Thursday, 22 March 2007

Robin wrote: "Ten Thousand Downloads of Thunder Well, this is so...":
What do you think of Thunder compared to Supernova or Jaws? I teach
students who use both, but we could do with an alternative especially
that it seems portable.”

Thunder is very portable and it would be great for the students to have at home the same as at the college. Also, Thunder does not have the video card potential conflicts of either JAWS or SuperNova. And then there is the cost saving.

On Tuesday evening, Margaret and I went to the British Library to the launch of a book “Your Ethical Business” by Paul Allen. On how to plan, start and Run a company with a conscience. ISBN 978-0-9553695-0-6,from NGO.Media.. On page 51 there is a case study on When interviewed about his book, he was asked if there was an exceptional case study which stood out above the rest and, to our amazement, he began: “Well, Margaret and Roger are here in the audience and these two blind people…and he summarised the screenreader story. We felt justly very proud.

And now about the budget. Obviously, we have been able to take time on the web and study the implications in detail for our business of the changes in taxation an pensions etc. Not only that but we were both able to go on to the BBC Budget Calculator website and key in our details using, of course, Free Thunder and WebbIE as we always do. It seems that I am to be £192 better off and Margaret will be only £66 better off. Well there is no justice for women, is there!!!

The fact that we can do all this makes the case very strongly for Thunder, Robin, I think.

Monday, 19 March 2007

A Response To My Blogs

When you blog, you don’t get to know who if anyone is reading what you write, unless there is a response. In my case, two or three people have verbally told me they read the blog but today I received my first online response which comes in the form of an email.

Anon wrote:
“As someone who is one of the "commercial people" I do not think it is
fair to say that I am ripping people off. I am simply working to help
blind people, and feed my four children.”

My immediate reaction is to say that Anon’s comment is a very fair one. It is absolutely appropriate for companies or charities to charge £100 or nothing for their access software and there is a wide variation in the prices charged in the blindness market-place. But those charging more have a bigger marketing budget to play with and can better influence the purchaser. So perhaps there is a role for the blindness charities to make the full facts available to visually impaired users, especially to those with little money to spare. The ripping off, and perhaps I should not have used those words, only occurs when uninformed poorer users are lead to believe that the only choice is to spend lots of money they don’t have. My personal experience is that most people in this blindness accessibility business are basically very good human beings and the high prices are unintentionally excluding poorer people. i.e. the exclusion is a by-product of market forces.

It would be great to get more feedback.

Friday, 16 March 2007

The Royal Blind Society.

In a recent blog, I made reference to the fact that we have had little support and enthusiasm from blindness societies who sell rather than give speech access software to home users. Well, it is looking very much as if there is to be an outstanding exception.

The Royal Blind society is based down in Sussex and it has a long and proud history of making grants to blind individuals in need. In recent years RBS has moved into the hotel business for people with little or no sight wanting a safe supported holiday where the staff are trained and experienced in understanding their needs.

So I have become a trustee of RBS and yesterday I attended my first meeting at one of their pleasant hotels not far from Worthing. It was very refreshing to hear everyone round the table talk about the needs of blind individuals, the need for financial grants and the need for holiday breaks.

So if you or someone known to you is wanting such a holiday break or needing a grant e.g. towards the purchase of a talking computer, I suggest you get in touch with RBS pretty smartly and join the queue.

The RBS website is

Royal Blind Society
Registered Charity number 207827
RBS House, 59 - 61 Sea Lane, Rustington, West Sussex BN16 2RQ
Phone: 01903 857023 - Fax: 01903 859166

And, by the way: I am a trustee and will not be making any financial gain should you get a grant. Remember, our software is totally free to home users whichever computer at home is used. Now arriving at a PC near you …

Here is a cracking idea for those of us who travel by train and cab. If you are going to a large busy station, chances are you have to queue and wait. If you are going to a small rural station, well, no one around and no sign of a cab. So how nice to book in advance and be met and be looked after.
This is precisely what Traintaxi Ltd is doing and below are the instructions for Thunder and WebbIE users:
Launch WebbIE and press TAB to get to the Address Bar. Press the Backspace to get rid of whatever might be there. Type in and press Enter.
Press the Cursor Down key to hear "Link 1: Check for taxis at a station". Press Enter. Cursor Down to hear "please enter the name of your station".Cursor Down to hear "Text input box 1:" and press Enter. Type in the station you are going to, e.g. Deal and press Enter. Cursor Down to hear "Submit" and press Enter. You will hear that your search returned one result. So Cursor Down to hear "Link 1: Deal" and press Enter.
Sit back and listen. At the time of writing, there are up to three taxi or private hire firms to choose from and you won't have to queue or stand around in the rain when you get there. You'll also be told whether or not there is a taxi rank and, for the very smallest stations with no local cab firm, which are the nearest stations to use. As well as delivering free talking software, we plan to offer you useful services and even money-savers. The more visits to this site, the greater influence we have in developing more projects like this for you.
Enjoy and do give us some feedback to
Roger and Margaret

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Thunder In Europe

I was away in Graz, Austria, for three days last week and it was great. The EU often gets a bad press here in the UK but I was amongst good people with a shared mission to spread the free screenreader throughout Europe, or at least into Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Ireland, Estonia and Slovakia. Funding has been made available to us all to have the Thunder program and manuals translated into these languages, free disks for distribution and even a budget to allow us all to disseminate the message throughout our countries.

