Blind since birth, 17-year-old Adi Kushner started getting interested in assistive technology at the age of five. Since Kushner lives in Israel and decent screen reading tech didn’t exist in Hebrew, he quickly started to teach himself English–and eventually how to code better technology himself.
“Later on, when I was nine years old, I started exploring this field in a more serious way,” he says. By 12, he was working with the Israeli company making the screen reading technology and leading the charge to improve it. Then he became interested in apps. Now he’s a world expert in software development for the blind, and he’s still in high school.
And when an accessible version of the ride-hailing app Gett launched today, it was thanks to the help of the teenage software developer.
The partnership with the app–a international black car service that is Uber’s biggest competitor in Israel–was an obvious fit for Kushner. “The reason is simple,” he says. “Blind people wanted to use this service because transportation services like this make our life easier. The application was not accessible. I just decided that we need this service–it’s an important service. Let’s contact the developers and teach them how to make the application accessible.”
Unlike many of the companies that Kushner has approached, Gett quickly responded. “Most companies ignore me,” he says. “They responded with a positive answer.”
To make it possible for the blind to use, the company updated the app to make it work with VoiceOver, Apple’s built-in technology that reads app features out loud, so it’s possible to scroll through a menu or hit buttons without seeing the screen. Kushner taught the developers at Gett how to make the changes, in the hopes that they’ll use those skills on every future app as well.
“My mission is to make developers aware, first of all, of the fact that accessibility for the blind does not mean a special version of your app, or developing a special kind of platform,” he says. “I can of course come in and write the code for the developer, make the application accessible, but my mission is to teach the developer to be aware of that. And they would think about accessibility out of the box, in every single thing they do.”
Right now, he estimates that about half of the apps he downloads from the App Store use VoiceOver, while the other half are still inaccessible. He wants that to change.
“The key point that I want people to understand is that we, as blind people, don’t need any special technology, or special mobile phones,” he says. “We can use the same technology as you guys. And there is no excuse for developers to ignore it and not to provide apps with equal accessibility to users.”