To coincide with World Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), Apple announced the availability of a new service called SignTime. The service offers the ability to connect Apple Store and Apple Support employees to a sign language interpreter to assist customers. Initially, the service will be rolled out with support for American Sign Language (ASL) in the United States, British Sign Language (BSL) in the United Kingdom, or French Sign Language (LSF) in France. . Customers can access the service through the browser or in Apple Stores, where they can use SignTime to remotely access a sign language interpreter without having to book in advance.
With this announcement, Apple also launched a series of accessibility features which will be deployed on Apple Watch, iPhone and iPad. AssistiveTouch for watchOS allows users with differing upper body limbs to use Apple Watch without having to touch the screen or digital crown. iPadOS will support third-party eye tracking devices, which will allow users to control the iPad using only their eyes. VoiceOver, the screen reader for blind and visually impaired communities, can now better describe images that share details of a person’s position in relation to other objects. Apple is adding support for new two-way hearing aids so that users can use the microphones to have hands-free and FaceTime phone conversations. Finally, Apple is introducing new background sounds to help minimize distractions and help users focus, stay calm, or rest, which seems especially timely as many prepare to re-enter the world after vaccination.
When it comes to accessibility, it’s hard to find a brand that thinks more carefully about its products. At the heart of Apple’s will is the belief that only by considering the full range of human experiences can you create the most personal technology and devices. Of course, serving a group that, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020, is one of the largest underserved groups in the United States, numbering 67 million adults, or 26 % of the population, also makes excellent business sense.
“American research institutes (AIR) Calculated in 2018 that the 20 million working adults in the United States (aged 16 to 24) with disabilities had collective after-tax disposable income of $ 490 billion, slightly lower than that of black consumers ($ 501 billion) and Hispanics ($ 582 billion). Discretionary income averaged about $ 17,000 per person, or $ 21 million in total, more than the $ 19 million for the black and Hispanic market segments combined. “
All of the features announced this week will make a difference for Apple customers, but I found the connection between SignTime and Apple Store to be particularly interesting. Apple Stores remain the most diverse part of Apple’s workforce. The most recent diversity and inclusion data shows that over 60% of Apple’s retail team members and over 50% of US retail executives come from communities under-represented. Women make up 35% of the global retail team and 38% of global leadership.
This diversity in the Apple Store creates a welcoming atmosphere and a point of reference for many visitors who come to buy a product, get help, or just charge their devices while working. This ease that customers find in Apple stores is the reason why Apple was able to use its stores as a link to the community. In the past, Apple has provided ASL interpreters at its Washington, DC locations starting in 2019 at its flagship store in the Carnegie Library. The District of Columbia is home to one of the largest deaf and hard of hearing communities in the country, as well as Gallaudet University, the most prestigious university in the United States for the deaf and hard of hearing. Customers at these DC stores could count on ASL interpreters to shop and attend Today at Apple classes and events. Today at Apple events online have also supported ASL. In February 2021, this program was extended to customers across the United States who could request an ASL interpreter when booking in-store appointments online. Apple has also extended the Interpreter Program overseas: deaf and hard of hearing customers in the UK, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland could ask interpreters to take care of the sign language specific to their country.
Adding the ability to use an interpreter when employees working in stores cannot assist in ASL is another way to create a welcoming environment. Not having a reservation normalizes customers who need ASL assistance in the same way a customer who spoke a different language would.
Today, approximately one million people use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary medium of communication, according to the Deaf Communication Service. ASL is used by deaf and hard of hearing communities, as well as people with communication disabilities. Yet this only represents about 1% of the entire deaf and hard of hearing community. According to Communication Services for the Deaf: 98% of deaf people do not receive sign language education and 72% of families do not sign with their deaf children. While some government departments have ensured that important information reaches the deaf and hard of hearing community by creating videos or establishing an American Sign Language hotline, most organizations in the public and private sectors do not offer support. for ASL via their sites or their place of residence. business.
As we wait for artificial intelligence to live up to the sign in the same way it can provide live translation, businesses that want to be more inclusive will need to rely on third-party services or train their own staff. Given the level of service expected in an Apple Store, there was only one option for Apple, which was to continue to rely on internal expertise even if it was not always in person.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis and consultancy services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not own any interest in any company mentioned in this column.