we are adding a new feature to Windows, I go through it trying to think of ways we could tie something to it that would make applications better-behaved for disabled people.
(6) Mainstream applications must be usable. A program in which it is possible for one window to hide another is not easy for anyone to use. Pressure should be brought to bear on applications producers to fix such problems. This is beginning to happen, but it is important that access issues be aired whenever the question of usability surfaces. We must provide input at all phases of product development.
(7) Once all the problems are solved, the end-user must know about the solutions. The standard documentation, available to mainstream users, must be available in accessible formats. Additional documentation must be developed to outline the specific ways in which the application works with access programs--hints about how to make it work. Finally, there must be good training materials: introductions and tutorials.
From the Editor: Dr. Kurzweil was unable to stay for the general discussion of the graphical user interface, but he made several comments before his departure. Here they are:
One clear answer to the question of why GUI is superior to text-based operating systems is WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). This means that the screen display shows the format of the document exactly as it will look when printed. This includes type font and size, columns, bullets, graphics, and charts and graphs. Because information not included in the actual words of the text is immediately and accurately communicated by a WYSIWYG application, it is more attractive to most users.
It would be useful if we could develop an agreed-upon method of communicating format, chart, and graph information aurally and in Braille. That would go a long way toward solving access problems.
But we must not concentrate exclusively on computer output problems. The pen-based computing technology will also leave blind people at a disadvantage. Speech recognition, which is faster than writing with a pen, may provide the ultimate solution to input-technology difficulties, but even so, computer input is becoming a real problem. Meeting these challenges should be among the goals of this group.
SUMMARY OF FRIDAY CONFERENCE DISCUSSION
Following presentations on the graphical user interface, the remainder of the Friday program was devoted to a discussion among service-providers, consumers, and vendors of the issues raised during the conference. The following is a summary of that discussion.
Jim Fruchterman: I want to try to answer the question of why and what are the benefits of switching to the general GUI interface. There is an element of fashion, but like the change from the long-playing recording to the compact disk, once the shift has occurred, there is no going back, because there are several real benefits to the GUI operating systems. These arise from some problems that people were having with DOS--chiefly its relative difficulty for beginners. The success of the Macintosh proved that people who knew nothing about computers could sit down in front of a computer and do something constructive within a short time. This ties into what Elliot Schreier was saying about public terminals. They use graphics because without the pictures many people could not use them.
There are some more technical reasons for moving to GUI. One is memory; DOS just does not have the capacity to do some things we want to do. Optical character recognition (OCR) is an example. You cannot get an OCR program to run in DOS. With Windows a lot more applications can be used together without their stepping on each other's toes, just because there is more memory available.
Finally I would say that there is now something of a backlash against iconography because people don't know what the pictures mean. So now we are getting a floating help feature in which one can pass the mouse over the icon, and a little box appears in the corner of the screen in which words explain what the picture means. So it is not only the blind who are having problems with the icons.
Noel Runyan: None of us wants to lose the real benefits of GUI, but we must encourage manufacturers to avoid meaningless graphics and to provide us with consistent indicators so that we can make access programs work.
Kenneth Jernigan: I urge you to comment on ways in which this group might bring about solutions to these problems. We need suggestions about what we should be doing together to influence the situation.
David Andrews: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that the federal government purchase only equipment that can be made accessible to disabled people. This includes computers, operating systems, fax machines, everything. The government is not complying with the law and is not enforcing it. Perhaps we could agree on ways of bringing pressure to bear on the government to live up to its regulations for itself.
Tim Cranmer: We need ongoing communication between these conferences. I invite anyone with an electronic mail address to give it to us so that we can put you on our research and development discussion distribution list. We have been slowly expanding this group for the last year and a half, and as of January 1, 1994, we will include anyone who wants to be a part of it. Our Internet address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marc Sutton: This group can provide a forum through which the vendors of screen-access products for graphical user interfaces can define the standard by which new software can be evaluated. Operating-system developers like Microsoft, Apple, and the various Unix systems providers as well as the applications developers that write for these operating systems could then have a clear standard to determine whether or not they meet the requirements. Having such a standard will make it easier for us to file lawsuits using the teeth of the ADA and Section 508. I also think that, working together, consumer organizations and vendors could create tutorials with tactile screens that could be very helpful. Some of this is already being done.
