Monday, 15 December 2008

Louis Braille

I should think that everyone knows who invented Braille. Louis Braille, of course and all the blindness charities round the world will rightly be celebrating Louis’ wonderful achievement, Margaret and I very much with the rest. Our personal lives have been transformed by Braille.

But Louis Braille was really all about information, communication, reading and writing if you can’t see. Paper and bodged dots was the technology available to him at the time; but what if Louis was around today? What would 21st Century Braille be like?

I fancy he would be like us at and getting very excited about the modern computer that can speak, read, tell you what you are writing and amazingly put you in touch with people and information un-dreamed of in his dots and paper age. He might too, like us, have wanted all this to be a free option, there for even the poorest blind person.

He lived in an institution, died largely unrecognised except by his close mates and, like many brilliant inventors, failed to reap material rewards for his genius. I wonder who his boss was, if he had a Line Manager or a business plan. My guess is that he never got invited to the posh charity events of his time. How many of us know the name of the very important blind institution where he worked or even what his “proper job” was supposed to be. I wonder if it entered his head to charge his blind peers for Braille books, so much per page, per dot etc.

Its very right to be celebrating the memory of Louis Braille’s birth on January 4 and throughout 2009, but let’s learn some basic lessons and celebrate the human being, the inventor, the genius of a blind man and not just milk it to raise funds.

I was emailed by RNIB and asked to publish details of Louis Braille celebration events mostly here in the UK and I am pleased to be able to do this so that our many Thunder supporters round the world can pay tribute to a great man. But I do like the Australian touch best: A day on the beech in the sun.

The Louis Braille Bicentenary
Louis Braille was born on the 4th January 1809. To celebrate the achievements and legacy of this remarkable man, organisations across the globe are planning special programmes of events for 2009. A brief summary follows:-
RNIB events
RNIB will be using the year not only to raise awareness of braille but also to encourage more people (particularly adults) to learn braille
• From January 2009, there will be an advertising campaign and media relations demonstrating how braille has changed peoples lives.
• On the 4th January RNIB will launch an exciting new look website containing lots of up to date information, podcasts and videos
• There will be a high profile signature event in March. David Blunkett, the patron for the years celebrations, will attend the proceedings
• Two amateur radio enthusiasts have secured the call sign GB2HLB. They will be in contact with other enthusiasts around the world between the 26th December 2008 and 22nd January 2009.
• RNIB Cymru will be holding a children's essay competition. Children will be invited to write an essay with a welsh theme in either English or Welsh braille
• In Late Spring 2009, RNIB will be publishing the results of a major piece of research on the issues facing adults learning braille
• Two key products will be launched. The first, a grade one braille course is for both sighted and touch learners. The kit will contain braille writing equipment so that learners can immediately start to label things and write short notes. The second product is the innovative 'upward' writing frame which means that braille no longer has to be written using the reverse mirror writing method. The stylus makes 'upward' dots.
• A book will be published in conjunction with the EBU. It will contain a selection of winning essays entitled 'How Braille changed my life'
• The annual UK Techshare conference highlights the role of technology in the everyday life of people with disabilities. In September it will have a braille theme and it is hoped it will host the French traveling exhibition on Louis Braille and his legacy
Other UK Activities
• RNIB, Torch, Blind Catholics, Guild of Church braillists, St. John's Guild, and others are organising a Louis Braille thanksgiving service to be held at St. Martin's in the Fields, London on Saturday March 21st
• The BBC world service plan to broadcast a programme on the 4th January 2009, highlighting the global reach and appeal of braille in its many forms. There will also be sections on the life of Louis Braille and braille and innovation.
• Traveleyes, a company specialising in holidays for blind and partially sighted people is organising a trip to France in May 2009 with a Louis Braille theme.
• National Braille Week are organising an international Chess tournament in Edinburgh running from the 2nd January to the 4th January 2009. All moves will be recorded in Braille. There will also be a braille exhibition.
Some International Events
• The French organising committee (CINAL) are having a 4 day symposium beginning on the 4th January 2009 with a concert in Paris in the Notre Dame Cathedral. The conference is entitled 'Braille 2009 - 6 dot writing and its future'.
• The Americans have produced a silver dollar featuring the face of Louis Braille on the head side. It will cost $11 dollars and the $10 premium will be directed to groups which benefit the blind.
• CINAL are organising a second conference in June. It will take place in Coupvray (the birth place of Louis Braille) and will cover independence, integration and access to knowledge. It will inform the 'Coupvray Charter' which will have 10 key political proposals. The activities will conclude with a concert featuring Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli
• National Braille Press has produced a range of promotional items (lapel pins, notelets, Bookmarks, Key chains, Poster) These are all for sale at
• On the 4th January the Australians are having a celebration on the beach with a 50 metre long braille sand sculpture. 'The spirit of Louis Braille will meet the spirit of Australia in the sand the sun and the surf'.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


