Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open letter to the NVDA community: Hartgen Consultancy, we owe you an apology, important reminder for the NVDA community

To Hartgen Consultancy and the NVDA community,

First, I’d like to commend Hartgen Consultancy for their excellent support for screen reader users and providing products that are empowering many blind people around the world. Also, I’d like to commend the NVDA community for your continued support for NVDA and championing open-source development. The impact of work done by both entities can be felt across the world.

As I read Brian Hartgen’s article on the backstory of Dictation Bridge, and being familiar with articles from Chris Hofstater and with the Dictation Bridge project itself, I believe we the NVDA community owe Hartgen Consultancy a heartfelt apology. At the same time, I would like to take this time to seriously remind the NVDA user community (especially those on social media) that your attitudes, words and actions could have impact on reputation of the screen reader itself.

First, to Brian: As I read your article regarding backstory of Dictation Bridge and your defense, I felt uneasy regarding the treatment you’ve received. Although I do understand where Chris is coming from based on interaction between you and the unnamed beta tester, I felt more uncomfortable after reading how some on the NVDA community have reacted to your article and sent harsh words via social media. Although I do understand their message (looking at facts and trends, power of crowdfunding, price and so on), I believe we the NVDA community members should have done better when it comes to being courteous and professional.

As a code contributor to a screen reader and a fellow community and user side advocate, I’d like to take this time to apologize on behalf of the NVDA community. Certainly the actions and words used by some in our community are unacceptable, especially against a reputable source who can give them much needed information and can bring unique perspective to NVDA development (as you pointed out in your GPL article). Keep up the good work you are doing not only for users of JAWS and NVDA, but also for the wider blindness community.

To the NVDA community: If there are three things I will not accept from this community, it will be derogatory name calling, concentrated harassment and the idea that we should enforce our beliefs and practices of open-source and free availability. Concentrated harassment, as we’ve seen today on Twitter, not only hurts the harassed, but also jeopardizes the reputation of NVDA itself. Name calling, especially derogatory ones such as “shark” for JAWS, isn’t funny when you look at it from the perspective of the targeted: although it might be a joke, to some, it is a statement that seriously questions their self-worth. Open-source and free availability is good if exercised correctly, but enforcing that belief on a product with incompatible licensing terms or code that cannot be shared due to restrictions isn’t going to help us achieve our goals (worse, it could backfire, citing brand image, customer relations and so on).

Would anyone use a product where people are known to harass those who use other products? Would anyone come and talk to a representative of a community if the community in question has a history of name calling? Would anyone be persuaded to join the bandwagon if onlookers get an impression that all we do is go around and enforce our belief of open-source and free availability everywhere? As it stands now, the reputation of this community, and in extension, NVDA itself, is in jeopardy due to our careless words, actions and attitudes over the years. And don’t take this lightly: the reputation of NonVisual Desktop Access is shaped by you: attitudes, words and actions, as much as it is shaped by your enthusiasm, support, promotions and help to those who really need help using NVDA to its full potential.
Fellow NVDA community members, as we’re celebrating NVDA’s tenth anniversary this year, let us take a moment to reflect upon our attitudes, words and actions. Please don’t forget this: what makes NVDA special and worth trying (or moving away from it) is us: users, developers, supporters and others who are part of this community. Please don’t ruin the reputation of this community-driven screen reader (I myself would feel uneasy if I’m in a similar situation like Hartgen Consultancy, and so would NV Access and others in this community).


Joseph S. Lee
Translator, code contributor and community add-ons reviewer, NVDA screen reader project
Chair, NVDA Tenth Anniversary Planning Committee
Moderator, NVDA International Users list


  1. I must say that I whole heartedly agree with this post. I have sent Brian Hartgen a personal apology for the message I wrote while in a state of rage to him last summer. When I read Brian's note to the unnamed beta tester, a long time friend of mine whom I felt was under a legal attack, I reacted very badly and am very sorry for having sent an email containing truly hurtful statements.

    Brian Hartgen is not a bad person. He and I may disagree on philosophical issues and the economics of how we each believe that software should be developed and delivered but the email I sent to him last summer treated him without any sense of humanity and I deeply regret having written that message.

    Like so many of the rest of us, Brian is a good person trying to do good things for other people with vision impairment. He is definitely not the enemy that I treated him like and I'm very sorry for any collateral damage that I may have caused the NVDA community by having written such an abhorrent set of statements to him. I couldn't control my temper and feel a lot of shame for having been such a jerk.

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