Accessible Apple: An interview with Laura Legendary about the intersection of fashion and accessibility

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak with Laura Legendary, cofounder of Fashionability and owner of Elegant Insights Braille Creations, about her opinion of the Apple Watch and its implications in the fashion industry. She is a speaker, author, and educator specializing in disability awareness, advocacy, accessibility, and assistive technology. You can read a transcript of our conversation below:

Alex Jurgensen (AJ) - Hi, Laura. Thank you for speaking with me today regarding the Apple Watch and how it fits into the fashion industry. For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with Fashionability, what is it and what is your role within the group?

Laura Legendary (LL) - Fashionability is a podcast devoted to making fashion and style information inclusive and accessible for everyone.  I cofounded the Fashionability Channel with Emily Davison, who is a fashion blogger based in the UK.  You can find the Fashionability Channel on the platform under the 'lifestyles' category, or you can hear us on iTunes or iBlinkRadio.  I also host many of the shows.

AJ - What is your background in the fashion industry?

LL - My background is in music and art.  I majored  in vocal performance in college.  Most of my professional career has been devoted to promoting disability awareness, advocacy, and assistive technology  through writing and public speaking.

LL - I was raised in an environment where fashion was important.  All of the women in my family are glamorous and stylish, and I was influenced by strong, independent women who had a flair for fashion.

AJ - That’s quite a diverse background. What got you interested in starting a venture like Fashionability?

LL - Originally, I wanted to find a way to augment my business, Elegant Insights Braille Creations.  I wanted to broaden my reach, to expand my audience.  It occurred to me that there was really no one out there catering to ladies and gentlemen with disabilities with respect to fashion, and I became curious as to whether or not there was a desire for that sort of information in the community.  So, I created a survey, asking some basic questions as to what was needed and desired, and if the people in the disability community felt they were being adequately served by the fashion industry.  I was surprised by the response, which was an avalanche of cries for attention.  Respondents made it clear that they felt neglected and excluded.  So, I reached out to Emily, who has her own blog called Fashioneyesta, and asked her if she would like to join me in creating a fashion related platform for people with disabilities.  The Fashionability Channel was born.

AJ - I understand from our previous conversations that you went to go see an Apple Watch on Sunday. Why did you feel it was important to cover the watch for Fashionability?

LL - I knew that this device was going to be revolutionary when I saw that Apple was reaching out to the fashion industry.  I have been following the evolution of the design and the progression of the launch closely, and it soon became clear that the Apple Watch was intended to be as much about fashion as it was about tech.  Many in the blindness community use iPhones and other Apple devices, due to the native screen reader, VoiceOver, and I thought that the Apple Watch would likely be a beautiful marriage of fashion and function, all wrapped up in a stunning package.  It was natural that I would think it a perfect fit for the Fashionability audience.

AJ - As you say, Apple has been touting the watch as something of a crossover between a fashion accessory and a technological gadget. Now that you have seen the watch, would you say that you feel people will wear it for its fashion appeal or merely for its technological capabilities?

LL - That's a bit hard to answer, considering how many Applephiles are out there who would buy anything Apple sells, but I have to admit this device is about as beautiful as a tech gadget can get.  It is clear that the designers at Apple spared no expense, and utilized every creative inspiration they could dream up to craft this smartwatch.  Further, I believe this first production offering is just the beginning of more to come, both in terms of style and features.  No matter what the reason a person chooses to wear the Apple Watch, fashion or function, they will be pleased to wear it.  Its eye catching and sharp. 

AJ - Applephiles, I like it! For readers, note that I have been to all major launches since the iPhone 4S in 2011. I guess that makes me an Applephile.

AJ - What was your Apple Store experience like? Describe the staff, atmosphere, etc.

LL - Unlike yourself, I am fairly new to the world of Apple devices and "iThings."  I have only owned an Apple product, an iPhone 5, for two years.  I have been into my local Apple Store three times, and each time was the same.  My nearest Apple Store seems to be in a constant state of barely controlled chaos.  It is jam packed with customers, very noisy, and hard for me, as a person who is blind, to navigate.  For my try-on demo for the Apple Watch, I was treated like a VIP.  I made my 15 minute appointment online, just like everyone else, but when I arrived and explained that I am blind, and needed extra assistance to handle each device model and all of the watchbands, and had lots of questions, I was taken aside and given an hour and a half of personal attention.  It was very generous of the store employee to give me so much time, and I'm so grateful.

AJ - Welcome to the Apple device owning family, Laura.

