A Fort Wayne adaptive technology company has inked a deal with Microsoft Corp. that makes the company's applications free for the blind.
GW Micro Inc. on Tuesday announced the partnership that gives blind and visually impaired individuals computing power and access to Microsoft Office. Terms of the licensing agreement were undisclosed.
"People like myself are finally able to get access to jobs they didn't have access to in the past," said Jeremy Curry, director of training at GW Micro. Curry is blind.
The company's Window-Eyes screen-reader system enables visually impaired people to use the keyboard to navigate on a laptop computer or PC. Voice commands direct them while they listen to email, the Internet, Microsoft applications and other programs.
The free offer is available only to Microsoft Office users.
Although GW Micro and Microsoft would not reveal the value of the free services, David Nelson, president and CEO of League for the Blind & Disabled, knows it's hefty.
"This stuff is not cheap," he said. "For me, this is just another barrier that has been removed, and that's an economic barrier."
Numbers from GW Micro's website bear him out.
The company's screen-reader software costs $895, and while minor updates are free, major changes to the system would carry a fee.
Not now, though.
"This is going to benefit tens of thousands of people," Nelson said.
The League for the Blind & Disabled, 5821 S. Anthony Blvd., serves about 600 people in Allen County, about 30 percent of whom are blind or visually impaired.
Dan Weirich, co-founder of GW Micro, which began in 1990, said that as the population ages, services such as screen readers will become more common.
For now, visually impaired or blind students in area schools and colleges can take advantage of the service, Weirich said. His company is at 725 Airport North Office Park.
"This significant change in the way we are doing business reflects the changing perception of accessibility and also technology in general," he said.
Microsoft official Daniel Hubbell is impressed by GW Micro's efforts.
"Technology can produce barriers, and this partnership addresses that," he said. "The barriers of technology should be taken down."
The National Federation of the Blind praised the GW Micro and Microsoft alliance Tuesday, calling it revolutionary.
"For the first time, users of Microsoft Office 2010 or later will not have to pay hundreds of dollars in order to obtain an accessibility solution," Marc Maurer, president of the federation, said in a statement.
The print edition of The Journal Gazette and an earlier online version of this story had some incorrect titles and address information because of copy editing errors.