Steve Jobs' accessibility breakthrough

October 18, 2011

Is it too late for one more more post about Steve Jobs?

One more, just to say that, besides the genius of the technology he developed, there was a quiet and intense humanity that revolutionized in many ways a community that retailers don’t usually knock themselves out to reach out to?

There has been so very much about Jobs in the last weeks -- about his life, his family, his battles, his patents, his Stanford speech, his fortune, his ferocity, his single-mindedness -- but I just want a pause here for a sec to salute Jobs for something entirely different: the way he integrated, promoted and secured accessability in so many Apple products.

What was most radical in Apple’s approach is that it includes most accessibility technologies in most products as a matter of course. In other words, no customizing, no paying extra, no being different.

“Apple building accessibility into all of their devices means that a blind person can purchase a device from a store and use it immediately,” wrote Austin Seraphin in his blog, Behind the Curtain. “We have never had this before. For the first time we can use the same devices as our sighted friends, family, and coworkers. Apple’s line of accessibility technology has opened the world up to the blind. No other corporation has done what Apple has done.”

Consider, for example, that VoiceOver is standard in OS X -- an easy feature that allows moving through the technology with simple gestures, braille display, autospeaking pages instead of complicated key instructions. Imagine for a minute what that means to a blind person.

But it’s been with some of Apple’s most popular products, such as the iPhone, iPod and iPad, that the world has opened up for disabled users. Besides obvious features that make usage easier, such as the Touch Tone screens, these machines have sparked breakthroughs in developments.

For people on the autism spectrum, these relatively affordable technologies have helped ease speech and communications, inspired schools to create support programs for entire families, and generally made life considerably easier.

We frequently think of Apple products as leisure, as tremendously creative work tools. But for some of us, they are way more: they are portals to the world.