FSCast #218

July,  2022

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 218, Eric Damery joins me for what is probably the last time.  After over 28 years tirelessly advocating for our software and generally always being around to help users who are having problems, he’s decided to retire.  This time, rather than talking about a new product feature, he’s here to reflect upon some of the highlights of his career.

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon here, welcoming you to our podcast for July of 2022.  If all has gone well at the time you’re listening to this, we have released the July updates of ZoomText, JAWS, and Fusion.  Most likely you’ll get the opportunity to download and install that automatically.  But if that hasn’t happened because perhaps automatic updates is disabled on your machine, you can still go to our website, freedomscientific.com/downloads, select your product of choice, and from there you’ll be able to download the latest version of each.

If your product of choice happens to be JAWS, and you either have or are thinking about getting a computer that’s running the ARM processor, most likely this would be Microsoft Surface X.  X means that it’s running ARM.  It could also be a Mac M1 or M2 if you are a little more technically daring and want to do something undocumented, namely install Windows on your Mac.  In both of those cases, you need the JAWS ARM version.  And we have a beta on the JAWS download page, but it is for Windows 11 only.  So you’ll need to make sure your ARM-based computer is running that.  But beyond that, you can download the JAWS 2022 ARM beta on our JAWS downloads page.  In JAWS 2023, it’ll be part of the regular JAWS download, so you won’t need to do anything special.  This is just a bit of a sneak preview.  We’re looking forward to your feedback and in fixing any issues that come up so that the official version released with JAWS 2023 works really well.

If you’re someone who’s running ZoomText or Fusion and wondering when you, too, can use your product of choice on ARM, we are working on it.  Nothing to report immediately.  I would expect probably in the new year is when we’ll have something for you to try in that regard.  Stay tuned to our blog and also to FSCast for more details on that topic.

JAWS Power Tip

GLEN:  Time now for this month’s Power Tip, and it comes to us courtesy of Sam.  And it has to do with copying and pasting text.  In particular, when you select text on a web page with JAWS, you get not only the text, but you get all of the formatting.  So if you’re copying a heading, you get that style.  If you’re copying a list, it gets pasted into a program like Word as a word list.  And that for the most part is what you’d want.  You want to include the formatting because it typically makes whatever you’re pasting look that much better.  But if you’re pasting a small amount of text, you want that text to just seamlessly blend in with whatever else you’re writing.  And in that case you want to just paste in the plaintext without the formatting.

The question that Sam has answered for us is how do you do that?  Broadly speaking, this fits into the category of “Paste Special.”  A lot of programs have this option by right-clicking where you want to paste and then arrow down to Paste Special.  And from there you can select just exactly the special thing you want to do.  But if you’re using a Microsoft Office app – Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint – all of those support the ALT+CTRL+V shortcut to bring up the Paste Special menu.  And from there you can choose plain Unicode text to copy just the contents without the formatting.

For sending in his Power Tip, in addition to our undying thanks, Sam gets one year added onto his JAWS license.  If you have an idea of something that’s really useful to you about one of our products that you don’t hear getting the love that you expect it should, send it in as a Power Tip.  If we use it, you, too, will get a year added onto your license.  Write to fscast@vispero.com, V I S P E R O, fscast@vispero.com

Interview with Eric Damery

GLEN:  With me on FSCast is the voice that’s been on this podcast more than anyone but the host.  I think it’s close to 40 now, maybe even more than that.  And I bring him on to FSCast for probably what is the last time because after over 28 years he has decided to hang it up and to retire.  So this time when Eric Damery is here on FSCast we’re not talking about a new feature.  We’re not talking about something new in our products.  We’re really talking about his life and his career over the past close to 30 years.  Eric and I started working together in 1994 at Henter Joyce when the company was seven or eight people.  So this is a bittersweet opportunity for me.  Eric, welcome back.

ERIC DAMERY:  Thanks, Glen.  It’s good to be here.  And sad to be the last time.  But, you know, all good things must come to an end, and I’m just thrilled that while I step aside, others are ready to pick up the torch and carry this forward.  And I expect great things for the product to continue.

GLEN:  I understand that you originally got introduced to this kind of technology because of your dad.  He was a veteran; right?  And he went blind at some point in his life?