RADAR is a very influential charity in the UK, bringing together a pan-disability approach to empower and prosper Screenreader was nominated for an Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year Award and we went along on 1st December to a fabulous evening at the Battersea Evolution in London. There were over three hundred people, many or most disabled in all sorts of ways, the food, drink and flowed all for free and we did not mind that we were not the winners. Blindness gets a good deal of empathy but we chatted to people who had been involved in accidents and suddenly were not able to walk, people, sometimes in high positions, who had suffered mental health, depression etc, and some who could hardly move a muscle. So we are fine, but just can’t see.

It takes me a long time to grow up and understand. For years I thought such glitzy occasions were a total waste of money and time. The RADAR evening budget, for instance, could run our enterprise for more than a year, for sure. But I have been wrong.

Margaret and I were poshed up in our bow tie and evening dress etc which is certainly not our style and Tania, Margaret’s guide dog, sported a matching bow. But its what inside that counts and we chatted away to like-minded people who are obsessed, like us, with their project, living on pretty low incomes, probably less than the lowest paid jobs in Tesco and the like. They would be shouting for disabled people in Newcastle, campaigning for those in sheltered accommodation to be able to earn more than £20 a week in a society where top bankers get millions a year when retired early for the mess they have played a part in creating. We met a chap from Kenya, over hear amongst our wealth, to return home with ideas to improve the lives of blind people with great brains but no job or money. ,

If everyone went home as fired up as we were, then some good things for disabled people are going to happen over the coming year and the money was well spent. And we all had the opportunity of appearing amongst representatives of large organisations and celebrities who really do have the power and the influence to make big-time changes in Society. Amongst the sponsors were Sky, BBC, Lloyds TSB, a bank actually getting applause, and the Home Office.

No one seemed bowed down by the credit crunch and the gloomy economic forecasts and we for sure will double our efforts to get our free software round the world. Yesterday, working with a student from Nepal, a computer spoke the first words in Nepalese and we plan to work closely with a school for blind children and young people out there. And, if all goes well, we will be putting our efforts into Swahili with the cooperation of the Kenyan Blind Union.

At home, here in the UK, we have landed our first Government contract with the ministry of Justice on the theme of engaging blind people in the political process. We have to teach, on line, our users to blog, take part in petitions, easily get information from the web, and generally make their voice and needs heard by our politicians.

For the last year, we have been working on some software for people with learning difficulties as well as little or no sight. Software is never done; always a work in progress. But is where you will find more details and the chance to try it out or at least tell others about it for us, please. Lots of goodies for people who have not been able to get much out of a computer up to now. There is easy access to music, radio choices, a talking calendar, dice, clock and even some games and educational stuff. So please spread the word for us if you are able.

Back to The People of the Year Awards: The Winning Entrepreneur had been shot up in Iraq. Within two years, he has set up a business which teacher==s professionals how to deal with severely damaged victims on the spot, in that first precious hour, so that they survive, even though badly damaged. A great tribute to the human spirit which is indomitable in some people.

Monday, 3 November 2008


Blog: More Success for Thunder

Sometimes, but not very often, we feel the need to moan. It’s a bad old world and when thousands of people are so misused in the Congo and Jonathan Ross gets the BBC News headlines in the UK…well one could lose hope. Similarly, we sometimes wonder if we really can include poor blind people in the computer age when so many large blindness organisations only bang on about software which is absolutely out of reach of millions of pockets. But then we get fabulous emails from Thunder users and some formal recognition from “the powers that be”.

So Thunder is up for two more awards before Christmas and has won its first small Government contract here in the UK.

