DictationBridge: Our Gratitude

Introduction

Last week, the DictationBridge Indie Go-Go campaign reached its entire $20,000 goal with about 8 hours left in a 60 day fundraising effort.

The DictationBridge team had 12 “official” members but the true story of our success is about the 130 separate contributors and the dozens upon dozens of individuals who helped tell the DictationBridge story on Twitter, Facebook, on blogs and on podcasts. Our entire team is incredibly grateful to all of those who helped us make history with this campaign.

The Establishment Joins Us

The single largest contribution to the DictationBridge campaign came to us from The Lighthouse For The Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco. As far as we can tell, this is the first time that a well established blindness oriented organization has participated in an effort like this one. Our entire team thanks the San Francisco Lighthouse, Brian Bashin, Josh Miele, Jennison Asuncion, Scott Blanks, and others at the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired for they’re hugely helpful contributions to this campaign.

The DictationBridge publicity effort started at the Lighthouse in San Francisco when Josh invited Lucy Greco, a founding member of the DictationBridge team, to do a presentation about it at their Lighthouse Labs meeting a few weeks before the campaign went live. Throughout our 60 days of fundraising, we enjoyed receiving advice and encouragement from our friends at the SF Lighthouse and, in a big but unofficial manner, we have felt that the San Francisco Lighthouse has been part of the team since the beginning.

Help From Many Individuals

A crowdfunding project is largely an exercise in storytelling and getting the message to as many people as possible. If you look at the @DictationBridge Twitter timeline, you will undoubtedly see the names of a lot of individuals who took it upon themselves to help us promote our Indie Go-Go campaign.

We can’t list everyone by name but we are grateful to everyone who helped with as little as a single tweet or sent out DictationBridge related information frequently during the fundraising period. We’re grateful to all contributors, whether they donated five bucks or five thousand and we’re all feeling warmed by the outpouring of affection this campaign has received from the community.

We would, however, like to specifically thank Sandra Pilz and Paul Warner for giving us valuable feedback on our messaging and social media tactics. Sandra and Paul took it upon themselves to help coach us in this area and both were critical to our success. We’d also like to thank Jessie Lorenz, executive director of Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco, for her timely input on marketing and storytelling.

We express our deep appreciation to all of those who invited DictationBridge members to appear on their podcasts, to present at their events and to mention the project on their blogs. Without all of this public exposure, we’d have never made the goal and, as a result, those blind people who need dictation support but choose to (or must) use a screen reader other than JAWS or simply cannot afford the expensive current solutions would not be getting a free program that they desperately need.

The History Of The DictationBridge Project

DictationBridge, before it even had a name, began when Pranav Lal, Lucy Greco and Amanda Rush started working together to discuss making a free plug-in for NVDA to support dictation features. For Lucy and Pranav, dictation is not an option but, rather, an essential aspect of their computing experience.

Due to having multiple disabilities, many blind people (including some on the DictationBridge team) cannot type with any sense of efficiency or without experiencing a great deal of pain. The primary goal of the DB effort from day one has been to provide an affordable solution to as many of these people as possible. Thus, the war veteran who returns home with neither the use of hands nor eyes will have a computer they can use affordably, a blind person with bad repetitive strain injuries (RSI) now has a free solution and those blind people without a secondary disability have dictation at no extra cost to themselves.

In July, Chris Hofstader joined the team to take over the executive role on the effort. Together, Pranav, Chris, Lucy and Amanda would build out the amazing team of twelve that’s bringing DB to the world.

In August and September of 2015, Pranav and Chris tried to negotiate a licensing deal with a group in Germany to use their code as the core of DictationBridge. The German group wished to maintain proprietary source code which was a deal breaker for DB, as we were committed from the start to the values of an open source project. Chris then called Mike Calvo and they negotiated an agreement that permitted Serotek to license the dictation code from its SystemAccess screen reader in a manner compatible with our philosophy that a blind or otherwise disabled person should never be forced to pay a penny more than anyone else to use the same technology. The agreement with Serotek made history as it’s the first time a vendor of proprietary closed source assistive technology software has agreed to open up its source in exchange for a very modest licensing fee.

The next bit of history we made happened when the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired of San Francisco made an official endorsement of and large monetary contribution to the DictationBridge campaign. Quoting Brian Bashin, CEO of the SF Lighthouse, “The Lighthouse believes it has a moral obligation to support the access needs of blind and visually-impaired people wherever they live.” During the discussions between the DB team and our friends at SF Lighthouse, one of the major goals we set was to ensure that a blind person in an emerging nation could buy a cheap laptop at a flea market and have full access to dictation features built into Windows, a goal we’ve never heard expressed by a large organization in the blindness space before. By collaborating with SF Lighthouse, the DictationBridge team built what we hope to be a long standing bridge between those of us in the free software community and at least one well established advocacy organization.

The nature of the DictationBridge team is also a first of its kind in the blindness business. The team is made up of people from two businesses (3 Mouse Technology and Serotek), a number of independent contributors and a coalition of activists in the blindness and technology world. The team has a number of members for whom dictation is a requirement and not a feature and we’ve some of the strongest engineering and management talent available in the world of accessibility. Assembling an ad hoc team like this one on which everyone works toward a common goal is unprecedented in this field.

In Conclusion

While the DictationBridge fundraising campaign is over, the team is working very hard to write, test, document and publish the software. Those on the private beta team will be seeing the first bits this week and the process of fixing bugs will begin. The DictationBridge project web site will be including a “Donate” button so those who had wanted to help the project financially but couldn’t do so before the campaign ended will have an opportunity to contribute to a fund that will help maintain and improve DB into the future.

Finally, as we wrote above, all of us on the DictationBridge team are sincerely and deeply grateful to the hundreds of people who helped us make this dream into a reality. This community is terrific and we all bow to you in thanks.