ERIC:  Yeah.  He was a veteran of the – he was in the Korean War time and had retinal detachment and ended up getting discharged with a disability.  And that was somewhere around the age of 22 that he started to lose his vision.  You know, it deteriorated over the years.  He had given up driving, obviously, and took the bus to work when I was a kid.  And, you know, could see shapes and shadows, but didn’t really have a good grasp on reading text.  And if he wanted to try and read something or sign something, he had to use a pocket magnifier to be able to see it.  But he didn’t let blindness slow him down and stop him.  He found a way.

GLEN:  But sounds like he was not using technology in those early years.

ERIC:  That’s right.  His technology was his memory, my mother’s eyes, my eyes or my sister’s eyes.  He did what he had to to figure it out.  And the technology was always something that interested him.  And, you know, it was because of Veterans Administration and what was happening with technology back in the early 1990s that piqued his interest.  And it was because of him that I found out there was such a business.

GLEN:  And how did you come to knock on Ted Henter’s door?

ERIC:  There was another key person who had a tremendous influence.  None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for him, I’m thinking.  And that is Jim Ellsworth.  Many people remember Jim Ellsworth from our technical support department.  Jim put in many, many years, retired, and actually passed away a few years back.  And he’s greatly missed.  But Jim worked for the Pinellas Center for the Visually Impaired.  And Jim was a technical geek.  He was really into this stuff.  And he had all of the blinded veterans in Pinellas County talking technology and thinking, we’ve got to get stuff that we can read with.  And we can use computers.  Because this kid, Jim, is over at that center as a volunteer, and he’s doing it.  He’s helping the vets see how it works.

So my dad had heard about him.  And he got very excited about it and went to the VA and ended up getting the VA to purchase him an Arkenstone system, and it was delivered by a salesperson in Ted’s company.  And my dad went from not being able to ever read his mail without my mother sitting down at the table, to being able to read his mail.  And that was incredible.  That was independence that he had never had that he – I could see how important that was.  So I called Arkenstone.  Kathy Korporlinsky, who was there at the time, said to give Ted Henter a call because Ted was their rep for the state of Florida.  And she figured, you know, I didn’t really have any expertise or any real skills in this business.  So they figured, well, let’s send him to Ted.  Maybe Ted’ll do better.  So that’s how I met Ted.

GLEN:  And Ted, as I recall, was not all that thrilled about hiring you at the time.  He got tired of salespeople because his last one didn’t work out so well.

ERIC:  Yeah, I think he had had some problems with her.  She was actually the one that delivered the computer to my dad’s house.  So I met her.  I thought she was very good.  So who knows?  But I think they got me cheap enough; and he figured, well, we’ll give him a try and see how it works out.  The learning of the computer running JAWS was something, after I started working, I’ve always been the kind of a person that figures, if I’m going to sell it and explain it to somebody, I have to be able to do it.  And they gave me a computer in the office, and they said, here, get on the phone, start calling the dealers and start figuring out how to make sales because that was my role.

But I took that computer home with me at night and got JAWS installed and didn’t bring the monitor, but I found out after the first night I had to bring a mouse because you had to plug a mouse in to get it to work back in those days.  I would start with Notepad and just, with JAWS running, try to learn how to type text and edit text.  That’s a big challenge, obviously.  Those of you who do it probably take it for second nature.  But for somebody who’s never done it, the first time when you sit down and try it took me a bit of – it was a challenge getting to learn how to do that.  But I trained my ears to listen and eventually knew enough that I could at least demonstrate the software, and I could explain it, and when someone spoke to me they knew I knew what I was talking about.  And that made a big difference.

GLEN:  Henter-Joyce, in addition to being a small company when we started out, was a family operation.  Ted was there, and his wife Mel, plus many of her relatives all worked in the company.

ERIC:  All of the businesses were, like, thought of as mom-and-pop type businesses.  This truly was.  And they had not had any experience running a business.  And they worked really hard at it.  And the people that worked for them really appreciated it.  I can remember our first company Christmas party was at Mel and Ted’s house, which was a small three-bedroom house.  They put the tables all strung together through the dining room into the living room.  And I forget how many of us were there.  Maybe with spouses maybe about 18 people.  Some of the people that were at that table are still in the company today.  And, you know, they served us a Christmas meal, and that was our Christmas party.  We didn’t have a lot of money back then, and everybody got together.