Paul Fontaine: I am from the General Services Administration. Access will not be achieved by one strategy alone. This group has tremendous political influence, and you should use it to identify all the pressure points--economic, legal, legislative, etc.--and then apply the necessary pressure. The amendments to the Rehabilitation Act mandated that Section 508 be updated. One of my projects is to get several governmental agencies together to update the old Section 508 regulations on federal procurement. The political reality is that in the current administration there is less emphasis on regulations and mandates. They are trying to make government run more like business. So, while it is important to rewrite the regulations, the political reality is that they will have less influence than they might have had in previous administrations. Finally, I would point out that the DOS problems were completely solved about the time that DOS ceased being generally used. I think that the Windows solutions will probably emerge about the time that Windows is no longer on the cutting edge. Maybe this group needs to focus its efforts on solving the problems with the operating systems that have not yet been released. Both Microsoft and IBM have radically different systems in development. That is where we need to be looking.
Kenneth Jernigan: You are, of course, right except that there are a lot of employed blind people out there who are going to become unemployed while Windows and the other operating systems are being used if we don't find a way of helping them.
Jim Thatcher: The resources required to produce these new operating systems are rising exponentially, and the funds that businesses like IBM are prepared to spend on access programs are shrinking rapidly. The architects of new systems are interested in helping, but when the financial crunch comes, business demands will win out over what is right, unless the impetus to keep the systems and programs accessible comes from above. This group must get to the CEOs of these companies and persuade them of the importance of maintaining a corporate commitment to accessibility.
Tuck Tinsley: Is it possible and would it be helpful for the American Printing House to gather a group together to produce a tutorial for school-age children on Windows? [Chorus of "No" and "We don't know enough to do it."]
Curtis Chong: Anything you could do to provide Braille and tactile graphic materials to teach blind children about GUI-based programs would be useful, but you must be careful to choose the right GUI. Probably more kids in school are exposed to Apple programs than anything else, and we have access programs that have solved the screen-review problems for that system, so such a tutorial might be helpful.
David Andrews: Mr. Fontaine says that new federal procurement regulations will be written, but we must not forget that in the meantime there are regulations on the books which should be enforced. We cannot go to the pressure points until we are agreed on what we want to ask for, so arriving at that agreement is a very important first step.
Noel Runyan: It is easy to be depressed when looking at the complexity of the GUI problem facing this field, but I remind you that, when computer terminals were first on the horizon in the sixties, there was lots of talk about how blind programmers were bound to lose their jobs because their computers would no longer be accessible. But we found good solutions to the problems that faced us then, and I feel optimistic that we will do it again this time. Both the government and business are beginning to understand the importance of accessibility, and that will help.
Deane Blazie: One substantive thing we could do right now is to go through the Federal Register and determine where the largest automatic data processing (ADP) contracts are going. I'm sure Windows would be included. Then the General Services Administration (GSA) could demand that an access clause be written into the contract in compliance with Section 508.
Kenneth Jernigan: Rather than GSA, we should get some of our friends in the Senate and the House to approach the bureaucrats. GSA officials can ask, but when it's the chairman of a key committee, the bureaucrats will be much more interested in complying.
Greg Lowney: Of the three largest procurements I am aware of right now--the IRS, the Justice Department, and the Coast Guard-- all three have access language; two quote verbatim the guidelines that the GSA put forward. These are outdated, and they do need to be revised. The question is whether they will be enforced. There are two mechanisms for accomplishing this. Although the people letting the bids can choose to ignore the guidelines, they can insist they be met at the time the bid is accepted. Alternatively, if a contract is awarded without compliance, another company can challenge the bid.
Friday Afternoon Session
Dr. Jernigan had asked Curtis Chong to gather a small group together during lunch to discuss actions that conferees might jointly take at the conclusion of the meeting or before the next one. The group reported that another gathering of technologically sophisticated people should soon be called together to discuss the GUI at greater length and in greater depth. Details of a possible certification system should be worked out, and thought should be given to providing better implementation for Section 508. Dr. Jernigan then asked the group to bring a statement or resolution to the service providers and consumers meeting Saturday morning for their consideration.
Lloyd Rasmussen: A different graphics problem is facing students and math teachers in high schools and community colleges. It is caused by small graphics calculators. They are too tiny to make talk, and there are increasing numbers of people who don't know how to deal with instructional methods that depend on this type of device.
