President’s Message: ACB Recognizes Apple for Bringing Accessibility to the Blind Community Right Out of the Box

by Kim Charlson

I’m not generally compelled to write about the activities of a specific manufacturer or service provider, but in the case of Apple, I decided to make an exception.
Technology plays a powerful role in helping individuals to be more productive, creative and independent. With innovative assistive technologies built right in, Apple products are powerful and affordable assistive devices. The Apple ecosystem of accessible devices has played a pivotal role in supporting users who are blind or have low vision to achieve educational, professional, and personal goals.
Apple has built accessibility tools that open up the world of information to the visually impaired. With advances in voice recognition and screen-reading software and Apple’s dedicated effort to create a screen navigation system for blind and low-vision people, Apple has brought access to the mainstream and done it without charging for it. Few people who are blind or visually impaired can say that they haven’t been impacted by or taken advantage of either VoiceOver or Zoom on the iOS platform.
Apple CEO Tim Cook takes our issue personally. He addressed the company’s accessibility mission in a 2013 speech at Auburn University, his alma mater. People with disabilities “are frequently left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others,” he said. “Apple engineers push back against this unacceptable reality.”
Sarah Herrlinger, a 13-year veteran of Apple and the senior manager of Apple Global Accessibility, stated, “We believe everyone who wants to use Apple technology should be able to do so and in the way that works best for them. We work hard to build our hardware, software and services with accessibility integrated throughout.”
After three years as a senior product marketing manager in Apple’s Consumer Applications Division, Sarah joined Apple’s Education team as the manager of Special Education and Global Accessibility efforts. In this role, Sarah collaborated with government and special education leaders, worked with Apple product teams to ensure that products continued to meet the needs of diverse learners, and worked to promote Apple’s accessibility message at the national and international levels.
Sarah stresses, “We build accessibility into the core of our products. ... Instead of asking, ‘Why would you make a camera accessible to the blind?,’ Apple asked, ‘How can we do it?’”
At Apple, accessibility is championed as a basic human right and influences all Apple platforms. Sarah continues to play a key role in Apple’s long-range commitment to accessibility.
Because of this corporate and individual commitment to accessibility, ACB decided to recognize both the corporation and the lead change agent within the company for access, Sarah Herrlinger, with the Robert S. Bray Award. It is my belief that both Apple, Inc. and Sarah Herrlinger deserved special recognition from ACB. The award was presented on July 4 in Minneapolis at our convention. The date was very fitting to recognize an individual and a corporation that have delivered true independence to thousands of people who are blind around the world!