There was a broad understanding that, Thunder is not just a baby-JAWS and OK for beginners. Thunder is the latest technology and has been designed to be both simple to use and very robust.

The high cost alternatives perhaps unintentionally exclude ordinary blind men and women in the street. It seems you have to be in work or a clever student to get blind-friendly access to a computer in most countries even in the Western World and we wanted very much to put this wrong right.

I had the opportunity to meet a senior person from the European Blind Union. He is a friend of Lord Colin Low so I was able to tell him how much help RNIB have been in supporting our project. Not a lot is the truth so, hopefully , he will enlighten Lord Low and maybe influence him. Who knows and his organisation.!!! We have learned that the UK blind organisations show little interest in what we are doing and I interpret this as indicating that we are definitely on the right lines.

I am realising that we shall have to become much bolder in our PR approach and challenge the conventional wisdom on computer access if we really want to make changes. I am up for the challenge.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Today’s blog is about promoting other people’s great ideas. The first one is about a conference early May on disability computer access and is perhaps more for professionals. The second is very much for everyone who cares about a basic need for blind people. So here we go:

e-Access '07: Technology for All
- Access to Technology by People with Disabilities
-2 May 2007, New Connaught Rooms, London
- Early Bird Offer, Book Now for 50 Pound Discount

E-Access Bulletin's third annual conference and exhibition on access
to technology by people with disabilities is aimed at helping all
organisations, public and private sector, draw up progressive policies
on accessibility. If your organisation provides information and services
on the web, via mobile phone, digital TV and radio or in any other
digital format, awareness of these issues is of vital legal, ethical and
commercial importance.

Speakers include Richard Howitt MEP, President of the European
Parliament's All-Party Disability Intergroup; Geoff Adams-Spink,
BBC Disability Correspondent; Paul Timmers, Head of ICT at the
European Commission's Inclusion Unit; and panellists from RNIB and
University of Southampton. The event is supported by Ability
Magazine and the RNIB.

Attendance normally costs 195 pounds plus VAT for public sector and
295 + VAT for private sector delegates, but if you book before 12
March you will receive a 50 pound discount. Don't delay, book today!
For more information and to register visit:
And for sponsorship and exhibition opportunities for your organisation
please contact Claire Clinton on 01273 231291 or by email at:

Braille Under Threat.
The sense of touch is basic to a blind person’s life and Braille remains basic to a blind person’s literacy. OK! I know we are promoting free talking computer software as the best thing since sliced bread, which it is. But none of us blind people want to lose our Braille and Braille is seriously under threat. Its not being taught in schools and Social Services budgets don’t make room for adults to learn.

So please, whether you are blind, partially-sighted or able-bodied, do get yourself off your backside and enjoy a new computer experience. Go to the website below and sign a petition to keep Braille alive and kicking for us. The new e-democracy encourages us to make our views known and this is a way to do it.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

This week has been very busy for us.

On Tuesday I went up to York to meet with someone from Access to Work UK. This is the Government body that finances equipment that disabled people need to get to work and hold down a job. Its mostly computer equipment and the services of a paid seeing helper these days. In the meeting, I took the first steps towards getting the Access to Work staff to begin thinking about Thunder in the employment situation. There is a long way to go.

Today, some good people from the British Computer Society came to make with us a short video of how Thunder works. The aim is to introduce seeing volunteers to how they get started when helping a blind person at home. Seeing people just look, get the mouse pointer in the right place on the screen and click. We have to recall lots of keystrokes and rely greatly on our imagination and memory. The lass who came is doing a PhD around the topic of how and if a disabled person at home can manage their own computer learning and how much support is essential. Hopefully, we will put up the video on this website when its edited.

I am a trustee of a charity called The blind Business Association and we have just commissioned a report on what we should be doing and where we should go next. So I have been reading this report so that I am ready to chair the crucial meeting next week. Only a fifth of blind people of working age have a job and working for yourself is sometimes the only way forward. Margaret and I have worked from home here since 1992 and we love it. Being able to make your own decisions and mistakes is great and we have not gone bust yet. Its uplifting to be independent and not beholden to others. But we are not millionaires.