He built blind reading software back in the 1980s. In the 1990s he and Roberta Brosnahan and the other geeks who made up what was then Arkenstone created WYNN – the literacy software for dyslexics which changed my life. I still remember talking to this guys back then. A prof had said to me, "there's reading software for blind people, there must be something for you." And an early-generation search (Alta-Vista, no doubt) gave me the phone number of these people who seemed to be working in some echo-y hangar at Moffett Field near San Jose
All that to say that Jim, now the leader of Benetech (Arkenstone and WYNN are now part of Freedom Scientific), keynoted the 23rd Annual International Conference on Technology and Persons with Disabilities this Wednesday, and shared his vision of the future of Assistive Technology.
He insisted we must "raise the floor" through free technologies shared on ubiquitous devices. He insisted that we must stop asking people with 'disabilities' to "come to us" and we must "come to them" – enabling websites, computers, libraries, and above all mobile phones to bring these accommodations to where the people already are. And he pointed out the validity of this business model. After all, if a dyslexic student (for example) can get basic information through free text-to-speech software (such as Firefox's CLiCk-Speak or something in the future which runs on their mobile), they instantly become more economically (and academically) viable – and they will then become customers for the high-end solutions which will power their educations and jobs – solutions like WYNN (which now does so much more than what I described above).
And his targets are essential. This morning I saw a Nokia Mobile Phone (the N82 model with the 5.1 megapixel camera) teamed with $1600 (
This is critical. We must build a base of universal design solutions based in ubiquitous technologies. This will allow all people to start to build their own solutions. But that does not mean we stop creating those "high end" specific solutions. Newly empowered end users will both demand those and be able to afford them.
- Ira Socol from sunny Los Angeles