And Ted and Mel had a ski boat because Ted was a water skier.  And we used to go down with them.  And the Hillsboro County Blindness Center in the summertime, they would bring the kids over from the blindness camp.  And we would teach them how to water ski.  And, you know, we did it as a company.  It was all a bunch of friends getting together on the weekend, and that’s the kind of stuff we did.  And later on they had access to a lake house about an hour and a half north of where our business was, up in the Ocala area.  And Ted and Mel opened that up to the company.  They would go up for the weekend, and they would invite the staff up.  And people from support and test and developers, we would all arrive and go to that lake house and hang out, spend the weekend together.  So it was more than just a business.  It was we were all friends.  And Ted and Mel made that all happen.  And it was really important.

GLEN:  It was not clear when we started, and JAWS 1.0 came out in 1995, that we were going to be the victor.  Do you recall how you approached this from sort of a sales standpoint, to try to stand out amongst those other small products?

ERIC:  I think it was in conversations with different people.  They would help me understand what set us apart because I didn’t – it wasn’t like I went out and got a hold of the other products and tried to learn them.  It was, to me, it was a struggle just to learn one.  And so I was learning how JAWS worked, but I didn’t know the other competition products.  So I didn’t really know what set them apart.

There was a guy, Rich Ring, who did a news tape.  It was a cassette tape years ago, and I can’t remember the name of it.  It escapes my memory.  But Rich became a friend early on.  I liked Rich.  I would call him up, and we would talk, and he would share with me what was so good about JAWS, what he liked about it.  And it was different than talking with Ted or others in the company.  So talking with someone on the outside that had used other products, that was really helpful to me.

And of course Sight and Sound was our JAWS for DOS dealer in the U.K. all those years.  And then when we were slow getting to Windows, they had used Window Bridge as their Windows solution.  And once we had JAWS for Windows out, I got to know those folks at Sight and Sound.  And they shared with me why JAWS seemed like a better solution, and they made the transition.  So there were, I think it was other people helping me to realize what a great product that you guys had created.

GLEN:  Yeah, it really was the coming together of lots of different people; right?  If we had just created a screen reader that worked well, and there wasn’t that, I was going to say marketing, but really the connection with the people who were ultimately going to use it that I think you were largely responsible for, we just would have been another also-ran. 

ERIC:  And, you know, those early days of sitting in the recording studio with Ted and going through it.  I’ve had so many people over the years that have been using this stuff a long time explain to me how they appreciated the fact that we were demonstrating it to them.  They could listen to it.  They could hear the problems that we would run into, and we ran into a lot of problems.  And, you know, it was like they were learning it as we were learning it.

1996 ERIC:  Welcome to the Henter-Joyce basic training tapes.  This is basic training tape number one, side one.  The tape is tone indexed.  You can fast-forward to the first beep now.  Table of contents follows.  Beep one:  Getting to the JAWS window in either Windows 3.1 or Windows 95.  Introducing you to the INSERT+F1 Help feature.  Adjusting the voice and rate.  Beep two, exploring the speech pad on the desktop keyboard.

GLEN:  You sound so much younger there.  You do.

ERIC:  I was.

GLEN:  I had forgotten how much of the training Ted actually did in those early segments.  And you were like Ed McMahon.

ERIC:  Exactly.

1996 TED HENTER:  Now, if the phone rings, and I go away and I come back and I forget what I’ve got selected, first thing I do is I do an INSERT+F1 to tell me where I am.  And then if I want to read what’s selected, I do a SHIFT+INSERT+DOWN ARROW.

1996 DECtalk:  Selected text is Constitution of the...

1996 TED:  And that reads the selected text.

1996 ERIC:  I’d point out here why it’s important to have a keystroke to know what text have I got selected because there is  no other way of finding out.  If you try and do a cursor movement here, either an arrow key in any direction, up, down, left, right, or a HOME or an END, whatever you’ve selected will become unselected.  So you’ve eliminated all the work you just did.  So if you’ve selected a few paragraphs of information, and then do some cursor movement, it’ll undo the selection.  The text is still there, but the selection has disappeared, and you’ve got to start over again.

1996 TED:  It’s, yeah, you can’t go back and read it.  Unless you use the JAWS cursor.  Then you can.

GLEN:  There are a couple things that just jump out at me.  One of them is that 90% of the stuff that we discussed on those early training tapes still apply today.

ERIC:  That’s right.

GLEN:  And JAWS, it sounds very similar in how it says things.