AJ - For readers, a great tip for booking appointments is to let the staff know that you have accessibility requirements ahead of time by using the “Additional Notes” field of the Apple Store app. I discussed this in a post last week.

AJ - That is amazing that they were able to provide so much 1 on 1 time to you. Did you have a chance to look at both the 38mm and 42mm watches? If so, what were your impressions of each size?

LL - I examined every model and every watchband, except the gold Edition.  I thought either size could be worn by either men or women, depending upon their taste, not necessarily their size.  Some petite ladies prefer bold jewelry or a large timepiece on their wrist, and the smaller size does not look diminutive on someone with a larger wrist.  I think it's a matter of preference and lifestyle, rather than size, that would dictate the choice.

AJ - What were your thoughts on the basic straps that come with the Apple Watch Sport?

LL - The material used to craft the sport bands felt unlike any rubber I've felt before.  I thought that the style was interesting, and the fact that no metal was used anywhere on the band would insure no cuts or scrapes as one is playing a contact sport. I'm not sure how secure that particular watchband will be,ultimately, if your wrist were to catch on anything, but the material is waterproof, smooth as silk, and seems like it would hold up under heavy wear and tear. 

AJ - With the Apple Watch starting at $349 (USD) and $449 (CAD) respectively, a price point that is pretty high, would you recommend readers get additional straps or do you feel the base model strap to be enough for casual wear?

LL - If you could see my closet, I think you would already know the answer to that...  Choice is good.  Seriously, though, the aftermarket avalanche of watchbands and accessories has already begun.  There will be innumerable choices available from third party retailers that I'm sure will be much less expensive coming soon.  The Apple store employee with whom I spoke told me that Apple has released the specs for the proprietary mechanism that allows for the swapping of bands, so I don't doubt many affordable alternatives will be forthcoming.

AJ - What advice would you give to someone who is unsure which watch/strap combination would suit them best?

LL - Handling each choice, putting them on and clasping each, may be a key factor in making a decision.  Some of the clasps are much easier to manage than others, especially if there are considerations with respect to manual dexterity or motor control.  Try on each option, and be sure you can clasp and unclasp the band without assistance.  A couple of the choices are so simple to wrap around your wrist, then clasp with a magnet.  Others require more fine motor or dexterity function.  The good news is, the clasps are all relatively easy to use, and there is a wide variety of colors and styles.  Again, going forward there will be so many choices you will be limited only by the space you have available to store them!

AJ - Do you have any special advice for those of us preordering online who are low vision or blind and cannot see the watch combinations on Apple’s website?

LL - I really like your tip about adding some notes as to your specific needs in the notes field on the Apple try on appointments page.  Maybe you'll get extra time, too, who knows.  I also recommend listening to my upcoming podcast series on Fashionability, where I will be explaining, in great detail, the particulars of the Apple Watch, the bands and accessories, and which combinations might work well with your particular sense of style.

AJ - Thank you. We’ll be sure to link to your podcast.

LL - How would you suggest a person decide between an Apple Watch and an Apple Watch Sport? Do you see a reason to spend the extra money required to get the steel Apple Watch, verses the aluminium Apple Watch Sport??

LL - Since all of the variations, the Sport, the Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch Edition, are all supposed to function the same with respect to the software, and each choice is identical with respect to case dimensions and controls, that leaves personal taste as the deciding factor.  The steel is noticeably weightier than the aluminum version, and if you want something that feels solid and heavy and seems impervious to wear and tear, the steel might be a good choice.  Stainless steel is very strong, is scratch and dent resistant, and both the Space Black and shiny steel finish is beautiful on both choices.  Also, it's important to point out that the steel version has the more durable sapphire glass,  which may also be a deciding factor for you. 

AJ - I agree that the steel version’s sapphire display would come in handy, especially outdoors.

AJ - Speaking of the watch itself, what were your impressions of its touch screen, for the purposes of accessibility? I know you haven’t been able to play with VoiceOver or any of the other accessibility features yet, due to the Apple Watch launch issue I detailed last week.

LL - You are correct.  None of the accessibility features were enabled in any store demo units, in any store I called.  However, this does not seem to be the case everywhere, as I have heard others describe the VoiceOver functionality as robust, thanks to the availability of some VO enabled AppleWatch, somewhere.  I was disappointed that I was unable to evaluate the accessibility features, but that may change as updates are pushed out to the store demo units.  My only comment about the screen pertains to the fact that the screen is small compared to the iPhone or iPad, so people who have larger fingers may struggle with some gestures.  I would think the multi finger gestures might be hard to perform if one has large hands or fingers, but this is not a supposition based on experience, as I was unable to try out the software.

