Blind surfer shows how iPhone’s VoiceOver feature is a game-changer

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Scott Leason
Blind veteran Scott Laeson paddling out to surf.
Photo: Apple

Apple gave fans a heartwarming glimpse at how the iPhone and Apple Watch have helped a blind veteran gain more independence on his path to becoming a competition-winning surfer.

In a new post on its website, Apple shared a story about longboard surfer Scott Leason. After his time serving as a signalman in the U.S. Navy, Leason lost both of his eyes to a robber’s bullet in 1993. Getting used to his new life without sight took getting used to, but when Leason got his first iPhone in 2012, it was a gamechanger.

SCott Leason
The iPhone is independence for Leason.
Photo: Apple

Leason uses an iPhone XR to check his email, social media, send texts, check the weather, read the news, view surf reports and more. All of it is made possible with VoiceOver in iOS along with other accessibility feature Apple has emphasized during the iPhone’s development.

When it comes to iOS vs Android, Leason says a lot of visually impaired people prefer it because you can do everything. Paul Lang, the instructional coordinator at the Mission Bay Aquatics Center where Leason surfs says he was blown away with what Leason can do.

“The first time he got an iPhone and learned how to use VoiceOver, I asked him to show it to me because you just see him tapping the screen and to me it made no sense what he was doing cause it’s just like this flurry of tapping and these words coming out of the phone really really fast,” Lang says. “And when he showed me all the stuff he could do with it, it just blew my mind that he had learned how to interact with it to get all of that out of it. … He’s no different than anybody else. He’s just sitting in the corner over there getting caught up on his phone or listening to music, reading, and sending text messages.”

Scott Leason
Scott waiting for his first wave on Mission Beach.
Photo: Apple

iPhone and Apple Watch are leveling the playing field for blind people. Apple says that more people in the blind community now use VoiceOver than any other mobile screen-reading software combined. About 70 percent of vets that have gone through the VA’s 13 blind rehabilitation centers are given iOS devices and accessibility training.

Leason wasn’t a very tech savvy guy before he got his iPhone but says the tech makes it easy. Leason was the first blind champion at the USA Adaptive Surfing Championships at Oceanside Harbor North Jetty in June 2016. He also won second place in men’s tricks at the USA Water Ski competition in Harmony, North Carolina that year.

“When I’m at the end of a line behind a boat just like anybody else, I forget I’m blind,” he says. “And then when I come into the beach and there’s people around Snickers and I go yeah that’s my seeing eye dog and I got a board in my hand and they go, ‘you’re blind?’ That’s a cool feeling.”