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May 20, 2022

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Apple CEO Tim Cook Highlights Accessibility at Gallaudet University Commencement

Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated his company’s commitment to the environment, privacy and accessibility during a commencement address at the country’s leading university for deaf people. 

Cook said his company’s partnership with Washington, DC’s Gallaudet University underscores Apple’s efforts to create inclusive products. He singled out cooperation with the Gallaudet community as being particularly important in helping the company create a guide within Apple Maps to help people find deaf-owned businesses. Apple also made iPads available to students at the school during the pandemic and worked on features to help the Deaf community.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have such innovative and committed partners,” Cook told graduating students. Molly Feanny, the class valedictorian, thanked Cook for accepting her invitation to speak, which was extended via Twitter.

The address echoed broader comments by Apple, which has tried to separate itself from other device makers by highlighting specialized functions that address the needs of people with disabilities. Among the company’s developments: Functions to control an Apple Watch with a single hand’s gestures, sign language support in the company’s stores and functions making it possible for people to control their Apple device with their voice.

In March, Apple surprised the film world by winning the Oscar for best picture with CODA, a movie with a predominantly deaf cast. CODA, an acronym for child of deaf adults, streamed on the company’s Apple TV Plus.

Cook has become increasingly vocal about social issues since coming out as gay in 2014. He penned a 600-word piece for The Washington Post addressing discrimination against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. In addition to supporting LGBTQ rights, Cook has also weighed in on immigration and hate speech.

He spoke out regularly against former President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit immigration. He also criticized Trump’s statements defending white supremacists who’d gathered at a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, as well as the former president’s plans to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

“We are indebted to all who serve,” Cook wrote at the time. “Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back.”

Galludet’s history dates to 1857. The school was established in 1864 when US President Abraham Lincoln signed its charter. Troy Kotsur, one of the stars of CODA, attended the university.

Update, 5:50 p.m.: Clarifies that while Kotsur did attend Gallaudet, he did not graduate.