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Freedom Scientific says no to access for deaf people

Posted Sep 11 2008 8:02pm
The following is an account of the effort Access Ability undertook to advocate for access with one of the big names in assistive technology. Unfortunately, the steps taken were not sufficient, so perhaps others need to request action as well. If you are interested in being an advocate for change, write to the email address below.

It is very sad that Freedom Scientific (FS), the company that manufactures JAWS and is the 800-pound gorilla of the screen reader world, does not fully acknowledge its role at making access to information a priority.

The assistive technology company began offering podcasts, which it calls
FSCasts,
to their many users in December, 2006, using the podcasts to share information and promote new releases of their products. There are now ten podcasts posted on the dedicated FSCast page. The podcasts are hosted by Jonathan Mosen, the company’s VP of blindness hardware product management, and the topics run the gamut from interviews with technology folks to showing off how new FS products work. I’ve listened to a few of these podcasts and found them very informative.

However, I’ve looked over the page and there are no transcripts available to provide the company’s deaf customers with the material covered in their podcasts.

What’s that you say…Freedom Scientific has deaf customers?

Of course they do.

Doing a search on the company’s web site for the word “deaf” returns 48 pages hosted on their site. There is a May, 2001 article where they trumpeted their Comm Light product. On top of that, in June of 2005 Freedom Scientific heralded their new deaf-blind solutions based on their PacMate product. Perhaps by showing the evolution of the PacMate into a deafblind product was the company’s insight, showing just how sensitive they were to the needs of their deafblind customers.

So, it is well established that Freedom Scientific has deaf consumers of their products and the company is aware of this consumer base. Additionally, they have been aware of these consumers for several years.

On Sept. 11, 2007, I wrote an email to Freedom Scientific, sending it to
fscast@freedomscientific.com
the email address given at the end of the podcast, inquiring about the absence of transcripts on the FSCast page. I explained: “The transcripts allow people who are deaf to gain the informational content of the podcast, even if the person is unable to take in the audio of such. Being there are some users of JAWS who are deafblind and use JAWS with a braille display, these consumers would be a prime beneficiary of these transcripts.”

I then noted the absence of such transcripts on the FSCast page and inquired whether these would be available in coming days.

Finally, I offered examples of two podcast sites that make use of transcripts and do so in different fashions, so that whomever read my email would be able to see that options do exist to make audio accessible. These sites were:
the Disability 411 podcast
And the
Day in Washington podcast.
(For an alternative version of transcrips, Freedom Scientific could also look to
The Disability Nation podcast
For guidance.)

I promptly received a reply from Mr. Mosen. He said that because podcasting wasn’t the company’s core business, he wasn’t certain that they had the resources to make FSCast transcripts available. He did elaborate about the efforts the company took to ensure complete access to training materials and their newsletter.

I think he missed my point, though.

To buttress his case, Mr. Mosen detailed how much time and work went into production of their latest book on Windows Vista where the audio was synchronized with the full text of the document. He followed this by explaining that because that particular process took a “long, long time to produce though, and we couldn't do this on a monthly basis for a programme that runs to 90 minutes.”

In my inquiry, I never asked them to provide a synchronized transcript that kept up with the audio. I pointed out two sites that provide just simple html transcripts, each in a different manner. All I asked was that Freedom Scientific provide their deaf consumers an accessible format of the useful and informative FSCast material that they provide to all their hearing consumers.

I did reply to Mr. Mosen again, emphasizing, “I believe providing FSCast transcripts would be an insightful effort on your company's part, embodying true understanding of your consumers needs.” I have waited a few weeks to write this post to allow him time to acknowledge my second suggestion or to work up some form of transcripts. However, I’ve not heard back from him nor are there any transcripts available on the FSCast site. Also, the tenth FSCast has been posted since my original correspondence. (There were only nine FSCasts when I began my original inquiry.)

I once coined the phrase, “If you’re not including somebody, then you’re excluding them.” That statement is true here. Freedom Scientific is excluding their deaf consumers. When it comes to podcasts, Freedom Scientific, a company that is recognized for their ability to provide access throws up a big, flashing sign that reads, “No deaf people allowed.”
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