Q&A with Feast honoree Apple

Sarah Herrlinger, Senior Director, Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives

The Center for Hearing and Communication is holding its signature event of the year, The Feast, at Chelsea Piers this evening. The theme is Transforming Lives. We are honored to be presenting Apple with the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award for its major strides in creating accessible technology for people with disabilities.

Accepting the award on behalf of Apple will be Sarah Herrlinger, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Accessibility Policy and Initiatives. Sarah provided meaningful insight into Apple’s history of accessibility in our Q&A. We are grateful for her thoughts and her time.

Laurie Hanin: How did inclusion become such an important value for Apple?

Sarah Herrlinger: It’s been core to how we design and build our products from the very beginning. Our goal is to make great products that empower all of us — not just some of us. It stems from a belief that we all have something unique and special to share with the world. Our products should reduce barriers so you can do just that, regardless of ability. This work is never done. But it’s exactly the kind of design and engineering challenge Apple was built for.

LH: What can other companies learn from Apple about accessibility and inclusion?

SH: At Apple, we’ve tried to instill and build a culture that sees accessibility as a human right. It’s not about compliance or checking some box. It’s about respect for all our customers.

Haben Girma is a great advocate for Accessibility. She talks about how the biggest obstacle is often attitude — that Accessibility is somehow viewed as ‘charity,’ when in fact it’s an important investment. One that makes your organization, your culture, and whatever it is you make better for society. We couldn’t agree more.

LH: We’ve been fortunate to work with Apple on a number of local events. Can you share some of the accommodations that people with hearing loss can access at their local Apple Store?

SH: We want to make Apple Stores a welcoming place for all customers so we’ve worked to provide additional accommodations to support those with hearing loss. For example, every Apple store has an audio kit complete with portable induction loop to make attending workshops and appointments easier. For those that need ASL interpreters, you can schedule to have one available for you when you visit us. And we run workshops in stores to educate people about the features built into our projects to support those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

We held a fantastic event last week in Brooklyn to unveil the new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini. We welcomed customers into our stores to watch the live stream of the keynote, including real-time closed captioning to make the event more accessible to more people.

Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President 0f Retail, and our retail team have done an incredible job of evolving the Apple store experience so that we play an even bigger role in bringing the community together to create, learn, and discover.

LH: How do you see technology of the future impacting the lives of people with hearing loss and other disabilities?

SH: We’re just getting started. We never talk about future products, but we’re excited about the potential for technology to have an even greater impact on this community. One of the great things about the Apple ecosystem is how it enables third-party developers to build apps that reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. We see this already in the apps we all rely on daily, both within the deaf and hard of hearing community and beyond. We’re seeing a lot of excitement among developers who’re increasingly embracing accessibility as part of their app design process.

It’s also critically important that we open more doors to more people to help shape technology. There’s no reason a student who’s deaf shouldn’t have access to the same tools and education so that they are the one to build the next must-have app that makes us all wonder, ‘how did I ever live without this before?’. We feel very strongly about this and our view is that coding should be a requirement of every student’s education. It’s also why we’ve designed our Everyone Can Code curriculum to be accessible and begun partnering with leading schools for the deaf to expand coding to more students.

LH: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

SH: Accessibility starts with awareness. Just taking even a moment to think about how someone with a disability might experience your product can go a long way toward making it better for everyone. My experience is it tends to be more about awareness than willingness, so the more we can share life experiences, the greater the gain for all.