Gerry Braak: I wish to urge increased attention to the problem of access to digital readouts. Blind professionals, like physiotherapists, must ask other people to read them the data about their patients provided by the LCD displays on their equipment.
Jim Sanders: We at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind are very concerned about the problem of marketing. If people don't know that the technology they need exists, in their ignorance they will live increasingly restricted lives. We must find better ways to educate people about what is out there and how they can get it. Last March the CNIB launched the Techni-bus, which is a forty-foot coach, fitted with display areas and as much technology as we could cram into it. It has traveled 75,000 miles and visited 150 communities. We are still gathering the results of this effort, which was complex and expensive, but it has certainly educated many more people about the technology available to them than we have ever reached before. The CNIB is eager to hear from anyone interested in working on this marketing problem.
Judy Dixon: With respect to the National Information Infrastructure, two entities are being formed. One is a national task force, comprised of people who understand the concepts involved in this technology, and the other is a national advisory group, made up of policy makers. The blindness field should be represented on both of these bodies to insure that we will have the access we have come to depend upon. I also hope that those involved would be interested in Braille and other forms of access beyond speech.
Frederick Downs: I am the Director of Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Service for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I pay for the special devices prescribed for the nation's veterans. I need immediate information about emerging technology to disseminate to 172 medical centers. I buy in volume for national and, in future, for state agencies. By Congressional decree I have absolute control over a budget which last year was $240,000,000. Volume purchasing has made a big difference in prosthetic purchases, and we are now making a big push to help the blind. I hope to establish a cost-effective system for purchasing which could benefit state agencies and others. I welcome comment from anyone who can help.
John Brabyn: This group should take seriously its role in and ability to foster targeted research. Dr. Cranmer's R and D Committee has been very helpful in identifying the correct problem and then encouraging people to focus on solving it. The problems that have been identified here are important.
Mary Frances Laughton: I am pleased to say that the Canadian government has just announced its plans for the Canadian information superhighway, and the announcement included reference to the importance of insuring that all disabled people have access to it. We are doing some interesting research and development, and I would be happy to put anyone on our mailing list.
Shirley Dupmeier: I am a consumer who knows nothing about technology. My plea is that, when you are doing your research and marketing, remember those of us on the low end of the technology ladder. We are out there, and we need your help too.
Paul Edwards: When corporations upgrade to new levels of computer technology, organizations of and for the blind might urge them to consider the tax advantage of making the old equipment available to disabled people who would not otherwise have access to it. Then consumer groups, Tech Act groups, and perhaps state agencies could see about adding the access technology to it to make it available to many more blind people than would otherwise be able to buy it.
Caryn Navy: It is important to remember the low-end consumer, but it is also important to remember to budget some funding for high-end needs as well. So many of the new programs require lots of memory and speed. I would like to commend Arkenstone for making its speech driver library available to vendors. Their generosity is a good model.
Susan Spungin: On behalf of the American Foundation for the Blind and (I suspect) everyone else here, I would like to thank the National Federation of the Blind and Dr. Jernigan for bringing these three groups together for this important discussion.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
SUMMARY OF THE SATURDAY CONFERENCE DISCUSSION
At the close of the Friday conference session, the vendors departed, leaving service-providers and consumers to discuss issues together on Saturday morning. Here is the substance of that discussion:
Dr. Jernigan began by asking the group if there was interest in conducting another conference in about two years. He indicated that the NFB would be pleased to host such a meeting. He expected that by that time there would be a low-vision aids center as part of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. The group unanimously indicated its interest in doing so.
Euclid Herie: At the last conference I agreed to chair a committee to look into group purchasing, not with an eye to hurting vendors, but rather to take advantage of economies of scale. There was also a hope that we might be able to encourage the development of products or increase their availability through volume orders. In the past few months we in Canada have organized a large consortium of our own which includes provincial entities as well as the CNIB. I have been talking recently about this matter with people in the U.K., France, Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan. I think that the time is right for developing a world market. Because Gary Magarrell and Jim Sanders of my staff will be working together with our program, I would suggest that one or both of them chair this committee in the next two years.
Judy Dixon: I recommend that, at the Third U.S./Canada Conference, part of the agenda be devoted to non-computer technology: creative use of bar-code-scanning technology, talking book machines, slates and styluses, and who knows what all. What do we need? What is out there that people don't know about?
