The First Philadelphia VoiceOver Event

The Philadelphia regional chapter of thePennsylvania Council of the Blind partnered with Apple to put on the first VoiceOver event in this area. The event took place at the Philadelphia Apple store, 1607 Walnut St. The Pier Apple store in Atlantic City, New Jersey also helped organize the event. It took place on Sunday March 11th from 07:00-09:00 PM.

My friend Angie and I gathered earlier in the day and relaxed. We ate sushi, drank jasmine green tea, and thought of Steve Jobs. I ordered a cab to pick us up at 05:45. They never asked me for my number, and called my landline when I had gone outside, so we missed them on the first go around. I called and they tersely told me that they would come back. The cabby asked for the address several times. When he said we had arrived, i asked my friend if I should check my GPS. We decided not to, since we figured how could someone miss a big Apple store? I should have checked. He had dropped us off at a random location! We had to get strangers to help us to our destination.

We stepped inside the store feeling relieved. A cool guy told us to wait for the event to start. He brought us over to a high table and brought us stools. That helped. We got our MacBook Airs ready for the event, and just sort of mingled and had fun hanging out.

Even before it started, we could feel the amazing energy. I have never come to the Philly Apple store before. I felt welcome, and this felt like quite a way to spend a first time in one. While just listening to our surroundings, we heard people come up near us. They said the entire agenda, and the different groups they would offer. We would pick a product to focus on: iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and they would divide us up into groups. It sounded like they would have a presentation, then let us play with equipment. We talked about how much you can hear if you just listen. Sure enough, soon after they came around and asked us our name, basic info, and which product we wanted to learn about. I didn’t even think about that, but Angie answered Mac so I figured I’d just say mac also and go with her. We both had our Macs and it seemed like the most hardcore choice.

The time had finally come for the event. They moved us one group at a time. A girl even brought over my MacBook Air. How nice! We found ourselves at the Mac table with MacBook Pros scattered around. We got out our Macs and felt right at home. I put on my Aftershokz and prepared myself. I said hi to a few people and showed one how to turn on VoiceOver. They asked us to quiet down and the event began.

A few people spoke, including Lynne Mayleaf from the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, and a few Apple trainers. This event had 80 attendees, and involved 20-30 Apple employees. Consider what this means. Companies that just make equipment for the blind have to go to a convention to get 80 attendees, and Apple just had an event at a local store open to the public. They even had a waiting list. Steve Jobs would feel proud.

Linda described this event as her dream. When she wanted to know more about Mac, she went to an Apple store and met a trainer named Bobby. He said that everybody knows somebody that Apple products can touch. We did a lot of clapping and building enthusiasm. They announced that the ACB/PCB offers discounts. More clapping.

Bobby has a blind father, so this meant a lot to him. He wanted to help people have that wow moment like his father had. He gets it. This seemed like the theme. It felt more like an exciting show and less like a boring tech event.

A Keynote presentation about Voiceover followed. It showed the different products including Macs, the iPad, the iPhone, and an iPod Touch. They went around each of he three groups and had the trainers introduce themselves. I really tried to project a lot of enthusiasm for the Mac group. Better to be a pirate than to join the navy! It became clear that the iPhone group had the most people. The iPhone got me back into Apple products. I originally wrote that it changed my universe as soon as it entered it. That still holds true. My enthusiasm has not waned. I felt so glad to consider all the people considering this wonderful technology. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone considering going from Windows to Mac.

Our two trainers gave a nice introduction to VoiceOver. I felt impressed. When I first tried to buy a Mac at an Apple store, the employees knew nothing about how to use VoiceOver. This delayed my purchase for a day and that bothered me. Seeing employes with more of a practical knowledge about VoiceOver shows Apple’s continuing commitment to accessibility. My friend and I already knew this stuff of course, so we just enjoyed the experience.

Our trainers knew this and periodically came up to us and asked if we needed anything. One told us that she first found out about VoiceOver when she accidentally turned it on and had to take it to an Apple store to get it turned off. That sparked her curiosity and now she does basic training. She asked if we knew that when we type a password, clicks happen to indicate hidden characters. We said we did. “Yeah, and it randomly clicks so someone listening doesn’t know how many characters you’ve typed.” said Angie. “Really? I always thought that was a bug.” I said. Then Angie and I said the old programmer’s saying at the same time: “It’s not a bug it’s a feature.” The trainer told me what I’ve heard from a few other employees: “You should work at Apple.”

I do have one suggestion for the introduction to the Mac. They need to at least introduce the concept of interacting. You have to understanding interacting to use VoiceOver on a Mac. Other than that, they did a great job getting everyone going. I hope it will convince some JAWS for Windows users to take the plunge.

After the demonstration, they had a question and answer session. This included a demonstration of Siri. They had a few people speak about their experiences. Everyone seemed interested in learning more. I hope they do.

They ended it with something nice. Steve Jobs always liked to have one more thing. And one more thing: ACB members get product discounts. The Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation will give a $1000 lone to buy APple products at 0% interest. This went over well. They also let people keep their Apple earbuds. The event ended on a high note. It reminded me of the ice mint mango drops I had purchased for the event, the mango providing a sophisticated balance to the coolness of the mint.

Given my experience with the cabby on the way up, I sort of dreaded the journey back. As they concluded they said that they would help us with anything we might need, such as finding the restroom or getting a cab. I needed to do both. One of the Mac trainers named Lindsay said she’d help. We walked into the bowels of the Apple store. I had never gone here and it felt exciting. We took an elevator up to the second floor and she showed me the door. I went to the bathroom then we went back downstairs. Another trainer named Ashley if I remember right hailed me a cab and the two of them walked me over. Leave it to Apple to take their of their customers until the end.

They will have more of these VoiceOver events in Philadelphia, so stay tuned. Lynne wants to start having them on a national level, so you never know where one might pop up. I would recommend going, you have nothing to lose and so much to gain. No other consumer electronics company has done what Apple has done for the blind.