Fitness trackers were originally created with the able-bodied in mind. It conveniently tracks physical activity such as walking and running, which encourages people to stay active. It is an excellent tool for staying fit. However, wheelchair users have not been able to benefit from it until now. Apple is releasing a new watch feature that will benefit wheelchair users.
Apple recognized the void in the market for fitness trackers for those with disabilities and decided to make a change. Apple partnered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Lakeshore Foundation of Birmingham to promote physical fitness in the disabled community. This research involved 300 wheelchair users who provided 3,000 hours of physical activity.
According to Lakeshore’s president and CEO, Jeff Underwood, wheelchair users are known to be sedentary due to physical barriers. The fitness tracker feature for wheelchair users sends the message to the disabled community that physical activity is encouraged. The fitness device won’t make a wheelchair user become fit. However, it will encourage the user to become more active on a daily basis.
Since the scientific studies for the original tracker for able-bodied people weren't designed to calculate calories burned for wheelchair users, Apple had to start from the beginning when creating the new feature. The creative and design process focused on wheel heights, seats, and different surfaces. The fact that people push their wheelchairs differently when approaching obstacles such as ramps and curbs was taken into consideration. Apple’s director of software engineering, Ron Huang said, “The more you look into it, the harder and more challenging you realize it was to develop the new feature.”
The result of research and technology has created the first fitness device for wheelchair users that offers extensive capabilities such as measuring speed, calories, distance, and body movement. Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said Apple wants to offer the disabled community the same opportunity as able-bodied people to use the Apple Watch to become healthier. Williams stated, “We want to create products that serve every walk of life.”
The effort Apple has taken to involve the disabled community in the fitness tracker phenomenon is being viewed by some as an attempt to boost their image over stand-alone fitness trackers. According to research conducted by the research group IDC, results indicated that within a three-month time frame there were three Fitbit fitness trackers purchased for every Apple Watch.
The new feature for the Apple Watch is part of a free software update that is expected to come out later this year. The wheelchair user will not have to purchase a new watch to gain access to the beneficial feature. Williams insists the new feature isn’t about market opportunities. It’s about including the disabled community in living a healthier lifestyle gained through technology.
The recent announcement regarding the Apple Watch feature has many in the disabled community looking forward to its release. Wheelchair athletes and those who are seeking to become healthier are eager to try the new device feature.