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An Open Letter to the serotalk Podcast

Dear Sir/Madam

My name is Brian Hartgen. I am Co-Director of Hartgen Consultancy and the Developer of J-Say technology, and initially I must thank you for alerting people to the existence of the new release of our product within your latest podcast, to which I paid particular attention.

While I note your disclaimer that the views expressed are those of the individuals concerned, (delivered within the podcast's introduction in a very rapid fashion to be almost unintelligible), as the manufacturing company we would please like to respond to a number of points made therein.

As background, I have been training visually impaired people how to use computer technology for over 20 years, and this includes those who are newly-blind, have suffered from brain injury, physical impairment or cognitive challenges. This includes 12 years' training people in the use of Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

I would like to thank Joe and Steve in particular who pointed out the positive advantages of using voice input/output technology. However, your female reviewer criticised our J-Say product in a number of ways.

First, she claimed the computers on which she tested would "freeze" periodically. In fairness, the primary host of the podcast, Joe, did suggest a good strategy for rectification, and he is to be commended for that. But managing complex combinations of software does take some skill and precision, and I would ask whether the lady concerned contacted us for advice on how to resolve this difficulty if allegedly it occurred several times? We have no record of such a discussion.

Mention was made of people finding J-Say too complex to manage, and so they were allegedly transitioning to an alternative access technology product. This is purely anecdotal, and in point of fact I could, I am sure, surpass that by quoting many instances where the reverse was true.

But what astounded me in particular was the statement that the Window-Eyes screen-reader allowed one to train Dragon NaturallySpeaking easier than J-Say. I find this very difficult to believe and would like her to please qualify it.

Since version 1, J-Say has had the ability for a blind person to not only independently train the computer to understand the human voice, but more importantly, to allow him or her to correct deficits in speech delivery during that enrolment process. Are you suggesting that Window-Eyes has that ability?

Having said that, for two years we (and some of our distributors) have recognised that initial enrolment training is not important, but ongoing education and improvement of the voice profile is more beneficial. Nuance now understand this, which is why their most recent Dragon releases do not encourage the reading of enrolment training text.

J-Say contains a number of utilities which not only allows for the ongoing education of a voice profile, but of equal importance, it gives a carer or support assistant the ability to assist the blind person (if required) to input words and phrases into the vocabulary for easier understanding by the software. These utilities go way beyond what the sighted Dragon user has access to.

Finally I come to the issue of the "interesting dynamic" referred to in the podcast with regard to working with a computer in this way. I would suggest that how one interprets the range of software involved, and consequent interaction with it, is based on how one is trained. I return to my experience of training individuals illustrated earlier. People are not always interested in precisely what all three software packages are doing, but rather, how J-Say is working for the user. Given that the command structure is consistent across applications in the most part, the next logical question would be to ask whether the critique has received certification as a Trainer in the use of J-Say technology to ensure that the user is gaining the very best experience?

In summary, as a Product Developer, of course I expect criticism. Indeed, it is only through criticism and feedback from users that the product could be improved upon. This is why I still train in the field, because it is by seeing the product at work in different technical and user environments that I can gain an understanding of how we can improve J-Say for people in the future. That is critical. We cannot move forward without that interaction. But what I object to is misrepresentation.
1. You claimed that an alternative screen-reader provided superior support in the enrolment training process. I've already demonstrated this statement has no foundation as it is dated.
2. You claimed that people had switched from J-Say to something else. This is anecdotal and there is good evidence to the contrary too, as there will be with competing products.
3. Lastly, there was a clear implication that the product could be difficult to learn. I found this amplified both in the tone of the delivery, and the content.

Under most circumstances these points would not irritate me, but it is the the totality of your remarks which could leave the listener in some doubt as to whether the product was suitable for them.

In closing, I do feel that if criticism is to be made of any product, the developing company should be given the opportunity of responding before that is made within your podcast. If the criticisms had been put to me, I would in turn have pressed you very hard on the circumstances in order to substantiate them. Having said that, we would also have offered to work with your agency to ensure that you had the necessary training and support required to facilitate your staff having a good understanding of the product.

I would like to thank you for reading. I appreciate that what you are trying to do is to provide listeners with informative comment, and to play "Devil's Advocate" as your reviewer described it. But if you do that, I would respectfully suggest that your views will, and should, be challenged if appropriate.

Kind Regards:

Brian Hartgen

Post Script

We are delighted to note that Serotalk Podcast 224 does contain a full audio statement concerning the points raised above and we would like to thank them very much for including it. You can listen to the podcast (above) or Download the Statement.