Stevie Wonder offered a perspective on Steve jobs’ impact on the world that didn’t get a lot of attention in the first round of reports about his death at age 56 on Wednesday from cancer.
“The one thing people aren’t talking about is how he has made his technology accessible to the blind and the deaf and people who are quadriplegics and paraplegics,” Wonder said when he called me Thursday afternoon. “He has affected not just my world, but the world of millions of people who without that technology would not be able to discover the world.”
Wonder first put his recording engineer, Femi Jiya, on the phone to talk specifically about how the various Apple products Jobs introduced over the last few decades had revolutionized the recording process.
“Because of what Apple has done with their technology, everything we’re using in the high-end recording situation is now accessible to everybody,” Jiya said. "A lot of that is through Steve Jobs and his love of music, and him wanting to get that technology to everybody at a reasonable cost.
“He developed Garage Band [recording and music editing software], so now a 15-year-old kid can be in his bedroom with his iPad playing around with Garage Band and come up with unbelievable ideas, which can then be taken to the next level… He has leveled the playing field; nobody else had done that.”
Jobs also expanded that field to include groups of people who previously had little or no access to many technological innovations. That’s what left the biggest impression on the 25-time Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and producer.
“His company was the first to come up with technology that made it accessible without screaming out loud, ‘This is for the blind, this is for the deaf,’ ” Wonder said. “He made it part of the actual unit itself; there were applications inside the technology that allowed you to use it or not use it. The iPhone, iPad touch, iPod touch, all these things, even now the computer, are accessible to those who are with a physical disability.
“In another sense, he has given the blind eyes to see the world, the deaf ears to hear the world," Wonder said. "I had wanted to meet him for a long time, and I’m just happy that before he passed away, I was able to meet him and say to him, ‘Look, you’ve changed the lives of millions and millions of people you may never ever meet. Truly you’ve been a blessing for those of us who’ve needed that kind of technology to do more things, to be part of this world, to be in this millennium.'
“I’m just hoping that his life and what he did in his life will encourage those who are living still and those who will be born, that it will encourage them and challenge them to do what he has done,” Wonder added, “and not making the whole concept so complicated that people can’t use it -- you just make it one of your applications, it’s in your technology. That will then create a world that will be accessible to anyone with any physical disability, and anyone can buy it, even if that person doesn’t have lots of money.”
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-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Stevie Wonder playing at the Hollywood Bowl in July. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.