A new voice has been added to the many voices in the securities field. It is the synthetic voice of the Information Thru Speech (ITS) talking microprocessor used by Chris Harvey, a blind account executive at Wheat, First Securities Inc. in Bethesda.
Amid the noise made by humans, other computers and ringing telephones in the brokerage office, Harvey says his computer provides him with all of the securities information he needs to perform his job.
"There are very few people in the securities field using talking computers nationwide. However, I see them becoming more common in the general office situation to increase productivity, because by reinforcing sight with audible cues, errors are easier to spot. I see them being used by both blind and non-blind people," says Harvey.
Since December 1982, Harvey has been using his ITS nine hours a day. ITS is connected to a telephone computer controlled display system--consisting of two main-frame computers whose speed and storage capacity provide information, storage, retrieval and data-processing capabilities. With a flip of a switch, ITS translates data bases stored in the main office computer.
"I have stored in my ITS a portfolio on each client," Harvey says. "This includes their name, phone number, the name of each stock, stock symbol, stock shares, price purchase and the date of purchase.
"The portfolio has been cross-indexed to a holders' file, which lists the names of clients who own various stocks, their number of shares, the original purchase price and current market value. When I receive news about a particular stock, I call up the index to learn which of my clients need to be notified. My ITS then reads me the information I want. In any given day I may speak to as many as 30 clients on the telephone."
Harvey was able to fulfill his goal of becoming a stock broker after a friend contacted Wheat, First Chairman James C. Wheat Jr., who is also blind. Harvey followed through with a phone call to Wheat. After a series of interviews in the firm's Bethesda office, he was offered a job.
In October 1982, Harvey visited Maryland Computer Services Inc., in Forest Hills. The company manufactures ITS and other talking products. He was impressed by ITS, purchased a unit and took a three-day training course.
ITS is a microprocessor that produces information both visually and vocally. Its rate of speech ranges from 45 to 720 words per minute. Users can listen to the information at the rate of a word, a single line, a sentence, paragraph or page at a time.
Information can be spelled out or repeated for verification. ITS is programmed with over 400 rules for standard English pronunciation, to which special pronunciations for codes, abbreviations and other exceptions can be added. ccording to Mike Mason, vice president of marketing for Maryland Computers Services, Harvey is the only person the firm has ever encountered who uses a talking computer to do securities work.
"While there are other brokers with visual handicaps, to our knowledge Mr. Harvey is the first person to master the state-of-the-art synthesized speech technology in the financial industry," Mason said.
In addition to customer records, Harvey also uses ITS to obtain quotes, research reports, bond inventories and other information. To obtain a quote, he presses the keys for the stock symbol on the keyboard and it appears on the screen. He then presses the print key and sends the data from the main terminal to his ITS screen. ITS then reads him the information.
If a client wants to know the annual high or closing price of a stock, he can retrieve this information and give it to a client as it is being read to him by ITS.
"Since I started working here late in 1982, it has always been important for me to be independent," Harvey says. "With ITS, I can do the same work as others, keep more records than those stored in the main office and I have even developed a work system that is more time efficient than standard office procedures."
As with many blind people, Harvey has learned that talking computers can compensate for a disability. However, he has not always been visually handicapped. He was blinded by a gunshot wound in May 1980, during his junior year at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W. Va. Both of his eyes were removed and later replaced.
Determined to complete his education, he returned to school in three months. With support from his family and assistance from a reading service for the visually handicapped, he was able to get his text books tape-recorded. In 1981, he graduated cum laude with a B. S. degree in business administration.
Harvey has the distinction of being the first visually-handicapped master's degree candidate to enroll in the University of Virginia graduate program in economics. He currently is working on his thesis.
Harvey says speech technology has played a major role in giving him the opportunity to compete in a sighted world, in a business environment primarily suited for sighted people.