How the Apple Watch is changing deafblind lives

Why a small charity wants to give deafblind people an Apple Watch

Apple, iOS, WWDC, accessiblity, blind, deaf, Apple Watch, deafblind, watchOS 3, Usher Syndrome

A picture of the Empowerment statue designed by artist Stephen Broadbent.

Credit: Martin Pettitt

I’ve come across a compelling story that shows how Apple Watch can make a huge difference to enable deafblind people to live more independent lives.

It's all available in this extensive post written by Usher Syndrome sufferer, Lady Usher. The author is London-based and gets around with the aid of a cane, a guide dog and an iPhone, but Apple Watch is transforming her life.


“My new Apple Watch has made things so much easier,” she writes. “I simply key in my route on my phone, pop it in my bag and the watch, hidden safely on my wrist, vibrates to tell me to go left and right using two different tactile pulses. Another signal lets me know when I have arrived at my destination. It is such a simple idea and so damn enabling.”

“Just three weeks after I got the watch, my guide dog and I entered a month-long team steps challenge at my work place. Together, we walked almost 200 miles through the busy streets of London, simply by following the vibrations of the AppleWatch and the simple on screen instructions. For the first time ever, it felt like we owned the streets. The whole of London has opened up to me for the first time since I lost my sight.”

Apple Pay has enabled her to pay for items in the shops, while timers and apps such as the famed boiled egg timer app help her prepare food, which is way more difficult to do when you can’t hear or see.

The Molly Watt Trust

The Apple Watch was provided by the Molly Watt Trust, a small charity that helps Usher syndrome sufferers, the syndrome is an inherited condition characterized by hearing impairment and progressive vision loss. The Trust is currently campaigning to raise funds to provide an Apple Watch to Usher Syndrome sufferers.

The charity explains its decision to provide Apple Watch is based on the fact that most of the people it seeks to help already use an iPhone in preference to other smartphone brands because of “its amazing built in accessibility” features. Apple leads in terms of including accessibility inside its products -- its recently announced wheelchair-focused Activity app for Apple Watch is just one of many examples.

Another accessibility tool you can look forward to in watchOS 3 is custom made for VoiceOver users, where, “Apple added Taptic Time allowing you to silently feel the time instead of hearing it. It’s available with three time telling options including Digits, Terse and Morse Code,” a source said.

The future of accessibility

“The Apple Watch has the ability to enhance a life and also to allow independence,” the Molly Watt Trust explained. “Along with these amazing features it also has great connectivity and the ability to control certain hearing aids which then allow more enhancement to everyday life.”

The extensive post also discusses other ways in which technology could potentially make life easier for deafblind people, from notions of sending tannoy announcements and platform changes directly to the Watch to haptic navigation of indoor spaces.

“Life in future is set to get a lot easier for a deaf person who is going blind. The AppleWatch may well be a game changer for deafblind people,” the blogger explains.

In many ways much of the key enabling technologies in development today will transform lives. Autonomous vehicles, wearables, virtual reality, beacons-based mapping systems, artificial intelligence, all these technologies should enable levels of autonomy you just don’t enjoy today if you happen to be physically disadvantaged.

“We are on the verge of great technology breakthroughs that will help to level the playing field even for those who are both deaf and blind,” she writes.

With Activity, Health, ResearchKit, CareKit, Breathe and organ donation solutions, Apple’s focus on health will continue to transform lives.

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