ERIC:  You know, and I’m – I did come up with a few things along the way that made sense to me, and we added in.  I actually think those keystrokes to read the selected text, I think that was an idea that I came up with.  That was an easy script to add in.  And we got very fortunate, too.  JAWS for DOS used the INSERT key and didn’t incorporate the ALT key into its screen reading for the most part.  And that was a big break because if you knew how to run JAWS for DOS, the screen reading portion of it, you could transition to the Windows side very easily.  Then you just had to learn the Windows commands because JAWS commands could stay the same.  And that was something that we had that the competition in most cases did not.  They had conflicts all over the place. 

Another key thing that we had done in those early days, we created something we called the JAWS for Windows timed evaluation.  This was a $39 product that you could buy from us.  It gave you access to the JAWS for Windows screen reader and all of the six cassette tapes for training, the basic training.  It included everything for 39 bucks, and you could use JAWS for 60 days.  And then we would even apply that 39 bucks to the original purchase price.  So that was a decision that I helped to put forth with the company to say let’s not do a free demo because I saw what had happened with many of the other Windows screen readers.  They put out a free demo, people struggled because they didn’t understand Windows, and they were getting stuck and frustrated.  So I think the training tapes made a big difference, and that package.  And we did that for a number of years.  And I think that really helped.

GLEN:  In listening to that little snippet, I heard the voice of DECtalk, which for those who are a little bit younger was a synthesizer that connected to the computer through a serial cable.  And that’s the way that everybody used synthesizers early on.  There was no such thing as a software synthesizer, as Eloquence.  And I think you brought that to us, Eric, either directly or indirectly.

ERIC:  Access32 was first.  And we got that from Digital.  And at the time those hardware synthesizers were about $1,000.  I think we got Access32 for 3, 4, $500 people could get it.  It was like half price.  And then we found Eloquence.  And Eloquence was an amazing discovery.  While it was still kind of robotic, to me it was better than most of the things I had been hearing.  And, boy, was it lightning quick, and it was small, and the price turned out to be right.

GLEN:  And that changed things.  Right?  Because people could just buy a screen reader and didn’t have to worry about other equipment. 

ERIC:  And we could install that synthesizer as part of it.  We could then introduce talking installs and things like that.  Unfortunately, Eloquence didn’t contain all the real languages or quality languages that you would want.  But for English, it made a big difference, and it still does today.  You use it.  I still use it.  And people that have been running JAWS for 20 years, I bet most of them still use it.

GLEN:  Why do you think we did braille so early on?  Because JAWS for DOS had no braille support. 

ERIC:  Right.  And the market that was served by Henter-Joyce with the DOS solution was an English-speaking market, primarily the U.S.  Some U.K., some Canadian.  Maybe a little in Australia.  But for the most part it was all English-speaking.  And braille just wasn’t something that Ted had spent his time on.  Ted was not much of a braille user.  He was a speech guy, and so that’s where he put his focus.  But in order to get into the international community, braille became very important.  And of course Tobias Winnes and his business partner in Europe came to us back then in 1995.  And I think they were on a – they were going on a hunch that if they could get a Windows screen reader, if they could control one, they could make a big impact for themselves in the European market.  And when they looked at all the options, they, too, kind of came to the conclusion that this JAWS product had some real potential.

I’ll never forget, you know, the plan was we’ll get a braille display.  We’ll go to what was called the REHA convention in Dusseldorf and unveil JAWS for the first time.  But of course Tobias said, “If we’re going to do this, guys, you’ve got to be able to support braille displays.  Braille matters in Germany.”  And he was right.  So that was an interesting story, how you incorporated braille.

GLEN:  Yes, I was thinking you were going to tell it.  The story is that I had been promising I had been working on braille all along.  And it got to be about two weeks before the conference, and I said, “Oh, my god, I really need to start.”  So I unpacked this HandyTech display that had been sitting on my shelf, and I connected it, and it didn’t come on.  And that of course means that I now have to come clean and say I haven’t really been working on braille after all.  I’ve just connected the display now.  And they overnighted me another display, and we got it solved.  But I think I had a few people on the run.

ERIC:  Yeah.  And it wasn’t perfect in the beginning, but it was pretty good.  And I’ll tell you, going to the REHA convention, and I went a couple of times, that was a great experience, to be able to meet all of these people that knew of the product, had heard about the product, and were excited about seeing it with a braille display connected.  And got to meet a lot of  interesting people, many of whom are still in the industry, many of whom I still know.  And that was fun times because that was all growth; you know?  We had no business over there, and all of a sudden now we had business partners in most of these countries, and JAWS was exploding.

