Hacking HAM Radios

Foreword By Chris Hofstader

Joseph introduces himself in his story but I wanted to tell you more about him than would be proper for an article on how he hacks HAM radio firmware to make it more accessible.

A real long time ago when Freedom Scientific was still Henter-Joyce, we hired a market research firm called Reality Based Marketing (RBM) to help us determine what blind people would need and/or want from a screen reader in the coming decade. RBM did not survey blind professionals, blind engineers, blind entrepreneurs or any other blind people as far as we could tell. Instead, the chose to focus on so called experts and gathered their data from rehabilitation specialists and those who train people to use screen readers, a population that doesn't represent blind people and aren't technology experts but, rather, they are special education specialists. When Eric Damery and I reviewed the results a couple of things jumped out at us as looking very strange. The report told us that less than 2% of all blind people cared to use a spreadsheet and less than 1% cared at all about Macintosh accessibility. As we made a Windows product, we didn't think much about the Apple number but the 2% spreadsheet number jumped out as wrong.

Eric and I called Joseph who had done some contract scripting for us in the past and offered him the enormous sum of $2500 (USD) to "make Excel sing." Joseph would proceed to make the Excel support in JAWS so good that it was unparalleled in any other screen reader. We would then hire Joseph full time and, while I often wrote the spec, it was him who did almost all of the coding that made JAWS the giant in the MS Office apps that it remains today. Joseph's work won us a lot of contracts and is a big part of how JAWS grew to a one time 83% marketshare. If you use JAWS, you are running Joseph's code every day. As this story is about HAM radios, please do not contact Joseph with any questions regarding JAWS, call tech support if you have such a query.

Hacking Amateur Radios By Joseph Stephen

I am Joseph Stephen. I am a totally blind software engineer. Besides working on JAWS for Windows for more than 25 years, I also work on open source amateur radio projects, adding full 100% accessibility to amateur radio transceivers.

AccessibleGD77 is replacement firmware for the Radioddity GD77, GD77S, Baofeng DM1801, DM1801A and RD5R. This is mature firmware which adds not only better accessibility than the original open firmware, but dozens of other features as well.

I am also contributing to another open source project, still in its infancy, called OpenRTX which will work on a bunch of other radios such as the Tyt MD380, 390, UV380, UV390, MD9600 and Ailance HD1, with possibly more coming in the future.

I am always disappointed when new products purportedly for the blind are released only to find that many are half baked and developed by sighted folk who think accessibility stops at a few voice prompts with heaps of bugs still lurking in the firmware. To be able to completely control the development of a product however, and to add 100% of the features requested by blind folk is a huge step forward in accessibility.

These accessible radios must be purchased from regular outlets and the accessible firmware and voice prompts loaded onto them using software running on your computer.

If you are interested in Amateur Radio, and particularly these accessible radios, please contact me by email.


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