A Tribute to Steve Jobs, From a Community he Touched

By , October 12, 2011

What obligation do we have to society?  Are we born to improve lives for others or to just take care of ourselves and our families?  I believe we are born into this amazing and complicated world to contribute.  We should use the many gifts we have to make the world a better place – regardless of our access to resources. 

Steve Jobs is a shining example of how even one person can make a big difference in the world.  How has he, along with his team at Apple, created technology to make the world a better place for all – including people with disabilities?  Let me count the ways.

The technology born from the Jobs era can be used to help young children communicate with their parents for the first time using the iPad and some cool applications.  Allow a brilliant writer with Cerebral Palsy to finally write that book that has been locked up in her head.  Help a programmer with vision loss become more productive because now he has access to better communication tools.  Help a veteran with a traumatic brain injury remember the sequence of steps to handle an application that he rarely uses to support his job as a technician.  I could go on and on.

The bottom line: technology can help level the playing field.  And it can allow people with disabilities to actively participate in all aspects of society, including the workforce.

I never met Steve Jobs, yet I am surprised at the impact his passing has had on me.  I am very sad and feel the loss in a real and deep way.  To help me work through these feelings, I reached out to others feeling the same way via social media and started reading and contributing to the chatter.

One post that touched me comes from Tim Carmody, a contributor to Wired Magazine.  I have never met Tim either, but after reading his tweet, I knew he was part of “my community.”  Here is the tweet: “@tcarmody I’m on my way to PHL to see my son, who uses a device Steve Jobs invented to help him talk.  He will never know.  He will never know.”

That tweet gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes.  I then read on Carmody’s blog: “My son is on the autism spectrum and has a severe receptive and expressive language delay.  He’s 4 years old, and can read and spell words, and sing entire songs, but is more like an 18-month- or 2-year-old in normal conversation.  He cannot use a telephone and has a hard time sitting still for video telephony.  He has a thoroughly well-loved iPod Touch, filled with videos and apps that have helped him learn to speak and augment his ability to communicate.

“My tweet about my son was retweeted almost 500 times, more than anything else I’ve ever written in 140 characters, and put me in touch with other parents of children with special needs — strangers — some seeking information, some wanting to share their stories.”

Even now, with Jobs’ life cut undeniably short, he is touching people.  He is connecting people – including those with disabilities and their families.

Carmody’s blog post went on to say that Jobs helped to create “an ecosystem of software applications for people with disabilities — perhaps especially communication disabilities.”  His blog so eloquently summed up what I was feeling – Jobs had changed the world with his innovative technology, leadership and ideas.

I watch our now-24-year-old daughter, Sara, who has Down syndrome, use her iPad to play the online puzzle game Angry Birds, listen to podcasts, improve her reading, communicate with her friends and surf the Web.  Sara has used other laptops and operating systems but always with a lot of help.  With her iPad, she can do all of this independently – and it has improved her quality of life.

Many times, adults like Sara get isolated after they leave the school system.  For the last five years, she has worked part-time for Nordstrom’s, but her hours were cut because of the economy, sometimes leading her to feel a bit isolated from friends and colleagues.  The iPad allows her to stay connected with friends and remain an active part of society.  Those accomplishments may seem small to some people, but believe me, they are life-changing for our daughter and our entire family.

Global Demand for Accessible Technology
One out of every three households in the U.S. is impacted by disabilities.  Recently, the World Health Organization and the World Bank published a report that noted one in seven people worldwide are impacted by disabilities – that’s more than 1 billion people.  The Internet has opened many opportunities and has greatly improved the quality of life for these users, but they still face barriers.

You might think of disabilities in extreme terms such as blindness and deafness, but it also includes many others with visual or hearing impairments that are increasingly common in our aging population, and other challenges such motor and cognitive impairment.  Technology can help them all.

We’re not just talking about people with disabilities either; 96 percent of Americans has said they will spend more money to support an organization that includes everyone and is involved in social good.  So there is a tremendous market opportunity today for companies that provide technologies for people with disabilities – and those who hire people with disabilities.

Want an example of an organization looking to help and serve the growing community of people with disabilities?  Look no further than Apple under the amazing leadership of Steve Jobs.  They made the iPhone and iPad accessible for people with disabilities.  Since these products use touch screens, some people with visual or mobility impairments can have trouble with the devices; however, Apple is seeking to patent a method for connecting its products to accessories that could act in place of a touch screen. So today, the company is still working to make these products even more user-friendly for this community, raising the bar for accessible mobile technology.

Steve Jobs has left an amazing legacy – and the world is a better place because he was part of it.  Now, millions are left to wonder…what else could he have done if only he had more time?  While we will never know the answer to that question, perhaps this loss can help us look inward and ask ourselves: What am I doing to help make the world a better place?  How do I contribute to society as a whole, including people with disabilities?

Steve Jobs will be remembered forever, and I believe his legacy will only continue to grow.  What legacy will you leave?

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Author: Debra Ruh

Debra Ruh is the chief marketing officer of SSB Bart Group and the founder and CEO of TecAccess, a provider of accessible Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) for people with disabilities. She is a board member of the U.S. Business Leadership Network.