Apple Watch to Offer First Wheelchair Fitness Tracking Feature

For athletes who use a wheelchair, and everyday wheelchair users looking to track their exercise and calories burned, Apple has good news for you. Apple Watch will include manual wheelchair fitness tracking in its free watchOS 3.0 update, to be released later this year.

Apple made the announcement at their annual WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) on June 13, 2016. In watchOS 3, the Activity app will offer a setting for wheelchair users. Wheelchair pushes contribute to all-day calorie goals, the “time to stand” reminder becomes “time to roll,” and dedicated wheelchair-specific workouts are available.

With this update, Apple Watch will become the first fitness tracking device for wheelchair users. “We want to make products that serve every walk of life,” Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, said in an interview. “We realized that while it was great for messages on the wrist, we wanted to offer [people with disabilities] the same opportunity to get healthier using Apple Watch.”

Apple had to create new formulas for calculating activity and calories burned, because past scientific studies had never looked at wheelchair users. They had to calculate the effect of different seat and wheel heights, surfaces that are easier or harder to push a wheelchair on such as wood floors or carpet, and changes in energy expended when wheeling up or down hills. The user’s specific disability can also affect the calculations.

“The more you look into it, the harder and more challenging you realize it was,” said Ron Huang, Apple’s director of software engineering for location and motion technologies.

To collect data and test the new app, Apple partnered with two groups that promote physical fitness for people with disabilities, the Lakeshore Foundation of Birmingham, Alabama, and the Challenged Athletes Foundation of San Diego, California. About 300 people in wheelchairs participated in more than 3,000 hours of activity research for the project.

The Apple Watch already has other accessibility features, such as larger watch faces for people with low vision and a mono audio mode for those with limited hearing in one ear. The upcoming watchOS 3.0 update will also offer Morse code and other tactile feedback to provide information to people with visual impairments.

Read more about the new Apple Watch accessibility features here.

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