A few days ago, I received an advertisement email from the Korean access technology company, HIMS. The email had the subject line, “Next Generation Braille Notetaker Just Released” and it described a $4000 device running some oddball version of Windows which had no more than a minimal set of features.
Recently, former FS executive, Jonathan Mosen wrote an article on his blog entitled, “There’s No Such Thing as a Blind Ghetto Product” in which he criticizes people like Mike Calvo and I for referring to proprietary devices designed specifically for blind users as being the agents that segregates our population into a technological ghetto. Anyone who has read this blog or it’s predecessor, BlindConfidential, will already know my position on such products and my desire to see them replaced by mainstream solutions. I won’t bore you with the details of why I think this is the case, you can search on the word “ghetto” on this blog or on the BlindConfidential archive to see the analysis I’ve done of this business sector and why it must be avoided by the majority of users.
This article is specifically about the email I received from HIMS and not the greater philosophy of accessible mainstream versus ghetto devices. These are my findings:
An Email From HIMS
At the very top of the email I received from HIMS advertising their new notetaker I heard my screen reader say, “order-top.jpg.” This is, of course, the sign of an unlabeled graphic. HIMS is, ostensibly, an access technology company. If a company attempting to sell a four thousand dollar device to users with vision impairment cannot even spend the time to get the accessibility of the HTML in their advertisements correct, how can we expect them to build and sell a product to this community that has any credibility? This fundamental level of adherence to standards was ignored, what else did they get wrong in this product?
The Braille Sense U2 MINI
In the first paragraph describing the device, they claim that teachers, trainers and others will be impressed by the hardware and, “Excel Viewer, YouTube and Dropbox,” and all I can say is, “These people must be really easy to impress as blind users have been enjoying these features for years on our Apple and Android mobile devices.” In fact, YouTube was one of the first apps I enjoyed using back when I bought my first iPhone, four and a half years ago. Ghetto devices will never keep up with the mainstream and, in 2013, a proud announcement that one now has support for things we’ve been using for years is proof that these companies are a generation behind the technological curve.
HIMS then tells me, “Users will enjoy the power and performance of a 1 GHz Mobile CPU, a 32 GB storage capacity and enhanced features such as extended battery run time, improved GPS receiver sensitivity and the addition of a vibration motor.” Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! These technical specifications sound so 2004 when compared to the Nexus/7 I bought used from a friend for $50 with its quad core processor, gigabyte of RAM and 32 gb of storage or my iPhone 5S with its quad core A7, a super computer compared to this new thing from HIMS. Apple sells a device that is 100% accessible out-of-the-box and Google, with its Nexus/7 running Android 4.3 provides a device that one can make tremendously accessible with third party software for profoundly fewer dollars out of your pocket. When the new iPad Mini hits the stores soon, a blind consumer can get one for $329 and the Nexus/7 costs $239 at BestBuy. The much less powerful hardware from HIMS costs $4000.
Next, HIMS boasts that this device runs “an optimized Windows-based operating system with a familiar, Windows-like user interface.” First off, this was done in PAC Mate years earlier and, sadly, it failed as it was nearly impossible to find accessible off-the-shelf apps to run on the device allowing users to improve and customize its functionality to better meet their needs. A blind person using an iPad or Android device has myriad options for apps to install. HIMS chose a mobile operating system with virtually zero accessible third party apps. They could have used Android and provided their users with thousands of accessible apps as options; instead, they chose to limit the possibilities a user of this device can have – a decision completely against the goals of achieving universal accessibility and compatibility with the same software that our sighted friends can use.
But, It Has A Keyboard and Braille Line
These days, one can find a small blue tooth braille display online for under $1000 new and used for far less. One can have any variety of blue tooth keyboards for an iOS or Android device. One can buy a talking battery extender on Amazon for $50.
Let’s do some math
- 1 Apple iPad Mini: $330
- 1 Google Nexus/7: $240
- 1 Apple Macbook Air: $1100
- 1 Toshiba Windows laptop: $300
- 1 external keyboard: $50
1 braille display: $1000
These are all of the accessible devices I own and use on most days. I have four operating systems, a panoply of different screen readers and as many accessible applications I can possibly ever want. . For nearly a thousand dollars less than a single HIMS YouTube ini, I have all of its functionality plus much, much more. For $3000, a blind person can literally have everything the mainstream technology world can enjoy and, no matter what Mosen asserts, mainstream solutions for blind users are both more functional and, yes, less expensive by a lot.
HIMS insults the blind community by attempting to sell an underpowered, low functionality device on which it will be impossible to install third party applications.
HIMS is obviously earning a windfall profit by selling this bit of technology for $4000 when the parts in it cannot possibly cost more than a few hundred dollars.
The new HIMS device attempts to force blind people into a segregated technological ghetto from which it is difficult or impossible to compete in the workplace or in school with our friends who do not self-identify as having a disability.
All such ghetto devices must be eschewed by this community or we’ll never achieve technological equity.
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