AJ - I cannot comment on Apple’s future plans regarding updates to the Apple Watch demo units’ accessibility at this time, but I can confirm that the Apple Watch units used in existing VoiceOver reviews were not standard floor demo units.

Update (April 20, 2015): Apple Watch demo units can be used with accessibility features. To find more info about how to enable them on the Apple Watches at your local Apple Store, read this.

AJ - Does it bother you that there is only two physical controls on the watch, the "Digital Crown" and the "Communication Button"?

LL - No.  What bothers me more is the placement of the crown.  It is situated off center, closer to the right hand corner, if oriented so that the crown is pointing towards your fingers.  I would have preferred the crown were centered, with the other button either made smaller, or broken up into two buttons, one on each side.  But I tend towards a preference for balance and symmetry, and others may like the fact that the crown is not centered.  For them, perhaps they find the design more avant garde.   

AJ - That’s an interesting observation. I don’t think Apple would have broken the button into two, but that brings up the idea of a third physical control.

LL - Yes… That's what I was thinking, a third control, for whatever function, not a single control broken up into two buttons. That would make little sense.

LL - The way the watch is designed now, there is no space available for a third control on that edge. They would have to make the rectangular button smaller, in order to accommodate a third control on that side.

AJ - I agree. I think I misunderstood your original comment. However, breaking the rectangular communication button into two smaller buttons may have made it harder to press for those with larger fingers.

LL - The other aspect of the off center crown is that it is situated differently for right and left handed users. While the software reorients itself so that the watch can be worn on either wrist, the button is situated on opposite ends of the device for right and left handed wearers. This doesn't change the functionality, obviously, but the two buttons are oriented differently depending on which wrist it is worn.

AJ - I never considered that. I am a left-handed watch wearer myself.

AJ - We’ve talked so far about the Apple Watch straps, the watches themselves, the Apple Store experience. Do you have any additional thoughts to share with our readers about the Apple Watch, Apple in fashion, or fashion in general?  

LL - My only other comment is to keep in mind this is the first of what will surely be a jam packed space, that of the "wearable technology" category.  The potential for the Apple Watch is fantastic, and we are only at the beginning of what will ultimately be a device as indispensable as our cell phones.  Some may feel these smart bands are trying to create a solution for which there is no problem, but I don't  see it that way.  I believe the wearable tech category will only become more functional, more fashion forward, and more desirable.  

AJ - Do you see Apple being an accessibility leader in this industry, as they have clearly become with iOS?

LL - I think it's too early to say, considering that no one has actually received their Apple Watch yet, and we still have much to learn about how it will perform in the "real world."  In general, though, based upon what I've read about upcoming plans, the future of this device promises  to be very exciting.

AJ - Very true. Only time will tell.

AJ - Before we close, I’d like to personally thank you for taking the time this afternoon to talk to me about the Apple Watch in fashion. On behalf of the Apple World Today team, we really appreciate your insights into this exciting new intersection of fashion and technology.

AJ - Readers, I encourage you all to check out Laura and Emily’s podcast over at Fashionability. You can use the link to directly subscribe via iTunes on the Mac or the Podcasts app on iOS. They can also be found on Twitter at @InclusiveStyle.

AJ - To find out more about Laura, you can follow her on Twitter at @Accessible_Info or read her blog. On her website, you can find out more about Elegant Insights Braille Creations and check out and purchase from their distinctive collection of jewelry and accessories, all handcrafted, made in the USA, and embossed in Braille. 

LL - Alex, it has been my pleasure entirely.  Thank you for the invitation to share my thoughts with your audience, and if I may be of further service, please do not hesitate to ask. 

AJ - You're welcome.

If you would like to see more interviews posted, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. As always, questions and comments are also welcome.

Bio:  Laura Legendary is a speaker, author, and educator specializing in disability awareness, advocacy, accessibility, and assistive technology. You can find her Accessible Insights blog at: Laura is the owner of Elegant Insights Braille Creations, offering a distinctive collection of jewelry and accessories, all handcrafted, made in the USA, and embossed in Braille.  She is also the cofounder of the Fashionability Channel, an audio podcast which aims to make fashion and style information accessible for everyone.  You can find Fashionability on Twitter at @InclusiveStyle and listen at or on iTunes.  Born in California, Laura now lives in Nevada.