How Low Can You Go?
It all started about three years ago, when Freedom Scientific started throwing lawsuits around against its competitors who make screen reader and magnification products. This caused somewhat of a stir at the time, but it mainly died away, because well, companies do this stuff all the time, and I guess it's all a part of the game. I mean we see similar actions by Microsoft, Apple and other big companies who want to "protect their property," as they love to say, and for the most part, we just let it go after ranting and complaining for a short time and then continuing to buy their products, supporting their actions with our wallets. It seems somewhat unfair and even a little like bad business to us, but we generally don’t care, and we gave Freedom Scientific a pass on this issue as well in the beginning.
But now, they have stooped to an extraordinary new low. First, on 8 June, 2010, Freedom Scientific sued the United States Government, namely the Department of Veterans Affairs, apparently because a competitor was awarded a contract for CCTV's. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that Freedom Scientific in fact gets a sizable amount of its money from the United States federal and state agencies, so this sounds a little like biting the hand that feeds them to me. But still, most of us would have given them the benefit of the doubt. That is, of course, until they hit rock bottom by suing the Foundation for Blind Children on 28 July. The Foundation for Blind Children is a non-profit organization based in Arizona that helps blind and vision impaired children, adults and their families succeed in education, sports and recreation and life in general. The agency
runs an online store where they sell assistive technology and independent living products for blind and vision impaired individuals. Proceeds from the sale of these products fund the agency and help them continue to serve the community. The Foundation for Blind Children is a former dealer who was authorized to sell Freedom Scientific products, but the contract was terminated by Freedom Scientific in December 2009, according to the lawsuit text. No reason is given anywhere for this termination that I was able to find. Apparently, from what I have been able to read, the Foundation for Blind Children sold some Freedom Scientific products a little too long after the termination of their contract, probably an oversight by someone maintaining the store, and that made Freedom Scientific very mad. They have attached exhibits to the suit, one of which is posted online along with the text of the filing itself. I would like to personally thank Blind Bargains for contributing the text of the lawsuits and the attached exhibit to the Foundation for Blind Children suit on their web site. It is also worth noting that there are no Freedom Scientific products being sold by the Foundation for Blind Children at this time. Unfortunately, the Wayback Machine has no record of previous versions of the site, so it was impossible to determine when these products were removed.
The date of the removal of Freedom Scientific products from the Foundation for Blind Children’s store, however, is not the point at all. The point is that the products were removed from the site, but yet Freedom Scientific is not only willing to take a non-profit organization that helps blind children to court over a few products that they had left to sell after Freedom Scientific, in their sole discretion, allegedly told them not to sell, but they are also asking the court to award monetary damages at an undisclosed amount which will probably be determined later, and can be safely assumed to be costly enough to cause significant damage to the Foundation for Blind Children and to their ability to serve the community.
Now for the Solution
Freedom Scientific's blatant abuse of power against the Foundation for Blind Children may, in this great country of ours, be perfectly legal—after all, Jim Crow was legal at one time—but it is indeed an abuse of power and morally wrong any way you look at it, just as Jim Crow was. Freedom Scientific is obviously using extortion tactics in an attempt to satisfy the greed of their uppermost executives. Not that they and most of their competitors aren’t already doing this by charging extraordinarily prohibitive prices for technology that blind and vision impaired people depend on every day, but the lawsuits are even lower than low on the moral compass. I cannot in good conscience support in any way a company that is engaging in the disgraceful acts that Freedom Scientific is currently undertaking.
I hereby call for a total boycott of all Freedom Scientific products and services. Freedom Scientific obviously cares more about money than anything else, so we must take away their sources of income. This boycott should apply to all individuals, government agencies, businesses and non-profits worldwide, and is to be effective immediately. It should be in full force and effect until Freedom Scientific either ceases its extortionist activities or until the company is dissolved, whichever comes first. This means that individuals, agencies, businesses and non-profits should not only choose to discontinue use of Freedom Scientific products, but that they should also, where necessary, choose to hire people to script alternative products for their custom applications and systems, and provide help and/or training to individuals within an organization so that they can learn how to use a different product. We’re in it for the long term. I have already refused to use their products because of their prohibitive pricing, and now that they are suing a non-profit that helps blind children, I call on all other blind and vision impaired users of Freedom Scientific products to listen to their conscience and do the same.
There have been very recent arguments in opposition to Freedom Scientific being dissolved, such as the idea that I and those who will join me in the boycott of their products and services don't understand the impact That the company going out of business would have on the blind community. It seems that many blind and vision impaired people work for Freedom Scientific, and many more work for government agencies and other businesses that "depend on JAWS." But we do understand the impact it will really have, just as we understand the true impact of giving up oil and coal in favor of alternative power sources that are more plentiful and less damaging to Earth. Cars and homes will continue to function properly when we stop using coal and oil, and the people who worked for the oil and coal producers will find jobs elsewhere, most likely in the new energy market, or else the oil and coal distributors themselves will find a way to transition to green energy. In the same way, blind and vision impaired individuals will not suffer terrible loss once no one is using JAWS. What some people see as a loss of many jobs currently held by blind and vision impaired people due to JAWS no longer being available I see as many opportunities for people to support alternative screen reading software. There is and will continue to be a need for people to write scripts for NVDA to make it work with custom applications and still other people to aid in NVDA’s development. Orca, which is the main screen reading and magnification program on GNOME, a desktop environment on Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, could also stand to benefit from the influx of people who may be willing to help. Wouldn't you know it, there’s probably plenty of openings even at
GW Micro and Serotek~~ . I believe Google is also looking for more accessibility engineers. Look guys! It will work! I'm tired of the “too big to fail” mentality that is allowed to continue in the banking industry, and I'm just as tired of the attitude that blind people have that says, "But we need it and we depend on it, so the company can do whatever they like and we'll just put up with it and buy their product." There are many other alternatives to the offerings of the likes of Freedom Scientific's products and services, and I will gladly discuss them with anyone here in the comments or wherever a link to this article is posted. Freedom Scientific definitely made a serious misstep, and we as blind and vision impaired individuals are required by conscience to stand up for our children.
Please feel free to add anything, ask any questions or discuss alternatives to Freedom Scientific products below in the comments or anywhere you saw a link to this article. I will be happy to answer any questions anyone has and give my recommendations.