Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation partners with Apple on smartwatch

Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation partners with Apple on smartwatch
Birmingham's Lakeshore Foundation is helping Apple develop software for the Apple Watch to help keep the disabled active. (courtesy of Apple)

Apple CEO Tim Cook is from Alabama, but it’s still a pretty big deal when a Birmingham institution gets a shout-out when the world is watching the tech giant’s Worldwide Development Conference.

Lakeshore Foundation was on the receiving end of such a shout out at the WWDC today. But even more significant is why Cook acknowledged the institution that is known for its work with those with disabilities.

Apple is working with Lakeshore Foundation and San Diego’s Challenged Athletes Foundation to improve functionality on the Apple Watch. Just like the smartwatch can alert able-bodied people to do something active during the day after they’ve been resting too long, Apple wants to do the same for wheelchair users or otherwise disabled people.

The problem is that while there is plenty of baseline material for the able-bodied on what constitutes active and inactive periods, the same doesn’t exist for the disabled.

Enter Lakeshore Foundation and Challenged Athletes Foundation, which worked with Apple to recruit about 300 people in wheelchairs for more than 3,000 hours of activity research. The data will help the Apple Watch software gauge the fitness and activity of those in a wheelchair who need to spin around, wheel for a distance or do some other activity.

“Encouraging people with physical disability to exercise is vital to addressing the issue of health disparity,” Jeff Underwood, president and CEO of Lakeshore Foundation, said. “Helping to ensure that the Apple Watch is accessible to as many people as possible could have a profound impact for the health and wellbeing of persons who are wheelchair users.”

For Apple, the goal was to make the Apple Watch useful for everyone.

“We want to make products that serve every walk of life,” Jeff Williams, Apple chief operating officer, told the Associated Press. “We realize that while it was great for messages on the wrist, we wanted to offer this group of people the same opportunity to get healthier using Apple Watch.”

Underwood said he hopes other companies will follow Apple’s lead.

“Perhaps just as important as the technological advancement is the societal impact this type of commitment to inclusion from Apple demonstrates,” Underwood told Alabama NewsCenter. “Creating opportunities for healthy, active lifestyles are at the forefront of Lakeshore Foundation’s work and this project is a significant milestone for the millions of people within our mission.”

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