Apple Discusses How iPhone Helps Blind Surfer In And Out Of The Water

A surfer rides the crest of a curling wave.
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In 1993, Scott Leason was a U.S. Navy veteran who had seven years of service as a visual communications expert. Unfortunately, that was also the year that he lost his vision in both eyes — when he was shot at during a robbery attempt. Twenty-five years later, Leason has his iPhone XR and iOS’ VoiceOver feature to help him out in his everyday life, which includes regular surfing sessions in the San Diego area.

Apple shared Leason’s story on Friday in a press release, which detailed how he started receiving technology training from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Blind Rehabilitation Center in 2009. The press release describes how Leason had used the tools that were given to him to help him “live independently,” despite his blindness. Three years later, he received an iPhone 5, marking the first time that he owned such a handset. He also became one of many visually-impaired people who started using Apple’s VoiceOver gesture-based reader to help them in their daily lives.

“It’s a lot easier to navigate with the phone,” said Leason.

“I think a lot of the visually impaired prefer the iPhone because they can do everything on it. And VoiceOver works pretty darn good.”

With the help of his new iPhone XR, Leason is now able to get ready for a day of surfing by checking the latest reports on the Surfline app. He also uses an Apple Watch Series 4 to monitor the progress of his surfing workouts and to find out how many calories he has burned. However, Apple noted in its press release that Leason “prefers to keep things simple” by streamlining all of his gadgets.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the world of surfing, Leason has earned his share of accolades in water sports — having won the 2016 USA Adaptive Surfing Championships at Oceanside Harbor North Jetty in California. He served as the event’s first blind champion. That same year, he took part in the USA Water Ski competition in Harmony, North Carolina, and finished second in the men’s tricks category. Still, there were numerous challenges he encountered while learning how to adjust to life as a blind surfer and water skier, such as an inability to use visual cues while in the water.

According to Paul Lang, instructional coordinator at San Diego’s Mission Bay Aquatic Center, Leason’s ability to use the iPhone and VoiceOver to assist him in his daily tasks has been quite impressive.

“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 told Apple.

“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.”

Commenting on his progress as a blind surfer, Leason said that he often “forgets [he’s] blind” when he’s out there in the water or on the beach, and that he considers water sports a part of his identity — inasmuch as they are “therapeutic” for a man with his condition. And as far as his iPhone goes, he concluded by telling Apple that the device best represents his “independence” and his quest to remain independent.