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Is Revisionist History at Work in the Blind Community’s Own Online Media Outlets?

July 13, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Is revisionist history at work in the blind community’s own electronic media outlets? Can important information and the opinions of certain people in the community simply be made to disappear from our public knowledge without comment? It appears, unfortunately, that there may be two clear cases of exactly this sort of thing happening in a prominent online technology news magazine produced by the American Foundation for the Blind.

In the March 2007 issue of AccessWorld, an article entitled A View from Inside: A Major Assistive Technology Player Shares Some Industry Secrets, featuring Chris Hofstader, has been pulled from the magazine without explanation.

In the AccessWorld News section in the July 2007 issue of the same magazine, the following brief story is carried concerning the Freedom Scientific Versus Serotek lawsuit:

On May 14, 2007, Freedom Scientific filed suit against Serotek Corporation, claiming trademark infringement for use of the term “FreedomBox.” The claim stated that “Continuously since May 15, 2000, the Plaintiff has used the mark ‘Freedom Scientific’ to identify its products tailored to blind and low-vision users, including software that translates the Internet and digital information into braille or audible synthesized speech, and to distinguish these products from those made or sold by others, by, among other things, prominently displaying the mark ‘Freedom Scientific’ on the products, their containers, the displays, and marketing associated therewith.”

On June 7, Freedom Scientific and Serotek jointly announced that they had reached an agreement that Serotek was inadvertently infringing on Freedom Scientific’s federally registered trademark. “It is unfortunate that we had to take this action,” said Lee Hamilton, president and CEO of Freedom Scientific, “but trademarks are valuable corporate assets, and they must be protected, or they are lost. This agreement accomplishes that, and we have agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.” Serotek will rename FreedomBox and other affected products. For more information, visit the companies’ web sites: and .

There is absolutely no coverage given to the Save Serotek Petition or any other efforts made by members of the blind community requesting that Freedom Scientific cease this action.

We all may want to start asking some serious questions about the blindness organizations to which we are members or on which we rely to provide the services we need. Does the organization’s leadership really hold the needs and desires of the blind in their hearts and minds, do they have their own personal agendas or are they catering to special interests? Do agencies, companies and other organizations donate money to these non-profit organizations, then use that fact later to exert undue influence over their actions and policies? After all, how could these organizations bite the hands that feed their small budgets? Can the people in charge of the most prominent organizations of and for the blind be trusted? It is up to all of us to ask and insist on candid answers to these and many other hard questions.

9 opinions on “Is Revisionist History at Work in the Blind Community’s Own Online Media Outlets?

  1. If you want people to start asking questions, you might want to for instance put in the email address and/or phone number for the Access World editor in your blog entry. This will make it easy via one click for a reader to initiate an email to AFB. Also I would still like to read Chris H’s article so if you have a copy of the article please post or send it to me. By pulling the article, they actually probably will generate more buzz, and make people like me more apt to want to read the article. E.g. the forbidden is more appealing and desireable to read.

  2. Darrell, there was no mention of your petition because it had absolutely no effect, zero, nada, nil, on the outcome. the same outcome would have been reached with or without 280 people asking them to settle. Much of your effort is very worthwhile, but that one accomplished nothing.

  3. It is important to be clear on the facts. There were actually a total of 430 signatures to the petition. Reliable sources tell me that it did make a difference. There were also other individual efforts, none of which were mentioned in the article. Specific mention of the petition wasn’t necessarily expected, but it is woefully incomplete to ignore blind community initiatives asking Freedom Scientific to stop the legal action. I feel this is clearly not “fair and balanced” journalism on the part of an organization that purports to be impartial.

  4. I agree with the anonymous commenter about the petition. It asked FS to drop the suit. They didn’t. Serotek admited they were wrong. If you can spin that as having any effect, you should be in national politics. If you’d asked for both sides to settle their differences, you could have claimed a victory.

  5. It isn’t so much a matter of claiming victory. The petition undeniably got the blind community talking about the issue. That’s certainly enough “victory” for me.

  6. Looks like they forgot about the members controling the organization and instead bowed to the demands of a certain company and their desire to quietly change history that isn’t so flattering to them.

  7. It’s a shame that so many of these companies are only in it for the money, and don’t actually seem to care about their customers. I know other people who have had similar problems obtaining support for accessibility.

    Meanwhile, the folks over in the Deaf community are having a campaign for Equal Communications Access – I thought you might be interested. I realise the technology is different, but the issues are similar.

  8. In my opinion, online petitions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. No companies take these things seriously, no matter how we may flatter ourselves as the petitioners. Were I being petitioned against, I would be laughing at the petitioner. It’s just not an effective way of bringing about change. The fact that the desired changes have sometimes taken place, and that the changer may even have given lip service to the petitioner for purposes of placation, is not an indication of the effectiveness of a petition. Google promised a change. It was late in coming. A petition gets started and, most likely, ignored or laughed at. Google makes the changes, not because of the silly petition, but because the change was promised and it just took a little longer.An out-of-court settlement was the most likely result of the Freedom Scientific lawsuit. The petition didn’t affect the inevitable. Don’t flatter yourselves, o people who seem to have a petition for everything, the petitions are useless, useless!

  9. If influential people did get wind of this and it did sway the outcome, who were they? I’m sure you wouldn’t mind spilling the beans. Let’s be balanced, OK?

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