TalkTalk is a leading provider here of mobile phones and Broadband internet services. TalkTalk has a good reputation for being straightforward and not too expensive at the same time. Thunder has been given an award for IT services to disadvantaged communities and Margaret and I are off to the House of Lords on Wednesday for the presentation. We also get a business mentoring session with Martha Lane-Fox, the best known co-founder of

And on December 1 we both get what looks like being a great night out in London. We are short-listed as Disabled Social Entrepreneur of the Year, UK hosted by RADAR at the Battersea Evolution. We should rub shoulders with the great and the good from Government and the private sector and spread the word on behalf of blind people needing computers which they can enjoy using.

We don’t, of course, regard such prizes as personal to us. But they do help Thunder, Sensory Software Ltd and CIC to become known and this has the effect of bringing in more and more supporters and users. Its possible, for example, that our Ministry for Communities award for services to e-participation earlier in the year has played a part in us getting our first UK Government contract..

The UK Ministry of Justice website is technically accessible according to agreed standards. But that’s only part of the story from a blind user’s viewpoint. So we will provide specialist helpline support by telephone or email, to help individuals who need to perform a specific task on the website which is proving a challenge. If they struggle to do what they need to do about a passport, the individual can get in touch with our helpline and be guided through the process. And they won’t be told to click on this or that because our helpline people are visually impaired themselves and know the challenges of not being able to see the mouse pointer.

Lastly, its great to come across another company who wants to make something free for those not able to afford the costly stuff. Jarte ( is such a company in the word processing sector. The creators of Jarte have produced something which just works out of the box – a simple word processor which will do all the things us normal people want to do at home or in a small business. But its small and friendly and not like the Titanic unwieldy liner which most of us come across at work. Jarte have agreed to make it work with Thunder, like it does already with other screenreaders, at the next version but if anyone wants to trial it now, please email me and I will pass on the simple instruction which will take just a couple of lines.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Credit Crunch and Greetings Cards

The Credit Crunch and Greetings Cards.

There is so much economic gloom and doom about these days, one wonders how people with little or no sight will survive and of course we will.

I was born in 1940 in the West Midlands, UK with bombs falling by night and visiting the hospital several times each week. So, from my perspective, things have greatly improved. And its great to hear that individual spirit remains undeterred. Organisations serving our interests might cut back, re-organise and come up with new strategies but here below is an example of two great individuals bringing something rather special to our market. So please encourage them.

Thursday, 9/10/08, was World Sight Day which is this year dedicated to raising awareness of visual loss amongst older people. To coincide with this awareness raising event a visually impaired couple launched an innovative venture which hopes, in some way, to help partially sighted older people and younger ones too! Jim and Linda Lawson launched Easy2C, producing a very different type of greetings card which is, as it says on the tin, easy to see for anyone with a sight loss who can still read a little. Both the artwork and print size have been carefully designed to match the needs of those losing vision and those with conditions such as Macular Degeneration or Glaucoma.

The card designs are produced by a visually impaired artist qualified to degree level, Rachel Duerden, and the paper, envelopes and inserts are made from managed forests, thus environmentally friendly. 5% of the profits will go back to charities supporting and selling our work, commencing with Henshaws Society for Blind People who have very kindly offered their knowledge and assistance to get the venture off the ground and host the points of sale for Jim and Linda.

Easy2C was created because so many older people receive cards they cannot read and often have to ask others to read them for them or just guess the name of the sender. Of those who have seen these new cards, the reaction has been fantastic. The greetings can be tailor made for different occasions as well as buying the standard greetings off the shelf. For further information contact Easy2C on 01704 573199 or Henshaws in Liverpool on 0151 557 1226.

I don’t know how many hours I have spent with a powerful magnifying glass trying to puzzle out who our Christmas cards are from.

Our sales of scanning software and higher quality voices have certainly dropped off over the past month but we continue to receive requests for computer training. We don’t get grants from the Government and we have no contract work these days to lose. I would remind you that our free Thunder software will not further drop in price, however bad any recession might get and we won’t stop giving our time and energy to blind people needing their computer questions answered.

You can see from all this that I remain pretty up-beat about things and just admire ordinary people like Linda and Jim who keep having a go, coming up with something straightforward that meets a need.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

On Friday in London, I attended a conference entitled “Scripting Enabled” which in advance was described to me as a hackers’ day. So this was about good hackers lending their skills to the disabled community, hurrying up the process of accessibility and inclusion.. Scripting Enabled is the vision and brain-child of Christian Heilmann , a developer evangelist with lots to contribute. Its well worth searching on Scripting Enabled at and following the story as it will unfold.

