Apple promotes accessibility tech with dedicated Apple Care team, app curation


Apple builds accessibility features into all of its technology.

James Martin/CNET

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Apple this month will be featuring a host of apps and other services to help people with disabilities — and make sure we’re all aware of what that technology is. 

The company has launched a dedicated Apple Care support team for people with disabilities. It also has extended its education discount to faculty, staff and homeschoolers working with students of all grade levels who are enrolled in special education or assistive services at their school. 

And starting Thursday, it will be highlighting accessibility apps, movies and shows to bring awareness to people with disabilities.  

The new accessibility information comes as Apple and the rest of the world grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has killed nearly 260,000 people worldwide and infected more than 3.7 million. Tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment, and the US economy shrank nearly 5% between January and March. Apple has helped health workers and others through the crisis, donating millions of dollars, more than 30 million masks and 7.5 million face shields to help combat the coronavirus. 

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Some people with disabilities may be at higher risk for getting sick, but they’re also dealing with issues related to lockdowns. People can’t go to their normal therapy sessions or meet with their special education teachers. They may feel isolated or lack the services they normally require. Their caregivers, many of whom who are holding down their full-time jobs from home, also become teachers for their children, whether they’re qualified or not. 

Technology could be a way to help people with disabilities during the pandemic. In the past, people with special needs had to shell out thousands of dollars for technology that magnified their computer screens, spoke navigation directions, identified their money and recognized the color of their clothes. Today, users only need smartphones, computers and a handful of apps and accessories to help them get through their physical and online worlds.

The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that a quarter of Americans live with some sort of disability. Global Accessibility Awareness Day, taking place May 21, is in its ninth year. 

“While people may be interested in the topic of making technology accessible and usable by persons with disabilities, the reality is that they often do not know how or where to start,” GAAD organizers said on the celebration’s website. “Awareness comes first.”

Making tech accessible

Apple has made accessibility a focus for decades. It builds features into its technology to do things like help people with low vision navigate the iPhone’s touchscreen or allow people with motor impairments to virtually tap on interface icons. Nearly four years ago, Apple kicked off one of its flashy product launches by talking about accessibility and showing off its new, dedicated site.

“Technology should be accessible to everyone,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at the time. 

Despite Apple’s efforts to talk up its accessibility features, many people still don’t know they exist. Some, like turning an iPhone’s operating system grayscale, can be helpful even for people who don’t have disabilities. 

To that end, Apple this month will curate accessibility apps in its App Store, highlight video tutorials on its YouTube page and feature files and shows recommended by actors with disabilities in the Apple TV app

Starting Thursday, the App Store’s Today section will include an extensive curated collection of accessibility apps. They help with everything from routine home tasks to accessible gaming. Featured apps include Speech BlurbsVoice DreamRoger Voice and The ASL App.

Within the Apple TV app, Apple will showcase favorite films and shows from actors with disabilities like Zach Gottsagen from the film “Peanut Butter Falcon,” Lolo Spencer of “Give Me Liberty” and Steve Way from the show Ramy. Apple TV Plus, the company’s video streaming service, provides audio descriptions for hard-of-hearing people in Dolby Atmos, a first for the immersive sound technology that makes you feel like you’re surrounded by the action. 

On the Apple Support YouTube channel, the company will be posting new tips and tricks to help people take advantage of the company’s accessibility features. 

It also now has a dedicated Apple Support team to help people with disabilities. The service is available all day, every day in English and Mandarin, and customers can access Apple Support by phone (in the US at 877-204-3930), online and through chat, as well as from the Contact section of the Apple Support app. Apple also has an Apple Support site that details ways to use accessibility features.

In terms of remote learning, Apple is giving education pricing to students enrolled in programs like the Council of Schools & Services for the Blind, state schools for the deaf and hard of hearing and school programs for students with learning, intellectual or developmental disabilities. It’s also offering help for teachers and parents of students with disabilities at home, including one-on-one virtual coaching sessions available from Apple Professional Learning specialists. 

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