In Memory of Steve Jobs
By Ricky Enger
My life was first affected by Steve Jobs when I was nine years old, and got my hands on an Apple II-E. I had no real insight about the situation at the time. I wasn’t profoundly grateful. I didn’t recognize Jobs as an innovative force whose vision would change the world. I didn’t stop to consider that a speech synthesizer might never have been made for the computer. The only thing I knew was that there were three kids in my fourth-grade class who were cool enough to have access to the cutting-edge technology of a personal computer, and I was one of them. I was able to ditch the loud electric typewriter and use the computer to do my schoolwork, and when I was finished I could play classic games like Blackjack, Lunar Lander, and Oregon Trail. I accepted these things as the natural course, and why shouldn’t i? Though I didn’t know it at the time, that first experience would shape the way I viewed technology and accessibility from then on. Because of that initial positive experience, I approached each new technology with a sense of optimism, and a conviction that my ability to use that technology was a right, not a privillege.
By 2008, I had come to understand just how rare it was to find out-of-the-box accessibility in mainstream technology. That’s not to say I understood why technology without built-in accessibility was so prevalent. I didn’t, and still don’t for that matter. I continued to expect to get my hands on a brand-new device and be able to use it without much fuss, and I was often disappointed in that regard. Then, Apple released the 4th generation iPod Nano with spoken menus. Finally! Here was a device that was tiny, sleek, sophisticated, accessible, and it even came in purple. Who could ask for more? I no longer had to carry around some bulky and unattractive device that no one else had ever heard of just to play my music. I didn’t have to feel left out every time someone mentioned the word “iPod”, because I had one too. I was finally seeing accessibility implemented the way it should be, seamlessly and without additional cost or complexity. This time, I did know enough to be thankful.
I’m not going to trace out Apple’s entire history of accessibility, beginning with Voiceover in OS X Tiger and continuing today with Voiceover on Mac, iPhones, iPods, iPads and Apple TV, but suffice it to say that Steve Jobs and his company have remained committed to providing out-of-the-box accessibility. This has profoundly affected my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe. I can walk to a restaurant in a new neighborhood by using the GPS on my phone. I can communicate with my family at home when I’m on the road, and even show them video of the hotel room I’m staying in. I can identify the cans in my cabinet with an app. I can play word games on my phone while waiting at the doctor’s office, and I can hand that same phone to my sighted son so he can play Angry Birds. All these things may sound like simple things that anyone should be able to do without much thought, and thanks to one man’s vision, I can.
Thank you Steve, for understanding that technology belongs in the hands of everyone, not just the geek, or the business guru, or the person with eyesight. Thank you for being such an inspiration through your willingness to take risks that no one else would, and your refusal to accept anything less than the best from yourself and those around you. Thank you for making accessibility as important a part of your vision as style and ease of use. And thank you for sharing your vision with the world. There will never be another quite like you, but your legacy will continue to give all of us the inspiration to take something ordinary in our lives and make it magical.
Rest in peace.