The morning session was all about the very diverse needs of various disability groups. People with learning disabilities might need pictures where we blind users need words. Christian has developed an excellent Easy YouTube video player with big buttons, clear colours and built-in keyboard accessibility which just works out of the box. It really is the easiest way to enjoy the YouTube experience and there must be something for us all there.

After the break, AbilityNet presented videos showing people with vision disabilities struggling with JAWS and ZoomText and I was left smugly thinking how much easier is the web with WebbIE which works with all screenreaders, free or expensive and offers magnification as well as the speech. But I very much took to their approach of open evaluation and user-lead opinions and experiences. This is something we at need to take on board now.

The afternoon was not so good for me as I am not up there with the Techy JAWS brigade and, sadly I had to miss the panel session at the end. I can’t cover more in a short blog but try and particularly to dig deeper.

There really now is a shift of emphasis within the Assistive Technology industry compared to when we set up two years ago. The market leader remains for blind and VI users but the pack are coming closer and freedom is better understood in terms of usability and user limited cash flow rather than being merely scientific. Though not cheap, Guide is there for the older population with poorer memories; NVDA from Australia,, is chasing Thunder and each have their strengths and weakness, no doubt. At least for free you can enjoy the benefits of both or either.

And today I heard of another free player from the States which sounds great but which I have not tried yet. At you can read about Adept1 which has received pretty massive Government developing backing in the States and which claims to offer Voice Input and voice output access to much of what the non-techy computer user might need. The software will be free, like ours. Nice to know we had a great idea like others.

The vision, so far as we are concerned, is nearer to reality and we welcome competition and or cooperation in this field. We will not hesitate to continue to develop and promote Thunder and WebbIE and speak openly about its ease of use as well as what it can’t currently achieve; but full marks to all others with a similar vision and mission.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Web Accessibility and iTunes

There is plenty to blog about again this time round. We are busy but need a holiday after working very hard through the so-called UK Summer.

DDA Accessibility Laws:
The American Store Target will revamp its Web site to make it more accessible for the blind and pay $6 million in damages to plaintiffs who joined a class action lawsuit against the retailer, under a settlement announced with the National Federation of the Blind. The $6 million will be placed in an interest-bearing account so that plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in California two years ago, can make claims. Most plaintiffs will get about $3,500, an NFB spokesman said.

Under the settlement, the Baltimore-based NFB will test the Web site for three years and certify it once it is completely upgraded. The lawsuit was filed after earlier negotiations between the two sides broke down.

Many blind people use screen-reading software such as Thunder that vocalizes information on a computer, but Web sites must be made accessible for the technology. The lawsuit complained that was not accessible.

But our contention goes further. Accessibility is far more than a software package and a legal decision. Most blind people can never raise the cash to buy costly assistive software and, even if they do, training, patience and a level of computer skill is required far above that of the average seeing user who clicks a mouse on what she sees.

But, on the assumption that many things come over to Europe from across the pond, we should sit up and take notice that the law will soon be more strongly on the side of the blind user here too. Maybe it won’t be long before a courageous blind person here, with the backing of a courageous blind agency, will strike a similar blow in the UK or within a European country. I never thought I would be taking such a stance!!! Its just that the years go by and still government, local councils and the private sector in general continue to take the micky, talk the talk and fail to actually make computer accessibility and usability available to the mass of ordinary blind and partially sighted people, even in some Western wealthy countries.

Such access really is the modern Braille and a great way to mainstream blind people so all power and well done to the American pioneers.

The Worsening Economic situation:
We have had the good times here in the West and the coming year or two look not so good. But will not be changing the price of free Thunder. We will never be wealthy here but are financially secure for the future because we don’t need paying for the work we do and we don’t need buildings and expensive staff.

But we do have ongoing expenses like everyone else and we do, therefore, ask that if you value the Thunder software and want to make a donation towards its upkeep, this would be very welcome indeed.

iTunes, LastFM and the BBC iplayer:
Like me, many of you will enjoy listening to music, listen again radio and TV programs etc. So now, as well as being able to enjoy LastFM and the BBC iplayer,

iTunes V8 works well too. For those who don’t know, is a website where you can download the music of your choice and listen to it free. There is a purchase opportunity too, of course. The BBC iplayer delivers on demand listening to radio programs from the whole of the BBC service as well as selected items from BBC TV 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. And iTunes is the Apple music store widely used to download a massive music library and save to your iPod or other portable device. So, if this is your bag, check it all out and enjoy. And if you want to let us know how you get on, we welcome your emails or phone calls.

