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Debra Ruh

Employability & Technology

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Why Is Apple Embracing the Community of People with Disabilities?

Apple is said to be taking steps to make its iPhone and iPad more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Debra Ruh probes into Apple's 'culture of care' to understand why the company is championing accessibility in its products.
Apple is said to be taking steps to make its iPhone and iPad more user-friendly for people with disabilities. Since the products all use touch screens, some with visual or mobility impairments can have trouble with the devices; however, in a recent filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple has said it is seeking to patent a method for connecting its products to accessories that could act in place of a touch screen. I know their products have always been thoughtfully designed, with assistive technology included in all of their devices as a standard feature. Now it looks like they are planning to take it a step further – raising the bar for accessible mobile technology.


Apple product range, iPods, iPhones and iPads


So why does Apple care so much whether or not people with disabilities can use their products. According to She-conomy, an online guide for marketing to women, women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, including everything from autos to health care.

I recently joined the legions of Apple users by buying and falling in love with my iPad2. My son, a senior in VCU Arts College, has been a long-time fan of Apple products and encouraged me to give them a try. At first I was all thumbs and couldn’t even figure out simple things like cut and paste. I was a programmer for many years, and because of that I think the problem was that I was trying to make everything so complicated. I had been training myself for many, many years to navigate around my Windows based PCs, and I wasn’t expecting my iPad to be so intuitive. Don’t get me wrong I am still a big fan of my PC and Windows, but I do adore my iPad2.

I didn’t have to go to Apple to get a tablet – there are some amazing tablets on the market that use Windows-based operating systems. Still, I am a technologist and I have been reading all the amazing articles about how accessible the iPhones and iPads are for my community – the community of people with disabilities. My husband and I have two children,  Sara 24 and Kevin 23. Sara was born with Down Syndrome and she has inspired me every day of my life. Sara took to the iPad2 like a fish to water. I was so surprised because as I fumbled along trying to make my PC brain work on the iPad, she was just zooming along. Flipping on movies, eBooks, podcasts and music, and let me tell you she is an expert at purchasing items from iTunes. It was amazing to watch and I wondered how much better her education would have been if she would have had access to a device like the iPad. As a parent, I am grateful to Apple for including her in the wonderful digital movement. She is saving her money to buy her own iPad so she can have full access. Now if only I could figure out how to lock her out of iTunes! (Guess I will have to ask Sara how to do that…!).

Like my own, 1 in 3 households in the US are impacted by someone with disabilities. Likewise, the 2000 U.S. Census reported that almost 42% of older adults (65+) have one or more disabilities. In fact, the percentage of people with disabilities is larger than any single ethnic, racial, or cultural group. At 19.3%, the number of people with disabilities exceeds the next largest group – Hispanic people (14.9%) – by a fairly wide margin.

In the UK, the numbers are also equally as large. For example — CSR Europe, a European business network of Corporate Social Responsibility, estimates that 8.6 million people (aged 16 and over) self-identify as having a disability, which translates into 15% of the population. Those over 50 years of age currently account for one fifth of the UK population, and they own more than 80 percent of the country’s asset wealth and are the group most likely to vote in general elections. Surprising to some, 33% of 50-60 year olds now have a disability. In all of Europe it is estimated that at least 39 million people have a disability. It is also estimated that in every country 10 to 20 percent of the population has some form of disability, a number that is expected to grow.

On a global scale, the National Organization on Disabilities says that this powerful group controls over USD3 trillion in discretionary income worldwide, and the numbers are growing. Why would a company as smart as Apple care about this segment? I would say that it’s because it is providing them a solid return on investment and they are making a profit for their efforts. My family will certainly continue to buy their products – not only because they are convenient and easy to use, but because we choose to support companies that make their products and services accessible to ALL people.

Kudos to Apple – I wish them huge success in all of their future endeavors!


Related Items:

• Making Advanced Technology Useful for Independent Living for Disabled People at Home


• AppleTV 5.2 Update brings Accessibility Changes

• Press Release from Council of Canadians with Disabilities

• Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum: Towards an Accessible Internet for People with Disabilities, New Delhi, India

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