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Ai Squared and GW Micro Merge: Two Old Friends Join Forces

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Big news today in Vermont and Indiana, and all points elsewhere: GW Micro and Ai Squared are merging into one, now Ai Squared. You can read all about it from the official Ai Squared/GW Micro press release and, of course, AccessWorld® Magazine will have much more very soon.

Quick Background: Who Are These Companies?

GW Micro is the maker of Window-Eyes, a major Windows screen reader, and has been around since the early 90s. Ai Squared is well-known for ZoomText, a screen magnification program that has built-in speech. Both companies have made big announcements recently, moving much more into the mainstream, as is the trend of assistive technology in general right now.

What does the merger mean for the rest of us? We can only speculate. The teams making the announcement would not say much about product development, staffing, or anything that affects those of us on the ground. All of the members of the Ai Squared and GW teams expressed enthusiasm, echoed by Microsoft, with whom GW announced a major program last January. (See Mary Bellard's blog post: Window-Eyes for Office: Why Is This So Important?)

So, here are some things this could mean for the rest of us:

Streamlined Pricing and Availability?

Where do you go to buy your assistive technology? Do you go straight to the manufacturer, or do you go to a dealer? Now, these two established product lines will be sold by the same sets of dealers, and from the same single manufacturer. So, instead of researching a screen reader on one hand and a screen magnification program on the other, then choosing your path by the company or products, you might now be going to one knowledgeable source.

Might these important access tools become one in the near future? Right now, if you decide you need screen magnification to access your computer, you buy and learn one expensive, feature-rich, complex program and have made a huge investment in money and especially time.

The same is true if you decide a screen reader is more what you need. Once you've made this investment, it's very hard to transition. Few of us can afford the price tag or especially the mental and time commitments to learn another computer access product. Having one integrated product that provided large print, high contrast, full-featured speech, and braille access to your computer programs would benefit a few categories of people that might translate into everybody:

  • Users who occasionally want screen magnification but who are primarily speech or braille users
  • People in transition—magnification today, speech in a few months, maybe move to braille next year? (This is my euphemistic way to say people who are losing vision.)
  • Trainers and "demonstrators," who would love to have one set of commands to train with

Integrated magnification and speech has been longed-for forever, but there have been obstacles to true integration, and we've mainly settled for peaceful coexistence. Will we really have integration? We'll be watching for this the way we did when Freedom Scientific (the JAWS people) bought MAGic, an existing screen mag program.

Lower Prices?

This might really be wild speculation. But, these two companies are joining engineering, accounting, marketing. Will they save money? Will this help make the products more affordable?

So, is this good news? Are there enough players to build and support the competition and cooperation to develop features and creative approaches to access? Are there so many that resources are spread too thin to support the field? Could a merger like this spell the doom of one or the other product line?

Well, it's day one. Personally, I'm optimistic that these two well-established, already cooperative, teams of like-minded professionals can only do better work together than apart.

But tomorrow, I'll point out that there is a lot of "free" assistive technology out there, and it's getting to be of a very high quality. Then I'll point out that professionals like these are the ones making some of that free assistive technology.

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