Blind and low vision users who want to test drive the Apple Watch’s accessibility features can now call 1-800-692-7753 and make a special Apple Store appointment to try on a fully-functional model. Test one out for yourself, then let us know how it went, by either commenting on this blog post or by talking to us on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s a little counterintuitive, even surprising to the general public: the idea that a smooth, buttonless touchscreen display could work for someone with little or no vision. And yet, since Apple’s release of VoiceOver in 2009, the iPhone has become the flagship product for what the National Federation of the Blind calls a “revolutionary breakthrough” in access. And they’re not exaggerating, either. The independence, information, and entertainment that the iPhone has given to its blind and low vision users has not only made it the go-to device when it comes to accessible technology, but has put significant positive pressure on apps, websites, and other services which rely heavily on iPhone users for their business.
Enter the Apple Watch — the newest, perhaps fanciest mobile device ever from Apple. The Watch has been buzzed about more than almost any other Apple product before, and now, months and months after its initial announcement, it’s finally reaching the public. We’ve been waiting with baited breath, watching over previous weeks as technology professionals, journalists, and advocates all over the world unboxed their Watches or walked into stores to find out if Apple had put the requisite thought and care into the accessibility of this new product. In an interview with Pacific Standard, Michael Hansen of the accessibility blog AppleVis preaches cautious optimism, but like many blind and low vision Apple fans, we’re ready for answers, sitting around at the LightHouse wondering: can we use this thing?
The answer, as far as we can tell, is an emphatic yes. And Apple has gone out of its way to reassure blind users that they will have ample opportunity to test out the Watch’s accessibility before they make the big purchase.
But at first this didn’t seem like an option. The demo models that sat lashed to tables in Apple stores around the world were, for blind users, no better than toy mockups. You couldn’t turn on the supposed Accessibility settings, least of all send a message or recreate an action that you might actually take in your daily life. The #a11y (accessibility) community started to cringe, but luckily, Apple identified the issue, and swooped in with a more than adequate solution.
As AppleVis points out, testing the Apple Watch as a blind consumer is now as easy as making a single phone call and scheduling an appointment. The number is 1-800-692-7753 (US and Canada), and all you need to do is say you’d like a Watch appointment, then pick your Apple store. Make sure to specify that you’d like to test its accessibility features, and they will have someone fully equipped to show you how it all works.
There’s never any way of telling if a product is going to be a huge success or a huge flop, but already outselling all previous Android wearables, it’s hard to imagine that at this point Apple can go very wrong. And as long as the company is providing access to everyone, regardless of their physical differences, we’re behind any new product that could improve quality of life. Some potential uses for the Apple Watch include improved guidance, fitness apps, and not losing track of hardware that’s fragile or too small to find. Sounds good to us.
If you take all these steps, what we’d really love is your feedback. Let us know how it goes!
Note: Be advised that, though you don’t need to bring anything to the appointment, the Watch itself is meant to function only in tandem with an iPhone.
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