Serotek has just announced that it will no longer charge its customers for a software maintenance agreement (SMA) in order to keep their products updated. This development is, of course, good for consumers in that it eliminates a nagging cost of owning assistive technology. It can, unfortunately, also be bad for us. At this point, you may be asking how on Earth can the removal of an SMA be a negative? The answer is, alas, remarkably simple. Without ongoing revenue, what is the ultimate motivation for a company to constantly enhance its product to cope with a dynamic, ever-changing environment full of inaccessible technology?
As a blind person who has worked in the mainstream technology industry for over 13 years and is now completing his college degree, I need a screen reader that is both capable and reliable. When new technology is developed, I need my screen reader to support it as soon as possible. It is absolutely critical that my screen reader not stop working or cause other problems that halt or limit my productivity. If other assistive technology companies follow suit by eliminating or reducing their SMA fees, I am concerned that we will be left even further behind than we are right now. Let’s just make sure we are wisely considering questions besides the all-too-often asked “how much does it cost?” We had all better be careful for that which we wish, as we might just get it and suffer some unintended negative consequences.