Thanks To Microsoft And GW Micro, Accessibility Just Got A Lot More Accessible

It’s not quite buying a computer off the shelf with a built-in screenreader like Voiceover on the Mac, but GW Micro’s plan to give free, fully functional copies of Window-Eyes to anyone running Microsoft Office 2010 or later is sure as hell a pretty big game changer on the Windows side of making accessibility affordably available to everyone.

GW Micro, in collaboration with Microsoft, is excited to provide people who are blind, visually impaired, or print disabled with a completely functional* and free license of GW Micro’s Window-Eyes screen reader. Microsoft is offering customers who have a licensed** version of Office 2010 or later the ability to download Window-Eyes, a screen reader for Windows PCs, free of charge.

A quick look through the FAQ shows how big a deal this actually is.

First and foremost, no more pricy software maintenance agreements. If you own Window-Eyes, whether it be through this new offer or because you have an active license, you’re getting free product updates.

I currently own a Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA). Will I still receive my future Window-Eyes upgrades automatically as I did in the past?
Yes. Customers will continue to receive upgrades for the retail version of Window-Eyes from GW Micro.

Can I renew my Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA)?
No. Until further notice, all SMA sales are suspended.

If I choose to purchase the full retail Window-Eyes, can I still purchase a Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA)?
No. Until further notice, all SMA sales are suspended.

If I’m Freedom Scientific, right now I’m pretty worried about the continued viability of my crank out unnecessary versions of JAWS and force people to burn through their available upgrades business model.

And then there’s this:

Is there any difference between the Window-Eyes software that I purchase from GW Micro (or its dealers) and this Window-Eyes offer?
Yes. There are a number of additional benefits offered by GW Micro when purchasing the retail version of Window-Eyes:

•Free technical support with an unlimited number of incidents
•Braille and large print hotkey guides (English only)
•Installation CD with comprehensive audio tutorial
•Eloquence and Vocalizer speech synthesizers
•Ad-free experience for GW Micro’s accessible Skype client, GWConnect

Looking down that list, I’m not seeing much I’d be lost without.

Hotkey guides and training materials? If that stuff isn’t online already, just wait. It’s going to be soon enough.

Unlimited tech support? If my years of JAWS use means anything, I’ll be fine. Thinking back, the number of times I’ve contacted support is approximately 0. I don’t know what the fee structure is, but I’d be shocked if it was such that it would be cheaper to spend hundreds of dollars on buying a screenreader outright just to get support rather than to pay case by case. If your product needs that much supporting, there’s a good chance that either it sucks more than any product in the history of the universe or that I’m an imbecile.

GWConnect without the ads? Granted I don’t leave it up and running 24/7 like some folks, but when I do have it on I hardly notice them.

The option to use more voices? There’s a good chance I’d pay for that, but again, can’t possibly be more costly to simply add it on later, can it?

Yes, you do get to add things on later.

Is it possible to add the additional benefits of the retail version of Window-Eyes after downloading Window-Eyes through this offer?
Yes. After downloading Window-Eyes as a part of the Window-Eyes offer for users of Microsoft Office, customers can add any of the additional features (excluding an unlimited number of technical support incidents) for a fee by contacting GW Micro directly at (260) 489-3671. Customers outside the US need to purchase support options from their local representatives. A list of GW Micro dealers can be found at www.gwmicro.com/dealers.

Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough, but I’m having no luck finding anything to complain about when it comes to this offer. If you have Microsoft Office which almost everyone does, you get industry leading screenreader technology at no extra cost unless you choose to pay for extras or need help you can’t find in the wild. it even has the added benefit of placing Freedom Scientific in the position of having to play catch-up and needing to justify the absurd sums of money they almost certainly would like to keep charging. They could brush off NVDA as not being a serious threat and perhaps make the argument that Apple isn’t true competition, but they can’t ignore this. The game is changing. Unless this somehow manages to fail spectacularly, it’s a huge win for blind computer users who for too long have been held hostage and robbed blind…er…blinder.

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