Friday, 29 August 2008

BBC iPlayer and WebbIE Working Well

For the past 18 months, we have been involved with friends and partners in Europe, making the Thunder software available in languages other than English. Our partners proved to be good friends too and the project is at an end. But we now have Thunder working well in Italian, French, Estonian, German and Slovakian. Our partners from Southern Ireland opted to share our English version!!! In the not too distant future, we hope to take on the challenge of other languages but it all takes time, money and effort in no particular order.

If you know of individuals or organisations wanting to enjoy Thunder in these languages, please visit and you will find lots of useful information as well as the software and tutorial downloads. I would like to publically thank all those who have been involved. Our vision remains strong to get a free talking screenreader option out there throughout the world, knowing as we do, that many blind people don’t have the funds to purchase the commercial options and don’t really want to be using illegal copies.

Many Thunder users enjoy the WebbIE Text browser and, in particular, the accessible Listen Again BBC radio service. But, over the past few weeks, we have run into some problems. Hopefully they are now fixed.

In the middle of August, Google changed its code and our excellent easy Web
search facility ceased to operate. If you can’t use it, you need to go to and download the latest version of WebbIE and all will be well again. This could well happen again in the future but hopefully not for some while.

And the BBC too have been making changes to their Listen Again service. We all get used to the way we do things and, when you can’t see what is going on, perhaps the challenge of something new is greater. But take it from me, the changes made by the BBC are brilliant and give us much more to listen to and enjoy, including TV as well as radio.

Again go to and to the BBC iplayer link. There is a download and this should sort you out for the time being. The message from the BBC people is that the iplayer will become accessible to us in a standard way by the end of October. I will give an update in my next blog. If you are not up to the technical side of all this, I suggest you find a computer buddy who can do the business for you. I do this myself whenever things are too difficult.

We are being helped by some good people from an organisation called Unltd in London to develop what we are doing into a more successful social enterprise. This is not just about money and revenue, important as this is. Its more about efficiency and getting to more potential users. We do keep records of the email addresses when you download Thunder from our website. We will never disclose these email addresses to anyone else; but we do want to write to you and be in contact with you for several reasons.

We don’t actually know how many people use Thunder on a regular basis.
We don’t know if it does the job properly in your circumstances.
You might want to purchase a better sounding voice from us or a scanner to read your post etc.
Some of you might want an electronic magnifier, Closed Circuit Television System, to enable you to read print or enjoy your photos again etc.
In other words, we do have access to lots of information and some low priced but high quality products that could interest you. So we are going in the near future to be sending out emails and hoping for a good response, please. Obviously, if you just want to use Thunder and not be bothered with all that, you can just press the DELETE Key on our email and that’s fine.

We have also been talking about having some kind of Thunder community so that you can talk or email to each other, I know that some like and some don’t like this kind of thing; but its great to know you can chat to someone else when there is a problem and it all lessens the isolation which some of us experience. Anyway, emails will be flying around the world from us very soon.

The other part of what Unltd are helping us with is how to manage our business, raise the funds we need, meet the right business people and keep good accounts etc. There is so much good stuff out there on the web, we just have to make it available to everyone, whether its valuable health information, the chance to go for the best retailer financial services offers etc. So we will aim to be hear for you for many years.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008



As a statistic, I am 68, registered blind and hard of hearing. I wear two excellent digital hearing aids so, in many circumstances, I hear what I need to. I have had weak vision all my life and so am totally happy about that. With Margaret, I run a thriving business which is somewhat unusual as a business model but its all great. I am living where I want to be, with the person I want to be with and doing the things I want to do. So no room here for the doom and gloom of the credit squeeze, the down-turn in the economy and all that. Our software is largely free to blind people anyway and the numbers using it are rising day by day.

