Skip to main content

Accessibility is why I'm still wearing my Apple Watch

Apple Watch and Apple Pay
Apple Watch and Apple Pay (Image credit: iMore)

Serenity Caldwell's recent piece on why she's still wearing her Apple Watch inspired me to write my own take on why I'm still wearing mine.

Telling time

This goes without saying, I suppose, but even Apple says (opens in new tab) Apple Watch is "at its heart, an incredibly precise timepiece." On the whole, Apple Watch is a remarkable wearable computer, but its foremost function is right there in its name: telling time.

This distinction matters to me for the simple reason that Apple Watch has gotten me regularly wearing a watch again after several years of having a naked wrist. It's nice having a well-made, fashionable object with which to see the time without constantly pulling my phone out my pocket. That my watch also has things like notifications, Siri, and Apple Pay is icing on the cake.

Energy savings

The fact that I no longer need to always pull out my phone to see the time also has an accessibility benefit: it saves me energy.

As someone who lives with cerebral palsy, this is critically important. My condition is such that, aside from reduced strength and partial paralysis in my muscles, it takes a considerable amount of energy to do even the most mundane tasks. As such, I need to be cognizant of opportunities to conserve as much energy as possible. In this case, getting my phone in and out of my pocket is a great example. It's not so easy for me to reach into my pocket because of the way you have to feel your way in and around to find what you're looking for. Smaller objects like loose change are more troublesome to grasp, but even something larger like my phone can be tricky. My muscles have to work hard to get in and out of my pocket, which oftentimes results in fatigue and pain. Do that several times a day, every day, and you start to curse having to reach in there.

It seems trivial, but given my circumstances, the little things end up making the biggest difference. Because my Apple Watch acts as a satellite for my iPhone for many things---notably, notifications and Apple Pay---I commit to wearing it all the time because I know I can be alerted to VIP emails or iMessages from my girlfriend right from my wrist. Ergo, my phone needn't come out and my hand muscles can rest. In this context, then, the Apple Watch is worth wearing for energy reasons alone. It's fair to say it's my "killer app," so to speak.

Living a better day

Another byproduct of my cerebral palsy is I don't move around very easily or gracefully. Therefore, I'm not one to adhere to a strict exercise regimen, nor am I a gym rat as many of my family and friends are. It's okay, though, because I walk a lot, and the Apple Watch helps me greatly in being more active than before.

While I remain unconvinced that watchOS will ever be a platform as app-centric as iOS, I do quite enjoy a few apps on my watch. One of those is the built-in Activity app, which I'm constantly checking throughout the day.

The great part about Activity is the "game" aspect of it. To me, staying active during the day is not only about getting the blood flowing, but also about filling in the circles. It's a fun way for me to track my progress, and I find that any incomplete rings motivates me to push harder to fill them in. (Most days, I can fill in Move and Stand. Exercise is challenging; I've completed all three rings in a day only a handful of times.)

Overall, I appreciate Apple Watch reminding me to stand once an hour---raising my awareness to get up and move---and I love watching the circles journey towards completion. Although I'm limited in how much and how well I can exert myself physically, Apple Watch is there pushing me to keep going as much as I can.

Bigger screen, big difference

Prior to the Apple Watch's launch last April, I was convinced I wanted the 38mm model because I have smaller wrists than most men, and I was afraid the 42mm one would look silly on me.

As it turns out, those fears were completely unfounded.

Thanks to my girlfriend, I did indeed get a 38mm Sport version on launch day. And it was great; the screen is small, but not prohibitively so. I was happy to have it and liked it very much.

Not long thereafter, Apple sent me a 42mm review unit so that I could compare the watch's sizes. Immediately upon receiving it, I noticed a striking difference between the 38 and 42mm models. As I said, the smaller one is perfectly usable, but the larger screen is so much better: everything on screen is bigger and easier to read, which, of course, is better for my eyes. Better still, the larger Apple Watch actually looks great on my wrist.

In hindsight, it was awfully shortsighted of me not to choose the 42mm Apple Watch to begin with. For someone who's visually impaired, Apple Watch's screen is so small that it makes sense to go as big as possible. I don't know why I glossed over that during pre-orders, but I won't make the same mistake twice. The next Apple Watch I get will most definitely be the 42mm variety.

Bottom line

As it is today, the Apple Watch is the quintessential 1.0 product in many ways. It's sluggish, requires an iPhone, and it remains to be seen whether apps will be as central to its usefulness.

