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Apple's Tim Cook stresses accessibility with new site

Apple followed Microsoft in kicking off a big presentation with a video showing how it's making its products accessible to folks with disabilities.

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Tim Cook says everyone should have access to technology.

CNET

Apple cares so much about accessibility that CEO Tim Cook started the company's new-product event Thursday with a video about it.

"Technology should be accessible to everyone," Cook said.

Along with introducing a new line of MacBook Pros on Thursday, Apple also unveiled its new accessibility website that focuses more on how people with special needs are using Apple's technology instead of highlighting just the features themselves.

"If you're completely unfamiliar with the concept of accessibility, the front page gives you a quick snapshot," Sarah Herrlinger, Apple's senior manager for global accessibility policy and initiatives, said in an interview. "But if you want to learn more, the rest of the site delves more deeply into what's built into each product."

Accessibility turned out to be a key topic this week. Microsoft kicked off its own presentation on Wednesday with a video about the company's efforts to make its products useful to a wider array of people with different disabilities. It may not be a coincidence; October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

This isn't the first time Apple has focused on accessibility features. MacOS, TVOS, iOS, and WatchOS all have capabilities that help people with vision, motor and other special needs use Apple devices. The Apple Watch Series 2 includes something called Taptic Time, requested by blind users, that tells the time using vibrations. There's also a magnifier built into iOS 10. And since 2009, Apple's had screen reading technology called VoiceOver included in iOS. On MacOS, you can even adjust the size of the cursor to see it better.

In the past, people with special needs had to shell out thousands of dollars for technology that magnified their computer screens, spoke navigation directions, identified their money and recognized the color of their clothes. Today, users only need smartphones, computer and a handful of apps and accessories to help them get through their physical and online worlds.

"If people have access to our products, they can push humanity forward," Cook said Thursday.

On the new site, Apple shows short video clips of real people using its accessibility features. That includes Sady Paulson, a video editor with cerebral palsy who uses Apple's Switch Control technology to edit films on her Mac. Switch Control lets people who can type or use touch screens to sequentially highlight words to get their point across and navigate around their systems.

"You don't know how much these devices have made me the independent woman that I am," Paulson said in an interview. "They have opened the door to a whole new world for me."

Paulson recently graduated from Full Sail University in Florida with a bachelor of science degree in digital cinematography.

"Independence is the greatest gift any of us can ever have," she said.

See all of Thursday's Apple news.

First published October 27 at 10:19 a.m. PT
Updated October 28 at 5:17 a.m. PT: Added background about NDEAM and Microsoft.