So, if you want to join us here at, and ignore the general doom and gloom, here’s how you could play a part in a great project:

Translating the talking software into other languages:
So far we have the Thunder talking software in six languages; English, French, German, Italian, Estonian and Slovak. We have part translations in other languages too. We know there are blind and partially sighted people in all countries who would benefit from the talking computer with no funds to pay for the costly alternatives. So we welcome, please, an email or a phone call from anyone who can help with translation. Its partly a question of translating the manuals and tutorials and partly a question of translating the software package itself so that the menus, dialogs and features speak appropriately. We can give help and support, of course.

Writing Visual Basic Scripts: It is possible that no computer program is perfect and there is always room for improvement and more development. The Thunder software serves many people really well and makes easy much of what needs to be done on the computer without sight. But in schools and at work and even at home, there will always be a need to improve what Sensory Software Ltd has created and to extend the accessibility possibilities to new tasks and applications. So we welcome, please, an email or a phone call from anyone who has the capability and enthusiasm to modify or create Visual Basic scripts for this purpose. Your work will give blind and partially sighted people in great numbers a huge uplift as they struggle to improve their quality of life.

Feedback: We have thousands of Thunder users worldwide and, human nature being what it is, we don’t hear from those who, like us, use the software every day without problems. That’s great and just as it should be. But when there are problems, please, we would like to hear from you so we can put things right, or do our best to do so. We are reluctant to send out evaluation forms and questionnaires to everyone but we welcome your input and suggestions.

Interestingly, much of the feedback we do get falls into two major categories: Some blind people make the talking computer their hobby and their life; So we get feedback from those who already have one or more screenreader software packages on their computers with voice conflict problems or “moans” that Thunder does not behave like the others they are used to. The feedback we get from new users of talking software is very different indeed. Its almost always very positive and enthusiastic. But it’s the third kind of feedback we are now looking for; i.e. positive suggestions and tips to improve what we do for those who can’t afford expensive screenreader talking software.

The Finances: Any new business will struggle for the first year or so and this is especially true, probably, for a social not for profit enterprise like ours. Its almost two years to the day since Thunder was first launched and we are delighted to be able to say that we have money in the bank to continue what we are doing for the foreseeable future. With the long-term in mind, though, we need now to take a look at how we sustain a revenue. A modest annual charge to each user would more than meet our costs but we don’t want to go down that road because even a modest charge would be beyond the resources of many individuals. Again, your suggestions would be very welcome, please. I will return to financial matters in a future blog.

So here are our contact details:
+44 (0) 1733 234441. We look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, 16 June 2008

A Progress Report.

Some good things have happened to of late and I thought you might like to be briefly updated.

We now have an excellent range of Thunder downloads on this website and we are far from finished yet.

Version 3.43 is the latest Thunder and its worth you getting this on your computer or laptop. WebbIE too continues to grow and improve and, of course, you will update to the latest version as part of the thunder download. But its always worth a look at to keep abreast of things and make your suggestions and comments.

If you have been following the Thunder story over the past two years, you will know about our European connections and we are proud to say that Thunder is now up and running and available free of charge in French, German, Italian, Estonian and Slovak as well as our own English version. To enjoy all this, you need to go to We have high hopes of other languages coming along in the not too distant future and we thoroughly enjoyed working with our European partners over the past eighteen months. Speak as you find and the EU does good things for people with little or no sight, especially those of us who are not so wealthy.

Electronic Magnifiers or Closed Circuit TV Systems have occupied our thoughts for several years. There are excellent products on the market but few are affordable. We have joined forces with another UK Company, Bierley Ltd, who manufacture a range of electronic magnifiers for use with ordinary TV sets or the PC or Laptop. They also sell an excellent stand-alone model for around £650. Very soon you will see details of the Bierley products on our products website.

And this leads me to the final paragraph of this blog. We have always been thrilled that Thunder is free but we, as a business, have our modest bills to pay to make it all possible and if we go bust – well we cease being useful. So we must generate some covering income to balance the books.

We have set up another website: as an online shop. At you can purchase online or by telephone a range of reasonably priced products and accessories to use with your Thunder. There are superior sounding computer voices, advanced speech and or print enlargement software packages and, soon as just mentioned, the Bierley range of electronic magnifiers requiring no computer involvements. There is also some useful software for Braillists and those of you wanting to scan books or your post and listening to what comes to you in print. We even have software for people who can see well but struggle with reading and writing because of Dyslexic challenges.