GLEN:  Do you know how the shark suit came about?

ERIC:  Yeah, I suspect I had something to do with coming up with that idea, thinking that we needed something to gain some excitement at some of these conventions.  So we looked around, and we found a big shark suit.  I mean, this thing had, you know, it was a big costume with a head and a big fin on the back.  And it had the shaded eyes so that a person inside could see out, but nobody could see in.  And if you wore that suit, it was warm, so you couldn’t spend too much time in it.  But, you know, it was like the big costumes that people wear at the baseball game, out on the field, running around.  We called it Sharky.  And we took an old Henter-Joyce white T-shirt, cut a hole in the back for the fin, and Sharky wore the Henter-Joyce T-shirt around.  And he would never speak.  No one knew who Sharky was.  I will tell you today it was me.

GLEN:  The secret is out.

ERIC:  Yeah.  And I would go to – I always liked to be at the opening of the conference when they were ready to open the doors to let everybody in the exhibit hall.  Everybody’d be out there in the hall, and Sharky would be making the rounds.  And users would love Sharky.  They’d all feel his fin.  And he had a good time.  And he was around for a couple of years.  But it got stolen one year being shipped back to the office, and it was sitting in a trash bag in the shipping department after they received it, and the people that were cleaning the office threw it out.  So we ended up losing a couple of those.  But it was a lot of fun.

GLEN:  I remember doing a presentation, I guess it was Netscape because it was 1995, I think, maybe ‘96, on a Saturday morning.  And I’m doing this presentation called “Sharky Goes Surfing” or something similar.  And all of a sudden I hear a commotion in the back of the room.  And I think I’ll let you pick up the story from there.

ERIC:  Not only it was a Saturday morning session, so Saturday  morning was the last day of the show, but it was 8:00 in the morning after the big party would happen on Friday night. It was at Closing the Gap.  And the room was packed.  Everybody wanted to see how JAWS was going to handle the Internet.  So this was really our first coming out show with Links List and things like that.  And sure enough, Sharky made his appearance in the back of the room.  And the guide dogs weren’t real receptive to him.  And so they chased him, they chased Sharky right out of the back of the room.  And he came back in the front.  While you were up there trying to talk and give this presentation, that darn shark was just distracting the whole room.

GLEN:  Dueling Windows, which seems like such a trivial concept this number of years later, but back then it was screen readers being pitted against one another to try to show people which were the most powerful and which were the strongest. 

ERIC:  Yeah.  That was a pivotal turning point.  There were a lot of things that happened along the way.  Dueling Windows was right up there in the top three or four because at the time there were so many companies.  There were eight or nine of us, and everybody was vying for a very small market.  I mean, this is not a big business.  And Dueling Windows was an opportunity for everyone to get side by side and have a third-party give you a task, and then each person in turn would have to go down and conduct the task with their screen reader on their computer.  And people would sit in the audience and be the judge.

And there was a lot of pressure.  And I remember the pressure in preparation the night before, I mean, leading up to it.  But even the night before I can recall you, Glen, and I, and Carl Wise, we’d be right there changing the software that night, trying to make sure that we could do what we thought they were going to ask us.  And JAWS prevailed and did very, very well at those.  And big buying decisions by state agencies got made because of Dueling Windows.  It happened about, I think, three different conferences we did it.

GLEN:  It was different, though.  There wasn’t really the Internet.  That’s not how word traveled.  And I’m trying to think now, how do you think the word spread in those early days?

ERIC:  Well, you know, it’s always been a tight community.  You know, people talk.  It was like I mentioned Jim Ellsworth and how my dad was hearing about this.  He would go to Blinded Veterans get-togethers, you know, they were like social events.  And all the guys would get into the corner, and somebody would bring up, hey, there’s a computer, and you can do this, and you can do that.  And everyone would get excited about it.  So the word kind of spread that way.  And my early travels, it wasn’t sales calls, it was “Let me show you how this works.”  And people were hungry for it.

I remember going to CNIB up in Canada.  It was probably my first trip.  It was in the winter of ‘95.  It was in Toronto.  And they brought in all of the CNIB trainers from around the country.  And I remember we set up a big room, had all the computers facing the wall, and I was in the middle and would go around and give them instructions.  And basically it was showing them how to use Windows, and showing them how to use it using Windows commands, and then throwing in a few of the JAWS commands as needed along the way.  But was basically showing them that this is exactly how somebody who’s using a screen reader’s going to drive the Windows environment, drive that graphical user interface and make it work.

