In my last post I talked about how an app has been created using the iPad and iPhone technology to assist communication ability between those with certain types of disabilities. Today, I’m talking about Apple and disabilities again – and it’s not just because I tend love Apple products, but because of the barriers they are helping to bring down for people with disabilities.

The recent launch of the iPhone 4S with the new operating system was rather low-key and, to some extent, more about the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t launching it than it was about the iPhone 4S. Yet, with its launch, the world has changed yet again in ways that we will only discover in the next few years. The iPhone 4S comes with a little something called SIRI. SIRI is artificial intelligence gone mainstream to the mass market in an incredible way.

At its basic, SIRI is a voice recognition system that allows you to dictate notes, emails, messages, etc. But it is so much more than just voice recognition for not only does it translate audible sounds into text, but it understands your basic commands and questions. You can tell it to set a reminder for you, but more exciting than that, you can ask your phone what the weather is going to be and it will tell you, you can ask it to tell what the traffic is like around your current location and it will tell you, you can ask it to find good restaurants nearby and it will tell you…and the list goes on. Thus it is more than voice recognition, it is intelligent. And in true Apple form, it is brilliant.

As Alexis Madrigal says in the Atlantic Monthly,
The genius of Siri is to combine the new type of information bot with the old type of human-helper bot. Instead of patterning Siri on a humanoid body, Apple used a human archetype — the secretary or assistant. To do so, Apple gave Siri a voice and a set of skills that seem designed to make everyone feel like Don Draper. Siri listens to you and does what you say. “Take this down, Siri… Remind me to buy Helena flowers!” And if early reviews are any indication, the disembodied robot could be the next big thing in how we interact with our computers.
To me, it sounds amazing and the idea of a personal assistance for the mass market must have some people incredibly excited and others worried as they realise the need for their skills might possibly disappear in the near future. Just think how quickly other iPad or iPhone-like devices came out after their release. SIRI will be no different and other companies will likely improve on the technology and the market penetration will only grow. So at that point, why have a travel agent? Why have a PA?

But regardless of all that, I find the most interesting aspect of SIRI to be the impact it could have on the lives of those with disabilities. Watch the video on the Apple website about SIRI and notice how near the end, one of the examples of its use is for a blind woman as she receives an SMS while she is reading braille. SIRI reads out the message and she tells SIRI to reply with an SMS – wow! Genius I think. On the Mashable Tech website there are even more features highlighted regarding the iPhone and people who are hearing or sight impaired.

So I am excited about what is to come and how technology like this can improve the lives of those with disabilities. To me, this is something to celebrate! The world has change again and the potential for good is endless for perhaps this too is another example of a thin place, where heaven touches earth and good, no great, things happen.

(BTW – check out Able Times for more interesting things happen with people who have disabilities)

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