And last of all: We do encourage you please, to make a donation towards the cost of implementing and updating the free software we provide. You don’t have to, of course; but every little helps and we are so proud of the fact that blind and visually impaired people all over the world can now enjoy the PC and all the benefits this can bring.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Times Newspaper and Thunder

On Thursday last, had a minute of fame with a brief article about us appearing in the London Times Newspaper in the careers section. The story as told below is substantially true and its remarkable how a journalist can put together an uncomplicated summary of our last eight years of work in 300 words. But what I liked most was that it presented a picture of blind people doing well, achieving something good and not the more usual helpless image as often portrayed by some fund-raising charities’ campaigns. When you read this piece, you will also realise that no mention was made, sadly, of Sensory Software Ltd, who created the Thunder software.

Roger Wilson-Hinds achieved academic success despite his
blindness and rose to senior jobs in education. But he was
uncomfortable as an employee and, when 50, he and his wife,
Margaret Wilson-Hinds, started a successful business to supply
ICT equipment and teach other blind people how to use it. Illness
struck. While recovering, Roger resolved to create and give away
screen reader software to any blind person. Now with 100,000
users, ‘Thunder’ is gaining large fees for developing variants.

Our big idea

GIVING your product away to anyone who wants it is certainly an atypical business model, but for Roger and Margaret Wilson-Hinds, it was the pivotal decision that turned their screenreader idea into a commercial reality.

Blind since birth themselves, the Wilson-Hinds were busily running a disability training company, having won a government contract to teach blind people to use computers. Then, in 1998, Roger was diagnosed with cancer, forcing the couple to quit the business and gift it to a close friend - who has continued its success and now employs nine people.

During the ensuing treatment the Wilson-Hinds realised that, although programmes that could scan text on a computer screen and read it back to the user were available, the typical £700-£800 software packages were beyond the pocket of the majority of the world's blind community and they became determined to produce a low-cost alternative.

At 60 most people contemplate turning the wick down a little, but fuelled by the idea of "opening up information literacy to blind people anywhere", in 2000, Roger enrolled himself and his wife on a course for social entrepreneurs instead.

Having self-funded the product's development, the screenreader, called Thunder, was finally ready for market, but, after a few years of trying to sell it at low-cost, the take-up was slow.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time, but low-cost is often seen as inferior and it wasn't until we studied the Google model and embraced the notion of 'free to the end user' that things really got moving," Roger says.

Immediately the product became free a German company with links to European Blind Union got in touch and, two months later, the Wilson-Hinds were in receipt of an EU grant of ¤240,000 to fund French, Italian, German, Slovak and Estonian versions of Thunder.

Since then, more funding has been forthcoming, a version specifically for people with learning difficulties is in development and, with almost 100,000 users, the company now advises businesses on how to make their websites available to this untapped market.


We do look forward to a great future for the Thunder screenreader software and what it can do to empower blind and visually impaired people throughout the world.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Well, I feel ashamed that it has been so long since my last blog. Put it down to old age, being too busy and…whatever; but there is good news to report. has received a grant from UK Children In Need to make the software available to families where there is a child with little or no sight. We have funding for three years and can employ someone to run our Telephone helpline. So we will be setting all this in motion, hopefully starting in June.

On Wednesday, I am going for an interview in the hope of getting some funding from Unltd to lay the foundations for a better organised admin process here. We began this business many years ago and just kept working and never set up a proper database and management system etc. Better late than never. Its only in the last two years that we have moved over from thinking of ourselves as a helping charity to what we are now – a business which delivers software on a large scale and needs to up-scale its presentation etc.

We have updated our manuals, yet again. There is no standing still in this game. I now use a Windows Vista machine and its great; but not easy for a blind person in the early days. Nothing is where you expect it to be but once the new habits and key strokes are in the auto-pilot of the mind and fingers, its plain sailing again. So I have written up a brief manual which teaches others with little or no sight how to migrate from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

Thunder continues to gather still more users. Nearly 80,000 have visited the download page and we will soon be up to 30,000 registered users. We could do with more feedback from happy or even unhappy Thunder users. We learn most when people tell us what needs to be improved.