And when we didn’t have computers for everybody, I would spin the monitor around and let them watch, and I would drive it without seeing it so they would gain confidence that if this guy can do it, why can’t a blind person do it?  He’s not looking.  So, you know, I think that’s how the word kind of starts to spread.  People are excited.  Everybody wanted to be able to do it, so they worked hard to make it happen.

GLEN:  Over time, the Internet became more important.  And there were folks like Jonathan Mosen that were I think amongst the first to do interviews and demos online.

ERIC:  You know, Jonathan was one of those challenging guys because you knew you weren’t going to get anything by him.  I always wanted to delay sharing something with him until we knew we had it right.  But if we had it right, I knew that Jonathan would recognize that and give us credit for it.  And he did Main Menu.  I would connect with him before we did a major release, and there would be features that he would ask me, is there anything in particular that you want to make sure that we talk about or highlight?  And I would share him some software ahead.

I remember one of the features was when we did the fast-forward and the rewind.  I believe that was one that I had shared with him because I knew how important fast-forward and rewind during a say-all would be.  And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe you haven’t used it.  It’s still there.  It’s still great.  And you start a say-all, you can hit LEFT ARROW or RIGHT ARROW to back up or skip ahead in your text.  And that’s a great feature, and Jonathan showed that.

GLEN:  I thought it’s SHIFT.  Is it both?

ERIC:  It is SHIFT also.  But you can still just use the ARROW keys.  And it was a great feature, and Jonathan really appreciated it and showed it.  And, you know, he was, like I said, he was not one to pull punches.  If you weren’t doing the right thing in the product, he’d let you know.  And that was okay because that was our, like I said, we always want to make sure that we know what’s right and wrong so we can fix it.  You know, he did the PAC Mate product management, and he did just – he was such a dedicated resource for the company and worked so hard on those products.

And when it came time, he came to us, and he said, you know, listen, you guys really need to be in the podcast business.  And when we talked about him doing that, I can remember, you know, he needed to be somewhat neutral.  He needed to ask tough questions.  And we talked about that, and I totally agreed.  So he’s always been a great interviewer, and he was a good friend in this business for both of us.

GLEN:  Absolutely.  And he continues to excel with his Mosen at Large podcast.

ERIC:  That’s right.

GLEN:  So the tradition continues.

ERIC:  Yeah.

GLEN:  When do you think we started with the SMA?  And was that  new to the industry at that point?

ERIC:  Yeah, it was.  I recall that, you know, in the days of DOS they didn’t really charge for upgrades.  You know, customers, I remember customers calling and telling you, yeah, upgrades don’t cost money because it doesn’t work right to begin with.  So you just have to keep fixing it for us and giving it to us for free.  It’s all bug fixes at this point.  And I realized that that’s not sustainable, and we were going to have to create some revenue from upgrades.

And coming up with that Software Maintenance Agreement concept of letting people prepay for the next two upgrades upfront and getting them for half the price that we were going to charge for an upgrade, was a good motivator to get people to invest in that Software Maintenance Agreement program.  And that was critical.  And, you know, everybody scoffed at us when we started charging for upgrades.  Of course, didn’t take them too many years to realize that they should start charging for SMAs, too, and they all did.  But we introduced the concept.  And I’ve got to thank the customers because this was so important.  You were investing in the fact that we’d better deliver something.  And that continues today.

And today we’re moving, we’re starting to move away from Software Maintenance Agreement concepts just into auto renewals that you could cancel out of if you weren’t satisfied.  And the revenue coming in from those programs make ownership of companies like this realize that they’d better not slow down.  They’d better keep developing.  So I think the SMA program was very, very critical to the success of the product, and I thank all the customers that have participated in it.

GLEN:  We did Windows NT early on.  And for those who weren’t part of that, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 and 98 and ME were the sort of the first home versions of Windows.  And Windows NT was always the professional one.  And it’s what gave rise to XP and Vista and Windows 8 and 10 and so forth.  But most screen readers didn’t work with NT early on.  Why do you think we started doing that so early?

