Thursday, May 17 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and ahead of the event CNET has spoken to individuals with disabilities, accessibility advocates, and Apple’s own director of global accessibility policy and initiatives, Sarah Herrlinger, to discuss the company’s efforts in this field.
Showing off the wheelchair workouts on Apple Watch, two-time U.S. Paralympian Austin Pruitt explained how he uses a racing wheelchair in a stationary workout routine to help him keep in shape. Pruitt has cerebral palsy from the knees down, but he continues to compete in the Paralympic Games by racing in a wheelchair, and the Apple Watch has replaced bulky trackers in his workout routines.
He said he used to set up a bunch of trackers on his chair to log his workouts, but now uses just an Apple Watch instead.
“This has everything,” he told me. “This has my wheelchair and my walking, all in one.”
Apple added a “Wheelchair” setting to the Apple Watch in watchOS 3, allowing the device’s activity options to be customized for wheelchair users. This means that controlling and pushing a wheelchair contributes to all-day calorie goals, “time to roll” notifications remind users when to be a bit more active, and new wheelchair-specific workouts provide customized sessions for users like Pruitt.
According to Herrlinger, accessibility updates (like the wheelchair setting in Apple Watch) are something the company tries to add into its devices every year.
“Every year we try to add in new things. We do look at how can we make it slightly better year over year,” Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s director of global accessibility policy and initiatives, said about the company’s work on its iOS and MacOS operating systems.
Other popular accessibility options on Apple products include VoiceOver on iPhone, which describes what’s on the device’s screen for visually impaired users. Apple’s home automation platform, HomeKit, is also featured on its accessibility web page since it can help a wide variety of users accomplish tasks like turning on lights, starting a coffee pot, or changing the temperature by speaking near an iOS device or HomePod.
Apple is expected to continue to celebrate and promote Global Accessibility Awareness Day throughout the week, if previous years are any indication. Around this time last year, the company highlighted the event with new “Designed for” videos, a series of interviews CEO Tim Cook gave with three accessibility activists, and a concert at One Infinite Loop where Stevie Wonder performed.