36 Seconds That Changed Everything is an audio documentary, written and produced by Texas-based writer, Shelly Brisbin. It tells the story of how a device that once excluded people with disabilities – the iPhone – became one of the most transformative forces in the lives of those same people, once the barriers its software had created were removed.
In June 2009, Apple added features to its iPhone software that made the device accessible to people with blindness, low vision, and hearing loss. Later, users with motor delays and cognitive disabilities also gained the tools they needed to use the iPhone. And Apple’s iPad brought accessible reading, learning and entertainment to schools and homes. The story of 36 Seconds begins on the day Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller announced accessibility would be part of the third generation of iPhone software – it took him just 36 seconds to do it. The features he hinted at during those few seconds would go on to have a profound impact on thousands of people who, to that point, had limited access to smartphones. What Schiller and most of the people who bought iPhones that summer couldn’t know, was how great the device’s impact would be for people with disabilities to lead lives of greater freedom, independence, and productivity. Ten years on, it’s time to tell that story!
About the Producer
I am Shelly Brisbin. I have spent my career writing about and using Apple technology. I became a system administrator, an editor at MacUser Magazine, and the author of 16 technology books, most of them focusing on Apple platforms. I didn’t write about accessibility, but I used it, or hacked it into existence. But when the iPhone made its celebrated debut in 2007, I didn’t buy one – I couldn’t use it, because the phone’s text and other display features were impossible for me to see. I have low vision. I’m pretty sure I cried about it, and I know that it changed the kind of work I did – I was left out, not only of a corner of the technology world where I’d been an expert; I felt what a lot of people with disabilities feel when doors are slammed in their faces. It was a long two years.
When the iPhone became accessible in 2009, I experienced the exultant high and the natural skepticism you will hear others speak about in 36 Seconds. And this little device, so often marked down as a luxury, was life-changing for me – not just professionally, but because it granted me superpowers I had never had before. I went on to write a book about iOS accessibility, which is now in its sixth edition. And I’ve become a radio producer.