ERIC:  You know, Ted recognized early on that selling to government agencies would be key.  They were the ones that were really spending the money on this technology.  And he looked at it and said, well, maybe we should go for the biggest and best, and that was the Social Security Administration.  And you guys both realized that Windows NT was where they were going to be, and we’d better find a way to get there.  And we managed to connect with Microsystems.  And the guy that most of the people in the industry remember from Microsystems is Bill Kilroy, who’s been with us for years.  And they had a screen magnification software, and they were starting to run in Windows NT.  And we kind of partnered up with them.  You got some technology, I think, from them.

GLEN:  Yeah, we did.

ERIC:  And we were able to get to Windows NT maybe faster than some of the others.  And Bill and I meeting with the Social Security Administration convinced them that JAWS and Magic were going to be a great partnership.  And it has been.  It has been for all these years.

GLEN:  But at the time you convinced them, both products were just running on Windows 3.1.  We kept promising them we would be running on NT.

ERIC:  Yeah, we promised.  But what they wanted to see was that it could actually work together.  And I remember being in the room because they were already kind of convinced with Magic.  They didn’t really know much about JAWS.  And I said, well, I think we should try and show you how JAWS and Magic can work together.  Maybe we can show you in Excel.  And I remember Kilroy, he was sweating because he was like, wait a minute, we haven’t seen this work yet.  And I figured I’ve got nothing to lose.  They’ve already picked Magic.  I’m just trying to get JAWS in the mix here.

So they went on a break, I installed Magic on my computer with JAWS, and lo and behold, things just kind of worked right in Excel, and it tracked.  And they were impressed, and that was enough to keep up moving forward.  And then the tough work came for you and for the other developers to get us into NT.  And that wasn’t easy.  There was a lot of stability issues there.

GLEN:  There were.  But once we had it done, we had a step ahead of some others when it came to XP because we had done that stuff.  Are there stories that you can think of that caused you to realize, wow, what we’re doing really matters, and it’s really worthwhile, and I’m glad I get up in the morning for doing this?  I mean, I know generally speaking we all feel that way.  But sometimes there are specifics.

ERIC:  Yeah, there are numerous.  And, you know, I’m sure I can – it was one of the things about this job that I always felt like when I went home at the end of the day there was always something that happened that day that I thought, you know, that was really good.  I’m glad that worked out.  I’m glad, you know, we learned something or we were able to share something with somebody.  And, you know, you always feel rewarded.

But by far, I mean, there’s nothing that impacted me more in any of this work than meeting a family from Wisconsin.  We had gotten a phone call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and they said, you know, we’ve got somebody interested to see if you would participate in the Make-A-Wish program with this person.  And we said, you know, by all means.  What can we do?  How can we help?  And they said, well, they’d actually like to come and visit.  And it’s like, we don’t get a lot of visitors at our office.  It’s tough.  But I said, you know, by all means, tell us more.

And it turns out it was a young man, his name is Andrew, and I’m not sure exactly how old he was at the time that he came for the visit.  And I’m sure I’ll mess this up.  But he was somewhere around 12, I guess, 13.  And so they were coming, they were going to be able to come down, and they were going to pay us a visit.  Andrew enjoyed so much about us, probably because he was hearing training tapes or recordings and things that we had been producing over the years, and he was using that in his daily activities as he was learning how to use the technology.  And we kind of became his friends because he heard us so much.  He was listening to things over and over again.

And I’ll never forget.  We were anticipating him arriving that morning.  We had done some things to get ready, you know, put some signs up and things like that because his family was coming.  And they pulled in in a big limousine.  And I remember Dan Clark and Ryan Jones and I went outside to meet them.  And they opened the car door, and the family got out.  The mother and father were there, the sister, the brother, and his aunt.  And Andrew came out.  He had the biggest smile.  And – excuse me.  That time was moving for all of us.  And we took tours of the building.  He got to go in with Dan Clark and do a recording in the training room.  And, you know, he loved Ryan because Ryan had been doing training tapes, and he had been listening to so much of Ryan’s stuff.  So he was a natural with Ryan, too.  And we got him some equipment and everything.

But at the end of the day, when it came time for us to wrap up, and they were going to go, I remember he asked his mother, he said, listen, the family’s all supposed to be going to Disney the next day.  But he said, “Would you mind if I just stay here while you guys go to Disney?”  He wanted to spend the day with us a second day.  So he ended up going off with the family and going to Disney.  But I’ll never forget that.  And that was a very, you know, enlightening and, you know, it was a special time for a lot of us.