Dr. Jernigan asked if she would do the necessary research and make the presentation at the conference, and she agreed to.
Curtis Chong: A group representing vendors, service providers, and consumers got together yesterday and drew up the following resolution:
2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind
WHEREAS, throughout North America the graphical user interface (GUI) is becoming more widely used on today's computer systems; and
WHEREAS, because GUI applications are incompatible with text-based computer access technology for the blind, their increased use effectively reduces the ability of the blind to use computers independently without resorting to relatively new and immature approaches; and
WHEREAS, if blind people are to continue to enjoy the benefits that independent use of the computer has brought, access to GUI applications must be ensured; and
WHEREAS, for the blind full access to GUI applications can only be achieved by a cooperative effort between blind consumers, those who develop GUI access technology, and developers of GUI platforms and applications; and
WHEREAS, in the United States stronger enforcement of laws such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act will help to ensure that accessibility to GUI applications for the blind is a primary consideration, as opposed to an afterthought; and
WHEREAS, in Canada the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and applicable provincial human rights legislation specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability: Now, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, by the 2nd U.S./Canada Conference on Technology for the Blind, in meeting assembled this sixth day of November, 1993, in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, that this conference call upon all developers of GUI applications to take advantage of any standard accessibility application programming interfaces (APIs) that may be provided in future operating systems; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this conference call upon the General Services Administration (GSA) in the United States to take steps to enforce more strongly Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, including educating its contract negotiators about what it means for the blind to have true access to a GUI application; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this conference call upon federal and provincial governments in Canada and all groups and organizations over which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and applicable provincial human rights legislation have effect to take steps to ensure that discrimination on the basis of disability is not perpetuated by denying access to computer technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this conference call for the convening of a future meeting at which the GUI accessibility problem for the blind can be discussed in depth by consumers, developers of GUI access technology, and key developers of GUI platforms, with a view to making more substantive recommendations in this area.
Tim Cranmer: Let us be careful in stipulating that consumers be part of the conference we are proposing to call to discuss GUI that we do not try to mandate the establishment of standards for evaluating such technology. It will be some time before any of us will be knowledgeable enough to do so intelligently.
President Maurer suggested that some of the applications producers might be concerned about the antitrust implications of a conference of the type being contemplated. David Andrews thought they would be more likely to fear losing their competitive advantage by discussing these matters with other producers. Dr. Jernigan said that we would look into getting a Justice Department letter giving its blessing to any solutions coming out of the conference.
With all these understandings in mind, the group voted unanimously to approve the resolution.
Elliot Schreier: Perhaps this group should think about establishing a periodic publication that would collect in one place some of the expertise we have. For example, I have copied and circulated David Andrews's recent evaluation of reading machines, published in the Braille Monitor. It would be helpful to have materials like that put together.
An exchange then took place between Paul Edwards and Kenneth Jernigan. Mr. Edwards said that there continues to be a problem in providing appropriate and sufficient training for blind people who are beginning to use computers. We should see that there is some way of determining who is equipped to provide such training. Dr. Jernigan asked if he wasn't getting close to suggesting the establishment of standards. Edwards said no, but all the groups here should work together in a collaborative way to agree upon the content of the training.
Gary Magarrell: Agencies cannot do all the necessary training in this area, but they should make sure that the people for whom they provide equipment have a tutorial component in the rehabilitation package. It is easier to raise the necessary funds to have someone associated with the vendor train a client than it is to maintain a person on staff to do that training for all clients. The vendors must, of course, then be certain that the people they have hired as trainers know the equipment well enough to train each user appropriately.
Kenneth Jernigan: Consider for a moment the issues facing the NFB with the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. We have now invested over a million dollars in equipment. We have just put six hundred thousand into remodeling the new facility. We have the ongoing cost of David Andrews's salary and that of the support staff working with him. And really we should have at least one more professional down there. We provide all kinds of services to the public: evaluations of technology, tours, consultation, and training. We will find a way to keep this program going because it is important, but it would be easier if we could establish some means of generating funds through center projects.
David Andrews: I understand the problem that Paul alludes to. The two biggest problems we face in the technology field are financing and training, and I don't know how to solve either of them. The field is still so new that I don't believe we can establish requirements for formal educational credentials; a number of us are self-taught and couldn't meet such qualifications. Frankly, most of the worst teaching is being done by people who are just not good teachers. They know the material, but they are not skilled in communicating it.