And yet, I wear mine daily and wouldn't want to be without it.

If the watch's appeal to me hinged solely on its technical merit---how it performs and the quality of the software it runs---then I likely would have thrown it in a drawer months ago. Instead, I like to look at the watch with a more holistic perspective. Yes, it's kind of slow and apps aren't great, but I don't mind that much. What Apple Watch does do for me arguably makes more of an impact on my life. Besides, it's cool to think I have a miniature computer strapped to my wrist that can pay for my coffee and stuff. It's a very James Bond (or Dick Tracy) kind of feeling.

It may be early days yet for wearable technology, but I'm bullish on Apple Watch's future and am excited for its maturation.

Steven is a freelance tech writer who specializes in iOS Accessibility. He also writes at Steven's Blog and co-hosts the @accessibleshow podcast. Lover of sports.

11 Comments
  • Buying first gen Apple products in the past taught me to wait for the second release. So I haven't bought one yet, and am waiting for the new Apple Watch to come out.
  • Yeah I have a first gen and so does my wife but app improvements due to a possible improved CPU increase in the next one won't make me want to upgrade. If anything it's gotten me interested in wearing watches again and looking at higher quality traditional watches instead.
  • I use to be the same way but then I would break down after fighting it. Then come to realization that I will but Apple watch 2 when it comes out. Lucky for me I have a good job lolololol yolo
  • The app issue does not concern me and telling time is secondary. I wear my Watch every day because of convenience. I have become dependent on texting, notifications, weather, and maps. If my wife texts me in the mall wanting to know where I am I can raise my wrist to read and reply. The local NBC affiliate app pushes breaking news, like traffic jams, to my Watch. My iPhone stays in its case on my hip.
  • I had an early morning Doctor's appointment downtown Seattle a few weeks ago. Because of an accident my normal exit was closed and I had to go way past my exit into unknown territory. No way to pull over and reorient myself or even use my iPhone. Lifted my arm, and said "Hey Siri, directions to Swedish Medical Center." Phone stayed in my pocket and I was taken right to the entrance. It's the little things like that I didn't even anticipate when I bought it that make my watch so useful.
  • Got it in May, gave it a good run...but it is slowly going to the nightstand full time. Probably the last watch I'll ever buy. The reaction time is just so slow that it takes just as much time to whip out my iPhone and do it bigger and better. And that's just with native apps. 3rd party apps...forget it, nearly 100% worthless. But I stuck it out and gave it a fair evaluation, after 9 months I can say that it's just not for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sometimes the watch is just slow! Really slow that I can pull out my iPhone and do it! Never was really into apps on the watch. But the notification, timer or runtastic app or even the GoPro app. That's what I like when it works but not when I have to wait a bit. I believe Apple could of put a faster chip inside. Battery life is that good and there are no worries running out of juice.
  • I've had an Apple Watch for a couple months now. The main benefits to me are text notifications and notification from the travel apps/airlines while running through an airport. Other than that, I don't use it for much else. I do try to fill all the activity circles, but it's more like a secondary side effect. The other day I missed my "move" circle by 1 calorie for the first time since the first week of January. So just with that, I'm even less concerned with wearing it just to fill those circles. I have a decent collection of mechanical and other traditional watches, so I'll just get back to wearing those.
  • Hey Stephen, my son has cerebral palsy as well. He is only 20 months old, but I am already thinking about his future and obstacles he will face when he gets older. Your article hit a cord with me. I would never have thought about even just trying to get a phone out of a pocket as being a huge "deal". You have made me think about what future technology will do to help those with disabilities. Thanks for the great article John D. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have an interest in a watch like this, but I have no rush.
    It must get better battery life (3-5 days), and Apple needs to close the deal with banks in Norway so we can use Apple Pay.
  • I am in an electric wheelchair - the watch has become a huge benefit for me. Being able to see when the next bus is without having to get my phone out and look (as opposed to glance) is huge. And less dangerous. And saves wear and tear on my wheelchair batteries (slow downs and start ups - the slow death of any battery). Also - navigation...the tap on my wrist for left or right, just superb. Friends with vision impairments have borrowed it briefly, and are now planning to get one for that alone. I have found it integrates so well in to my work flow, that I cannot imagine NOT using it. It keeps me productive, without being obtrusive about it. And given I am in a massive chair that everyone notices first - having something about me that is less obtrusive is fantastic.