GLEN:  Yeah, I can hear it in your voice that it was something special.

ERIC:  Yeah.  And we get cards from the family, and I got an email from the family, as well.  They had heard through one of the broadcasts that I was retiring.  So it was very moving.  And, you know, I realized there’s a lot of customers out there like Andrew, and there’s a lot of people that we touched.  And we all worked hard, and we were grateful to be able to help them, you know, with all the efforts.  But we really appreciate the feedback.  I always told our salespeople and our support people that when customers call and complain, make sure you thank them for calling and complaining because when they stop, it’s because they’re not using our stuff anymore.  They always want us to improve it, and that’s our responsibility.  We have to go out there and keep making this stuff better.  And everybody kind of works to that.

GLEN:  Is it weird to be realizing that there are people out there who you’ve been in contact with year after year after year whose paths you probably won’t cross in the future?

ERIC:  It is.  That’s, you know, that has really – hadn’t really hit me until the past month or so.  And you realize as you’re seeing people, whether it’s at a show or at the office, whatever it might be, that it’s like, wow, this might be the last time I ever come in contact with you.  And that does seem odd.

And I thought about that a lot at the NFB convention.  I’ll never forget, when I was leaving NFB this year, one of the people that I’ve been very close to, I think, over the years at NFB had always been Curtis Chong.  I always liked Curtis.  He always gave me great insight into what was right or what was wrong.  I always got an honest take from Curtis.  And it just so happened that the morning when I was leaving the NFB convention this year, Curtis just happened to show up.  He was standing in our booth.  He was looking for another one, and he just happened to be standing in the booth as I came out from the back to leave.  So he was the last person I got to speak with at the show.  And that was very surreal.

I hesitate to start even trying to mention all the people along the way because there were so many that have been instrumental in this stuff happening and helping.  And, you know, I would not have been successful without all of those relationships and all of those various people that have worked with us along the way.  So, I mean, I just can’t express enough to everybody that I’ve known.  It’s been great.

GLEN:  I actually kind of think we’ve come full circle because you started out our conversation by saying all good things must come to an end, but things will carry on.  Will you talk a little about who’s taking over your role?

ERIC:  Ryan Jones, who many folks know, has been around a long time.  And when, you know, when I had made up my mind that I was going to – this would be the year, and I was going to wrap it up, I had thought long and hard about, well, who would be the appropriate person to step into this position?  And there are some people around that obviously could fill that bill, I think.  And they could even look on the outside.  But I thought, if they could find somebody to promote from within, I think that would be all the better.  And if you could get somebody that really knew the technology well, I would think that we could not even skip a beat.  And to me, Ryan Jones was the absolute perfect choice.

GLEN:  Well, Eric, as a colleague and someone who’s become a good friend over the last 28 years, I’m going to miss you.  I’m really – I’m happy you’re leaving because that’s what you want to do.  But I’m sad you’re leaving because.  And I thank you for being here.  It couldn’t have happened without you.

ERIC:  Yeah, well, thank you.  And the same can be said right back to you.  You were such an integral part of the success of all of this.  And I realized, you know, I often used to think that, boy, if Glen leaves the company, I’m out of here.  I never thought I’d be the first one to go.  But I know that you’re going to be around a while, and you’re very important both from a communications standpoint here with FSCast and other things that you do.  But you’ve always been great guidance for me to help understand what is maybe more important than something else.  And Ryan, I think, will benefit from your expertise going forward, too.  So I wish you well, and thank you for all the years.

GLEN:  Thank you, Eric.

Thanks to Dan Clark

GLEN:  I want to thank Dan Clark for finding in his archives, or the junk closet, I’m not sure which one, but he found some of those original JAWS training tapes, which is how I was able to play you an excerpt of both Eric and Ted from many, many moons ago, probably around 1996.  I’ve taken those two cassettes that Dan has sent me and put them in four parts with the name “Obsolete JAWS 2.0 Training Tapes 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B.”  If you go to blog.freedomscientific.com/fscast, under the listing for FSCast 218, you’ll see the four links for the various parts of those old and obsolete, but perhaps very interesting, JAWS training tapes.

Signing Off on FSCast 218

GLEN:  That’s going to do it for this month’s edition of the podcast.  I’m Glen Gordon.  Thanks for joining me.  We’ll see you in August.


Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com






edigitaltranscription.com  •  07/26/2022  •  edigitaltranscription.com