Apple Watch and Accessibility for the Deaf

When the first Apple Watch was released 7 years ago I wasn’t interested in getting one. Being deaf means I don’t want to spend money on stuff that I can’t get a lot of use of it. Apple Watch is also mostly marketed towards fitness. I’m also a huge fan of a wrist Watch as an accessory and have a couple of nice ones.

Fast forward to 2022 and I happened upon a comment by a Deaf person who mentioned how the Apple Watch timer in combination with the haptic/vibration is a huge help to them.

After reading that comment I decided to deep dive in the Apple Watch specs to find out if it really can be an accessibility help for my needs as a deaf person. Plus, early this year I switched back to the iPhone after years of using Android phones. So, getting an Apple Watch was more feasible should I decide to get one.

Some daily obstacles in the life of a (late) deaf person

The thing that bothers me most about modern phones is that they don’t vibrate as strongly as dumb phones used to. I can’t trust my phone to wake me up in the morning, if I’m carrying it in my coat or even my pants pocket I don’t feel it vibrate when I get a new notification. Hence I always need to keep an eye on my phone to not miss a text message.

Hearing people will tell me they don’t care to check their messages constantly. But when you can’t be reached by phone, it’s important to be available through text for important things. Ignoring text messages is not an option.

Other situations, like cooking. A hearing person can just set an egg timer to remind them when pasta, rice or potatoes are done boiling. They can hear the oven or microwave beep. I on the other hand must constantly keep an eye on the clock or walk in and out of the kitchen to make sure nothing is burning because I let it cook too long.

Imagine all this every day, always. And those are just a few examples. It’s stressful to always need to have your phone within hand reach, especially when at home and you just want to relax.

To make sure the Apple Watch really is a solution to the above I wanted feedback from another deaf person. A friend tipped me about Molly Watts’s blog. She is DeafBlind and wrote a blog about her experience with the Apple Watch. While her disability and needs differ from mine, reading about her experience convinced me the Apple Watch is a good accessibility help in my life.

Picking a model

Being the price-conscious tech geek that I am. I went back and forth for a week between the new SE version, the series 8 or the series 7 Watch. I finally settled on the Series 7 Nike version, black, 41mm with WiFi. The difference between series 7 and 8 was not worth the money.

Apple Watch Series 7 41mm Nike Edition Black
The Watch looks bigger in the photo than in reality 😮

Verdict after 3 weeks of wearing the Watch 24/7

I was a bit queasy right after ordering and paying for the Watch. What if I spend all this money and the Watch doesn’t hold up to my expectations? The fact that the store had a good return policy helped me not worry too much.

I shouldn’t have to worry. Once I got the Watch and set all notifications the way I wanted it I was happy. The first day I could already set the timer for the food that was cooking and just go take care of other things in the house without worrying. A nice noticeable haptic notify me of new messages. I can just leave my phone on my desk and not worry about checking it. My Watch will just give me haptic feedback about new messages or important emails. I can just glance at my watch and decide if I need to take care of a message right away or just swipe it away.

iCal notifications are super important for me. My whole life is planned in iCal, from the time I need to get ready to my actual appointment. Now I just get a reminder on my Watch without needing my phone within hand reach.

I also don’t need my bed shaker alarm anymore. Those are the worst to wake up to. Now the combination of the Apple Watch and the iPhone with LED lights on my nightstands are enough to wake me up from deep sleep. The Watch vibration alarm is enough for light sleep when taking a short nap during the day.

These darn settings

As a deaf person when I get a new phone, I don’t just set the phone on silent. I go through every app and turn off the sound. To make sure I don’t walk around with a phone making sounds if I accidentally turn off the silent mode. Turns out that when you do this with the iPhone the vibration won’t work with new notifications. You must have all the sounds turned on and the phone on silent mode for vibration to work. I don’t find this a good method. I once accidentally turned silent mode off and couldn’t figure out why my alarm wasn’t vibrating anymore. I imagine I was also walking around with a phone chiming all day long with new notifications.

Other benefits

Other Watch functionalities turned out to be very useful. I can track my sleep. I don’t always sleep well and it is great to be able now to see how my sleep cycle is. It’s pretty decent actually. I can monitor which night rituals are best for better sleep. Such as drinking a cup of camomile tea before going to bed.

The step counter, I always thought I don’t walk enough. Turns out that just going to work and having to move around in the building and taking stairs gets me 10.000 steps. Which isn’t even the golden steps a day standard.

I also check my heartbeat and oxygen once in a while to see how my baseline is.

The unlock MacBook and iPhone function is way easier than passwords or waiting for the iPhone face scan to react. My MacBook is connected to my monitor through USB-C in clamshell mode. It unlocks right away with my Watch. Every microsecond saved is a win.

Apple Wallet is also useful for quick purchases. I do need to open apps with Siri because I’m not fast at picking out an app from the menu while on the go.

Navigating with Google Maps

Have you ever tried being completely deaf and walking in a busy city while looking at Google Maps on your phone? A city like Amsterdam? Although bikers in Delft can give Amsterdammers a run for their money.

I still need to try using Google Maps with the haptic feedback. It’s supposed to tell me through haptic feedback where to go without me having to look at the phone screen at every turn.


I’m more relaxed and happy now that I’m not attached to my phone all the time. When at work (large building) I can leave my phone in my bag as long as both the iPhone and Watch are on the same wifi network. Incoming text messages display right away on the Watch. The weird silent mode thing of the iPhone has the advantage that I can get WhatsApp notifications without the haptic feedback, same for email accounts that get a lot of emails. So I’m not bothered all day long with haptic notifications. Just a red dot or set the message to display to let me know there is a new message.

Lastly, it’s fun setting up Watch faces for different occasions. Gives the Watch an accessoire look.

One Response to Apple Watch and Accessibility for the Deaf

  1. […] also wrote a blog post about how the Apple Watch is an accessibility assistive tool for me as a late deaf person. I still am very happy with getting an Apple Watch. It makes daily life […]