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Blind Readers Blast Intel’s “Ghetto” Text-to-Speech Device

November 11 2009 | by

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I wonder if Intel feels sheepish right now. Here they are, thinking they’ve just launched a great new product for the blind, a mobile device that reads text aloud. Intel partnered with assistive tech pioneer HumanWare and reached out to the blind community to get their input, too. But the Intel Reader, announced yesterday, has pretty much bombed in the marketplace. At $1,500, the Reader is overpriced and doesn’t have any more bells and whistles than other devices already out there. Intel should have known this would happen — or perhaps they don’t really care. After all, if they can get schools to pay for it under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, then they’ll make money.

But making products that don’t represent the needs and wants of consumers — blind or not — is anathema to what technology companies should be doing. They should be innovating along a universal design curve, where technology is made accessible from the ground up. Just look at what Apple has accomplished. It has a screen reader built into it’s iPhone, for Pete’s sake, and for no extra charge. I know there are people who are blind who will benefit from this device. My issue with the Intel Reader is that, with such deep pockets and the partnership of HumanWare, why didn’t Intel come up with something better, cooler, and more revolutionary for blind people?

Mike Calvo at Serotek Group, which makes low-cost products for the blind, wrote a great post about the new device. “After the initial shock,” Calvo writes, “I and many others in the blind community began looking more closely at the information available about the device, just to ensure that we hadn’t overlooked anything truly awe-inspiring.” After all, mobile readers have been on the market for years, including the KNFB Reader and the Amazon Kindle, which isn’t currently accessible for the blind “but could be made so with a little effort and encouragement from the community,” he postures. Calvo came to the conclusion that no, there wasn’t anything “awe-inspiring” about Intel’s reader. For starters, there is no wi-fi capability, which points to the idea that maybe it’s being marketed to schools, who don’t want their students to have access to the Internet during classes.

Calvo, quite bluntly, calls the reader a “blind ghetto product,” arguing that “Intel is unapologetically asking us to accept this device’s hefty price tag for no other reason than that it was designed specifically for the blind.” Nearly all of his readers agreed. “The state of the market for accessible technology is ridiculous right now,” says one commenter. “Aren’t economic times bad these days? $1500 bucks for a reader? Sheesh.”

Another commenter quotes a post from Engadget, where the reporter questions the authenticity of the costly reader, saying he could design something similar for much less money. “If the mainstream [press] is asking themselves whether this device is a scam, we can combine our voices with theirs, and make quite a powerful impression on those trying to market this laughable quote-on-quote innovation to us.”

It’s clear that the blind community is frustrated. “Great, just another device that I can’t afford, says a commenter. “Every person with a disability has a right to own the products that will enhance their independence, and they should have the right to purchase them, but that won’t happen until more companies mainstream their product lines.”

Sure, the Intel Reader is a custom device, which makes it expensive. But if Intel had designed it for everyone, not just the blind, they could have sold many more — at an eventually cheaper price. If Intel chooses to ignore basic economics, I’m not surprised they would ignore their customers, too.

Related articles: Apple And Google Help Assistive Tech Go Mainstream

Mike Calvo: Where the Blind Are Free to Tweet

  • Wendy Edey

    After trying the Intel Reader, I’d say there are two main problems. The first is the advertising, which is misleading to say the least, and builds up an expectation, an excitement. The second problem, once you get past the disappointment, is that the focal distance between the camera and the page is far too large to make this a useful product for blind readers. Hearing the advertising for a portable reader that I would point and shoot, I had been imagining a device that would lie in my lap on an airplane. I would take the magazine from the seat pocket and gplace it on the device. Soon I would be reading the magazine. That dream was blown to bits by the reality of the demo. This is how it would actually work. I would take the magazine out of the seat pocket and place it on the seat back table. Then, I would have to hold the camera somewhere above my head and, without shaking, try to steady it directly above the page, shooting the whole page straight on without any focus cues. I suppose I’d learn to focus. But I ask you, just how long can the average blind person read comfortably with a camera held above her head anyway? I look forward to the next generation of point and shoot readers. In the meantime, I’ll stick with the scanner.

  • Pingback: CSUN Offers Master’s In Assistive Technology / Intel Wants More Of The Text-To-Speech Market | ability hub

  • ToniWings1

    We are currently trying out the Intel Reade for my mother… It is very disappointing. It’s “voices” are annoying, but worse than that is the passages of text that it turns into pure GOBBLEDY-GOOK. It takes a picture of the page, then supposedly turns that text into speech… so how on earth does a word or phrase, which the camera TOOK A PICTURE OF, say, “Annabelle”, appear on the screen as Bxyporrofs* or some such nonsense, then it “reads” that as “Bxyporrofs*”!

    Such readings insert nonsense and gaps into the flow of the text. The gobbledy-gook wouldn’t be so bad, but it is the content of the REAL words that is missing, That means there is a gap in the sentence or paragraph that leaves you wondering what on earth was said that you don’t have access to.

    It’s like trying to watch a lecture or TV show but the words keep getting interrupted by static. It leads, not to knowledge, but to frustration at what you missed…. and confusion, and certainly poor comprehension.

    I have also been looking for a couple of hours on the internet for real comments by real users on their experiences with the Intel Reader. Apparently there aren’t any. The only web content is by the sellers or the techies who have web sites that announce this new “wonderful product for the blind”. The techies obviously haven’t talked to any of the consumers who have spent the big bucks, only to be disgusted by what they got for their money. If you ask me, it is a rip-off of the blind.

    It was mentioned that they probably produced an inferior product with and inflated price that they could sell to schools for the dear “handicapped” students. Well, let me tell you, if the schools buy them, they will have to have someone sit with the student with the real text in hand, to tell them what the missing parts and gobbledy-gook really says. And if they are going to do that, why don’t they just read it to them in the first place, instead of going through that whole headache of taking a picture of every page, and then telling them that isn’t what should be there, that this is what is really says.

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