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Navigating the 21st Century Without Vision: How the iPhone Changed the Landscape for Assistive Technology and Fueled the Movement Fighting for Digital Accessibility

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The iPhone blurred the line between assistive technology and mainstream technology. It raised the bar for digital accessibility, adding fuel to the fire of the blind community’s movement for inclusive design.

In 2009, when Apple released the iPhone 3GS, it was the first accessible touchscreen smartphone. This centralized platform, with its built-in GPS, high quality camera, powerful processor, and continuous connectivity, paved the way for new approaches to making a whole range of activities more accessible and convenient for the blind and visually impaired. Where once a blind person might have filled an entire shopping cart with expensive devices that had very specific functions, they could now get nearly all of those services in one device. But even as the iPhone pushed accessibility forward, every door it opened led to another one bolted shut. A blind smartphone user can access mobile apps and social media platforms, but when those applications are not designed to be interpreted by Voiceover, they hit a brick wall. Full accessibility is still either entirely absent from apps, websites, and new devices, or it is thoroughly misguided. The iPhone blurred the line between assistive technology and mainstream technology. It raised the bar for digital accessibility, adding fuel to the fire of the blind community’s movement for inclusive design.

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Emily Pontecorvo
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Emily Pontecorvo

Emily Pontecorvo is a journalist and multimedia producer with experience in film, podcasting, and print. She is dedicated to telling stories about the natural environment and the ways we are changing it, but she enjoys reporting on a wide range of science, including energy, health, and technology. She is particularly interested in climate change adaptation, and related intersections of science and policy. These days she loves telling stories through sound, and feels there’s no equivalent to hearing a good piece of tape. You can see some examples of her work at emilypontecorvo.com.

Thesis: Navigating the 21st Century Without Vision: How the iPhone Changed the Landscape for Assistive Technology and Fueled the Movement Fighting for Digital Accessibility

Emily Pontecorvo Written by Emily Pontecorvo