Margaret and I actually had a short holiday last week and enjoyed a wonderful long weekend by the sea. The weather was fine and warm and we walked a lot and listened to a talking book in the sunshine. Its great to be able to listen to a book and share together. We have worked hard on the Thunder project over the past three years and now its all coming together. On Wednesday evening, I shall be in Frankfurt at the last EU partners meeting and very soon Thunder will be up on the web in five European languages as well as English. The EU website is So its onwards and upwards for

Monday, 17 March 2008

Thunder Wins E-Democracy International Award

Thunder Wins E-Democracy International Award

Quite unexpectedly, we were delighted to receive a phone call saying that we had won a prestigious international award and we were hurrying down to London by train to enjoy nibbles, wine and good company. There is nothing like the feeling of winning. We know we are doing the right thing by blind people as we deliver a free option; but its great to be recognised officially.

So what is all this E-Democracy and E-Participation business all about?

Its far more than voting machines. When I was a Head Teacher, I could not even fill in forms or tick the school register. Going into a normal library has never been a thrill for me because I needed help to find the inquiry counter, let alone the frustration of all those unreadable printed books.

But now blind people everywhere can get to a computer, have the Thunder software installed and learn to use it. This means we can read about our rulers, councillors, officials, and fill in forms, know what is going on and write up our views, complaints or solutions.

The building blocks of society are the individuals, the communities, the representatives and the leaders. Amongst many other benefits, the talking computer enables those of us with little or no sight to join in, have our say, and very much extend our ability to participate. We got our award for services to E-Democracy and E-Participation for making this possible for the world blind community. The technology is not new but our Thunder technology is easier to use than most and its free to everyone.

The award was given by Parmjit Dhandra, UK Minister for Communities. The commendation says:

Ministerial Award for e-local participation 2008.

. Dear Mr Hinds

ICELE (International Centre of Excellence for Local E-democracy) Ministerial Award

May I offer you my congratulations on winning the ICELE Ministerial Award for making a difference to local communities.

The Thunder tool is clearly an invaluable product which enables the previously excluded to take a fuller role in their communities using technology. By empowering over 100,000 people you have made a difference and no doubt touched the lives of many. With the free tool is providing, you are enhancing Society by matching opportunities for engagement with the opportunities for democracy that technology can potentially offer.

I would like to thank you for entering the awards and wishing every success on taking forward this innovative and life-changing tool to the rest of Europe.

Yours sincerely

Parmjit Dhanda MP

So what is ICELE (International Centre of Excellence for Local E-democracy) all about? Probably most of us spend our days taking democracy and inclusion in society for granted and grumbling when petty things go wrong for us. But there are innovators with big visions who work behind the scenes on our behalf and such an organisation is ICELE. The ICELE brings people together who are concerned with empowering and engaging communities. The website is and their work goes far beyond the UK.

We are proud to have been chosen for this award.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Blog: 4Free4All comes a bit nearer.

This last week has been pretty good for us and our free software cause. From Florida came a grand announcement that the Serotek Corporation too have launched one of their internet products as a freeby, SA2GO. There is a good deal of detailed information at which is the Serotek blog site. The AIR Foundation boldly states that “accessibility is a fundamental human right, regardless of financial or geographic constraints”. So now blind and partially sighted computer users worldwide have more free software at their fingertips as well as our Thunder and WebbIE.

But I was much more excited on Thursday to have access to an Apple notebook with Leopard installed. If that means nothing to you then read on and share my excitement.

Leopard is the latest Apple operating system and it comes with good quality and usable speech built in. I was able to listen to iTunes without special scripts or fuss. And then I discovered the magnification potential which is stunning. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, hold down the Control Key and move the mousewheel to control the level of magnification. With my old level of seeing I would have killed for that facility. But the greatest Apple gift this time round for me was that, when I plugged in my Alva Braille Display, Oh yes, it just worked and that is the tops.

So let’s look forward to this free access thing booming and its wonderful to know that we are not the only ones in the business. Our Thunder software is stable, efficient and innovative but we don’t mind at all being pushed to greater achievements by others with a similar mission and we are delighted that our users have a growing choice of free software.

Thunder already has five languages under its belt and well over 70,000 people have downloaded it. On Friday, out of the blue, came an offer to begin translation into Turkish…and so it goes on. Slowly but surely, there is a realisation that the costly traditional screenreader solutions have made a marvellous contribution to computer access for blind people but…and this takes nothing away from their achievement…its now getting time for 4Free4All and not just the elitist few receiving Government or charitable support to enjoy the computer age.