Unique Apple Watch review shows how device can help deaf, blind users

TORONTO – In the weeks since the Apple Watch has been released, the Internet has been flooded with hundreds of reviews. But one of those is shedding light on how the highly-anticipated device can help those with disabilities.

Molly Watt suffers from Usher Syndrome – a condition in which people are born fully or partially deaf and then develop a type of visual impairment called Retinitis pigmentosa in their teens.

After hearing about some of the Apple Watch’s features, she pre-ordered a 42mm Apple Watch Sport to see how it would work for her.

READ MORE: Apple Watch review roundup – the best, most expensive smartwatch you don’t need

Watt was born deaf and registered as blind when she was 14. According to her blog, she wears two digital hearing aids and communicates verbally, but only has a small tunnel of vision in her right eye that can be aggravated in different lighting.

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In her blog, Watt describes how she uses the watch’s haptic feedback and accessibility features to help communicate with friends and get around.

Watt uses Watch’s haptic feedback feature, which allows users to send each other custom vibration “codes” by tapping on the watch, to communicate in situations that are more difficult for her to hear or see.

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“I am fortunate to have a few friends who also have the Apple Watch and together have devised ways of communicating in ‘Code’ when out, particularly when out at night and in dark situations when I am completely blind,” said Watt.

These codes come in handy in badly lit or noisy environments where Watt is struggling to be included or feels uncomfortable, she wrote. She has even come up with codes to tell her friends she needs help, or is bored.

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“Mum has certainly found benefit in the ‘tap’ for getting my attention when I am in my bedroom without my hearing aids on, I feel the nudge to get a move on or she wants my attention for something,” read the blog post.

But Watt said the watch has come in the most handy when it comes to getting around – thanks to the Maps app, which uses haptic feedback to direct users along their route.

READ MORE: Here’s what an Apple Watch try-on appointment is like

According to her blog, Watt plans her journey on her iPhone and then sets out with her guide dog Unis.

“This is where Haptics really come into its own – I can be directed without hearing or sight, but by a series of taps via the watch onto my wrist – 12 taps means turn right at the junction or 3 pairs of 2 taps means turn left, I’m still experimenting with this but so far very impressed – usher syndrome accessible,” she said.

Watt has also used many of Apple’s accessibility settings to enhance her Watch experience, including choosing a black background with white text and increasing the font size to help her read messages.

“The positives far outweigh the negatives for me personally,” said Watt.

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“The audio could be louder and the price more accessible for those with sensory impairment and reliant on the sort of accessibility features Apple offer.”

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