Why Build an App for Blind Therapists?

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day #GAAD #gbla11yday and I am pleased to announce that my app the Patient is in provides the best accessibility features in a real time, HIPAA-compliant messaging app for the Apple Watch and Siri. Built over 15 months with leading doctors, therapists, and practitioners to support the needs of blind therapists, the Patient is in made its public debut at last week’s Digital Health Demo Day.

Many people ask me why did I first implement accessibility support in this ground breaking real time, HIPAA-compliant messaging app rather than add a localized version of the app for French, German, or Spanish speaking doctors and nurses. They correctly note that there is a larger market for real time medical messaging for French, German, and Spanish speaking doctors and nurses than there is for English speaking blind therapists and their nurses. But the fact is that most app developers struggle with just creating a useful and usable app that they just don’t care about such a small group of potential users. Unfortunately, the imagined profits from the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Here’s a secret that only a handful of app developers know about and the real secret why Apple has invested billions of dollars in accessibility to support the needs of a small group of its users: if you design accessible products both your underlying technology and product will be more usable by the majority of your users.

This does not discount the obvious compassion which has driven Apple engineers and managers to support all types of users with both accessible features as well as foreign language support since the 1980s. As Apple watcher Rene Ritchie from iMore.com often says: “Apple engineers create products which their families use so they try to build the best and usable products”. This is why Apple products have soul and many products from Google and Microsoft lack soul. How many CEOs have you seen brought to near tears when discussing the empowerment of blind users of their products? Watch the end of the then new CEO Tim Cook’s first WWDC keynote in 2012 and you will witness a soulful man.

If you are a press person, query your contacts to see how many of Apple’s top human factors/user experience engineers worked on the vibrations and sounds used on the Apple Watch. And their requirements were supported by great hardware engineers who worked on the Taptic engine. By the way, notification of a new or urgent patient assignment through “discrete vibrations felt on the doctor’s wrist” continues to be the most useful app feature for most doctors demoing the Patient is in and that feature was originally built to support notifying a blind therapist that he had a new patient assignment.

Beyond the engineering benefits in building accessible apps, here is another reason why we should think about blind therapists on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2017: blind therapists support our blind children as they start learning about the world and assist them as they transition into adulthood. Blind therapists also help our parents during the transition brought on by age-related macular degeneration.


The Patient is in accessibility features

The Patient is in provides access to patient assignments and updates in 4 ways, all of which have been designed to support low-vision and blind doctors and therapists:

  • The watch app supports VoiceOver and provides a great user experience.
  • Patient assignments from the charge nurse can be automatically announced over  AirPlay compatible speakers such as Apple’s HomePod. This removes the step in which the user must first access the iPhone notification to find out about the assignment details
  • Conversations with the charge nurse using Siri on the iPhone: “Hey Siri, read my Patient messages” allows the therapist to hear her patient assignments and “Hey Siri, send a Patient message saying I’ll go to Therapy Room 2 in 10 minutes” allows the therapist to respond to assignments from either her Apple Watch or iPhone with an estimated time of arrival. Notice of assignment completion is supported from both the Apple Watch and iPhone with “Hey Siri, send a Patient message saying I’ve completed my assignment in Recovery Room 2”. All of these statements are processed by the Patient is in natural language processing (NLP) engine fixing homophones (“Exam Room 2″ vsexam room to” vsexam room too” vsexam room two”) and other linguistic and transcription impediments to create a structured message upon which the charge nurse’s iPad app can visually display and drive real world processes such as cleaning the room so that the next patient’s wait time is significantly reduced.
  • FaceTime support is integrated directly into all of the apps allowing the charge nurse, therapist, and other doctors to instantly connect. This includes initiating a FaceTime audio call directly from the watch app.

… just my bit to inspire other app developers for Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018

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