My Deaf/Blind Heros

A Story of Congruence with Apple Values

Robert McKeon Aloe
4 min readMay 21, 2020

When I was 8, I watched the movie Blind Fury, and I wanted to be like the main character. I wanted to not have to see, but hear the world. So I put on a blindfold and ran into walls for a few days. I discovered memory helped more than improving my hearing, but I was fascinated. I also had a deeper understanding of the difficulty a blind person faced, and I better understood that Blind Fury was a movie and not a reality for most blind people. I’m a little ashamed to say this fascination caused me to close my eyes while riding a bike once a few years later. It ended with two badly scraped knees which is a miracle considering I was on a street where a car could have hit me.

Product Accessibility

When I started at Apple, I worked on the Watch on Wrist-Detection. I made sure there was an option to turn it off if need be for the sake of accessibility because I didn’t want to exclude someone with a prosthetic arm from wearing the Watch. I haven’t heard of a case like that yet, but I considered accessibility.

Fast forward to Face ID: I met with the Accessibility the first time because my team was helping understand the needs of blind people and people with other disabilities when it came to using Face ID. For blind people, the key feature to be able to turn off was the attention feature for unlock and the attention aware features.

During this discussion, I threw out a question while having some small talk, and it changed how I saw accessibility features. I asked politely “What is the compelling feature for a blind person to buy the Watch?”

I was told the Watch was an amazing thing for them. It allowed them to interact with their phone without taking their phone out of their pocket which reduces the risk of theft while in the city. Turns out to be a common problem. It allows them to get turn by turn directions through haptics on their wrist. When that feature was discussed in the keynote, I wasn’t sure I would find it useful, but it is very useful to an entire community of people. There is about 1.3 million legally blind people in the US.

Little did I know that was the tip of the iceberg. The conversation then turned to the deaf/blind community. This is a much smaller group, about 40,000 in the US. I was told the deaf/blind use and love the Watch as well. I was pointed to a woman who made videos explaining how she used both. I watched her videos and wanted to cry.

This is her blog and an article she wrote about how helpful the Apple Watch has been for her:

I knew our products impacted people lives, and many times it felt like we just made a better watch than everyone else. But to see how the Watch allows a deaf/blind person to live more fully, that is amazing. That is hitting the values of life changing, quality, and accessibility that motivate meet to reach higher everyday. Taking so much care to make sure everyone can use these products fills me with a deep sense of congruence as the outcome matches the values we started with.

Other Considerations

I recently broke my phone screen, and only the top half of the touch screen worked. I turned on voice control as a means to continue using the phone because switching phones takes time, and I needed to keep going in the day. It was both difficult to get used to but helped fortify in me the need for the feature because some people can’t touch the screen even when the screen isn’t broken.

I challenge you to use voice control for one full day!

Another area I find important is color blindness. As a data scientist, I plot data often, and I love using colors. Adding different symbols instead of just colors can help color blind people better read graphs. I forget to do this some times, but I try to because I don’t want to lock people out of data.

I have become an Accessibility Advocate in my group. I ask others what more can be done. In this age of technology, the Watch should only be the starting point to improving people’s lives especially people with vision impairment.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.