On June 13th, 2016 at Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference press event, they announced a wide range of updates for watchOS, tvOS macOS (formally OS X), and of course, iOS. There are plenty of blogs talking about all the big changes to the platforms, though one of the most (dare I say it) innovative and inclusive accessibility features added to a smartwatch has hardly gotten more than a sentence or two of coverage on the major blogs.

With the update to watchOS 3 which is due to be released for free this fall, Apple has added wheelchair algorithms to their fitness tracker app on the Apple Watch. Their website states:

"We should all be able to track our fitness. So we optimized the Activity app for wheelchair users, taking into account different pushing techniques for varying speeds and terrain. There are also two wheelchair-specific workouts and a new Time to Roll notification."

This is a big deal! It's not often mainstream devices take into consideration those who are not upright on two feet, and yet Apple has put Research and Development efforts into giving real fitness tracking ability to millions of individuals who are confined to a wheelchair. The subset of users may only make up less than 2% of the US and UK population* but these individuals need to keep fit as well as the next person. I am fortunate not to be confined to a wheelchair at this point in my life, but there have been times in my early life when I was, either due to surgeries or one incident in the 8th grade when I broke my pinky (crutches with a hand cast proved impossible). I think it's imperative that we show our support and gratitude to the companies, big and small, who are bringing accessibility features to everyday devices. Even if you are not personally impacted by these features, take some time to look around, and think about the people you know who could benefit by these features. These additional options can make a big impact on our wheelchair bound friends and family.

  • Statistics gathered from the Paralyzed Veterans of America http://pva.org http://pva.org/