Brightman said that when he worked at Apple Computer as the founder and director of Apple’s Worldwide Disability Solutions Group, the Apple II worked well as an AT solution because of the removable lid and the different switches that could power different types of programs. But when the Apple II went off the market, to be replaced by the Mac, although the average consumer raved about the transition, the population with disabilities felt left out.
“Every day when we went into that Apple building, we’d walk past a BMW motorcycle in the lobby, because Steve Jobs wanted to remind everyone that the goal was to be chic and glamorous,” Brightman said. “Of the 63 features designed to be helpful on Apple’s Mac, all 63 features were major inconveniences for the disabled.”
Brightman said he spearheaded a team to try and show the designers of the Mac why it wouldn’t be accessible for everybody. He even suggested that the developers try to operate a Mac using just a pencil in their mouths. The designers couldn’t even turn the Mac on, let alone operate it.
“The bad thing is,” he said, “even though the problems were easy to fix for the architects, they never realized there was a flaw to begin with. … Just like some architects, they didn’t want to admit that their design was flawed.”
As Brightman sees it, technology has moved beyond this basic problem for persons with disabilities–and now it needs to become a tool to help everyone, not just some people, reach their potential as thinkers, artists, and whatever they want to be in life.
“I had a friend named Johnny, a great jazz musician,” he related. “He got into a terrible car accident at a young age and became paralyzed from the neck down. One day his occupational therapist asked him what he wanted to be now that he was different, and he said, ‘I can’t be anything else–I’m a musician.’ The therapist looked at him and gave him a paintbrush to hold in his mouth. ‘Here,’ she said, ‘now you can still be creative.’ Johnny spat the toothbrush out and said, ‘No, you don’t understand, I’m a jazz musician.'”
A few years later, Brightman said, he was at an AT conference and Johnny came into the room, moving his wheelchair with a stick placed in his mouth. He came up to the stage, went to the computer they had for him, and started to play the jazz music he had composed with the help of software.
“It wasn’t just the audience saying, ‘Wow, for a disabled person, that’s great jazz’–it was, ‘Wow, that’s great jazz.’ You can’t take away hope from someone; instead, you need to help them apply that hope,” he said.