Euclid Herie: We at the CNIB intend to establish a formal relationship under contract with the NFB to take advantage of the facilities here. We can save thousands of dollars each year by being able to make informed decisions about equipment purchases after coming here and talking with Mr. Andrews.
Several things that have been said here during this conference have been particularly important. It is critical that we find a way to get ahead of the technology problems so that we are not always winning a battle only to find that the field of combat has completely changed. Also, our Techni-bus reached 17,000 people in eight months, people who had not known that such equipment was to be had. I suggest that in a month or so a small group of people get together and listen to the tapes of this conference in order to pick out the most important ideas. They could then be circulated to the participants for individual action as seems appropriate.
Kenneth Jernigan: On the matter of funding this technology center--we would like to have some help in funding it if we can get it, but, on the other hand, we don't want to put the resource out of the reach of people who need it. Striking the right balance is a problem.
Shirley Dupmeier: We must not sell short the intelligence and energy of blind people. We must pass on information among ourselves and make our own decisions and not think of ourselves as helpless victims at the mercy of the vendors. But I would also like to request that at the next conference cassette versions of the agenda be available for people like me for whom neither print nor Braille is a good alternative. Dr. Jernigan thanked her for bringing the point to his attention and assured her that it would be done.
Kurt Cylke: I think it will be important for the people who agree to do things after the conference to report back about what they have accomplished before the next meeting. We have heard about two of the five things agreed upon at the last meeting, and that points up the importance of follow-through.
Gerry Braak: I have been a proponent for a long time of getting technology demonstrations to outlying areas as has been done with the Techni-bus, but many of the people who see the equipment comment afterward that there is no way they can afford it. The economic component of this situation is very important. Moreover, when youngsters leave school, where they have had experience with computers, they will lose their skills quickly if they do not immediately get jobs that use those skills. This is another aspect of the problem.
Paul Edwards: I have a motion for consideration: moved that this conference express its concern over the poor quality of training available to many blind people in the field of technology and urge all parties involved in work with technology to seek ways to improve this unfortunate situation. The motion died for lack of a second.
In closing Dr. Jernigan made the following remarks: We of the National Federation of the Blind pledge to you that we will continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, bringing together every piece of Braille- producing technology and every screen-reading program that we learn about. We will remove the outdated ones and do our best to keep this facility state-of-the-art. We will also staff the Center appropriately. We contemplate establishing a low-vision aids center as well, but we will not do so unless we can anticipate having sufficient funds to make it state-of-the-art as well. We do not need just one more run-of-the-mill low-vision center in this country.
We have also placed before you the question of how we might be assisted to do this work which must be done. Rehabilitation of the blind and technology are now inextricably joined. That is why we established this Center and why we intend to keep it updated. It is in the best interest of every state and private agency and every blind consumer that we find the financing to do so. Working alone, we cannot possibly make this Center as successful as it could be. Since it is already better than anything else of its kind in the world, if we do not receive some assistance, we will never know how good it might have been.
The first conference, held two years ago, succeeded in meeting its goals: to enable us all to know each other better and begin to work together in new ways, and to establish ourselves and this field as a force in specialized technology. In addition, we went away with a greater knowledge of and appreciation for technology and the part it was playing and would continue to play in the lives of blind people. Because the decision-makers in the field were here, what we received at that conference has helped determine the direction of work with the blind in these last two years. I also believe that the conference stimulated some joint purchasing and some new research and development of technology.
This conference, too, has met all of those goals again, but in addition, it has given us a vision of what the future can be and what a nightmare it will be if we do not solve the technology problems that face us now. Technology will be a part of our lives in the future, whether we will or no, and the people here will determine what impact blind people have on that technology. You notice that I did not say "what impact technology will have on blind people." There is no question that that effect will be profound, but the impact blind people will have on the technology that shapes our lives will be determined by the people at this conference. And we have helped set the tone for that. Personally, I am much more concerned about this aspect of the conference than I am about any specific technology question we have discussed.
Each of you has honored the rest of us by your participation, and our collective power and potential are greater than the sum of the individuals who have been here. It has been an honor for the National Federation of the Blind to have you here, and we pledge to do our best to welcome you again in 1995 and to plan an even better conference at that time. In the interim we will do all that we can to promote usable and useful technology and to work cooperatively with you to create better technology for blind people.