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Jordyn Castor is making technology accessible one set of codes at a time- September 7, 2016
Being blind in an extremely visual-centric society can be difficult. Technology relies on smooth screens and small bodies. Often add-ons for blind and low-vision users cost extra- a lot extra. Apple Engineer Jordyn Castor, however, is working to change that. She wants to make accessibility options built into the phone so that low-vision users connect to this technologically reliant world. With her coding knowledge and motivation, she works even today to make sure everyone can enjoy an Apple product.
Castor has always been defying the odds. Born 15 weeks early, her grandfather could fit his wedding ring around her shoulder. This early birth was the cause of her blindness. The doctors said that she had slim chances of survival. Now 22, she still smashing limited expectations. Her parents taught her to be curious, adventurous, and hands-on. As a result, she soon developed a love and understanding for technology. And when she discovered coding, it opened up a whole new world.
“I realized then I could code on on the computer to have it fulfill the tasks I wanted it to,” says Castor in this article. “I came to realize that with my knowledge of computers and technology, I could help change the world for people with disabilities. I could help make technology more accessible for blind users.”
Castor relies on Braille in order to code. “I use a Braille display every time I write a piece of code,” she says. “Braille allows me to know what the code feels like.” She uses a mix of Alphabetic and Nemeth (“math”) Braille in order to code.
She was first introduced to Apple when she was studying at the Michigan State University at a job fair in 2015. She admits to being nervous, saying, “You aren’t going to know unless you try. You aren’t going to know unless you talk to them, so go.”. With this pep talk in mind, she entered the gathering room for the employers. She was most nervous about meeting the tech giant, Apple. She gathered her courage, and spoke to them. She told them of how impressed she’d been with the iPad she’d received for her 17th birthday a few years earlier. It was immediately accessible. She was most nervous about meeting the tech giant, Apple. She gathered her courage and spoke to them. She told them of how impressed she’d been with the iPad she’d received for her 17th birthday a few years earlier. It was immediately accessible.
“Everything just worked and was accessible right out of the box,” Castor told Mashable earlier this year, “That was something I never experienced before.”
Her passion for accessibility shone through the interview, and soon she was hired as an intern working with the VoiceOver technology. Her skills as an engineer and technological advocate impressed the company. After doing so well in it, Apple hired her as a full-time engineer to work on enhancing VoiceOver and other technologies.”I’m directly impacting the lives of the blind community,” Castor says. “It’s incredible.”
Her’s and Apple’s work has not gone unnoticed. On July 4th, Apple was the recipient of the Robert S. Bray Award. This award is given by the American Council of the Blind, given for the company’s strides in blind-accessible technology. Apple is continuing to make things more accessible, offering SIRI for Mac later this year, as well as a magnifying glass for low-vision users. The most exciting innovation mentioned so far is the ability to tell time via vibrations when using the Apple Watch.
Jordyn Castor was also invited to the conference hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, where she gave a speech of her story. She was able to see the impact her work in technology first-hand.
“When I walk through the convention, I hear VoiceOver everywhere,” she says. “Being able to give back through something that so many people use is amazing.”
Upon seeing the impact of her technology, Castor decided to give back in other ways- by investing in the next generation of blind engineers. She was the driving force behind Apple’s new app- Swift Playgrounds. The app was designed with children in mind, teaching them how to code in a fun and interactive way. Castor is working to make it accessible for the visually impaired. She considers it an empowering experience, and her team has deeply valued her skills.
“I constantly get Facebook messages from so many parents of blind children, saying, ‘My child wants to code so badly. Do you know of a way they could do that?'” Castor says. “Now, when it’s released, I can say, ‘Absolutely, absolutely they can start coding.'” She believes that the app would’ve greatly helped her as a child. Its reliance on hands-on learning and guidance fits perfectly into her mold.
“It will allow children to dive into code,” Castor says. “They can use Swift Playgrounds right out of the box; no modifications. Just turn on VoiceOver and be able to start coding.”And Castor has a message for the visually impaired children working with her program. “Blindness does not define you,” She says. “It’s a part of who you are as a person, as a characteristic– but it does not define you or what you can do in life.”