Amazing Customer Service


When Microsoft released the latest version of Seeing AI including indoor wayfinding as a feature, I wanted to make sure I had the latest and greatest hardware on which to test the software. I had an iPhone SE30 on which Seeing AI indoor wayfinding will work but not as well as it will with an iPhone model that has LIDAR (an iPhone 13 or 14 Pro) and a pair of AirPods Pro. I also had to buy a new AppleWatch as the Model 3 I had isn't compatible with the iPhone 14 Pro.

My wife and I drove across the bridge to Tampa and went to the International Plaza Mall where there is an Apple Store and lots of other nice shops and restaurants. This is the story of the incredible customer service I experienced at the Apple Store in Tampa and the terrific people who helped us there.

Arriving at the Apple Store

We entered the Apple Store from the mall and within seconds were met by a person I'd assume would be called a greeter but I'm equally certain that Apple has a fancier title for them. He asked what I was looking to buy and I told him, "An iPhone 14 Pro and a pair of AirPods Pro" (I didn't know I needed a new watch yet). He went off and brought back a salesman named Nate who was a really nice guy.

As I told Nate what I was looking to buy, I also explained that I would need some introductory training as I've had an iPhone since they released the 3GS (the first with VoiceOver) but had never used one without a home button. I also asked if he had any training on VoiceOver and he said he had a little training but that he would get their VoiceOver specialist.

As he was off finding this person, I wondered if I'd ever been in an Apple Store that had someone who could be called a VoiceOver specialist before and I'm pretty sure that I had not.

The Blind Leading The Blind

Nate returned about a minute later and introduced me to an Apple product specialist named Sylvia and she explained that she is also blind and has been her entire life. I had heard that some Apple Stores had blind employees but this was the first time I met one in the wild.

As Nate set up my new phone, Sylvia started telling me about using an iPhone without a home button. This isn't rocket science or brain surgery but I'm an old man (62) and, especially regarding an iPhone, I had developed certain habits over the years that were going to be hard to break.

When Nate had the phone ready to start training the face recognition and such, Sylvia stepped in and took over. As usual, I was wearing a Goorin Brothers flat cap and RayBan Wayfairer sunglasses and the face recognition said something was blocking my face and that it couldn't get a sample. This is where Sylvia really started to shine as a product specialist.

First, we tried again with my cap off and, again, we got the error that something was obscuring my face. I took off the sunglasses and it started to sort of work but was having problems. Sylvia explained to me how to hold the phone to do this training as I obviously couldn't see the picture in the box on the screen. After first asking if it was alright to touch me, she reached for my arm and realized I was holding the phone too close to my face. She explained how to hold the phone and we got the face recognition working pretty quickly after that.

New Gestures and Such

After getting the phone set up and the restore from back-up started (one of my favorite features involved in setting up a new iPhone is its restore from back-up as a single action restores everything with no fuss, no muss, just pure impact), Sylvia started talking me through the process of using an iPhone with no home button.

The first new gesture I learned was swiping up from the bottom of the screen until I hear a sound to bring up the home screen, step one in unlocking the phone. At first I had a bit of trouble with this gesture as you can't swipe too short or it thinks you're using the VoiceOver single finger swipe up and you can't go too far as that will try to bring up the app switcher. Sylvia was incredibly patient with this old man and we got it to work fairly reliably after I did it wrong a few dozen times. Sylvia's patience and understanding was incredible, I don't know how she didn't get frustrated with me but she maintained a friendly tone and I didn't grow anxious myself as I often do when I can't get something to work right away.


As we got the phone working, Nate ran off to get the AirPods Pro. While waiting for him to return, Sylvia and I got to chatting. I told her all about World Blind Herald and she subscribed right away. As our conversation continued, we learned we had some friends in common (it's false that all blind people know each other but I seem to have a knack for being about one degree of separation away from really smart blind people I haven't met yet), we have a number of interests in common (including fishing) and I very much enjoyed chatting with her.

As I was in the Apple Store less than 24 hours after Microsoft had announced that it had added indoor wayfinding to Seeing Ai, the reason I was in the store, I told Sylvia about it as she hadn't heard the news yet. We were both excited about its prospects and I told her I'd report back my findings as we tested it in the mall once we had completed our purchase.

AirPods Pro

When Nate returned with the AirPods Pro, Sylvia started instructing me of how best to use them. She showed me the various features they have and explained that, when I got home, I should experiment with different sized ear inserts to ensure I had the best and most comfortable fit.

I must say that the Apple AirPods Pro are one of the most impressive technology products I've bought in a long time. I'm something of an audiophile and have some very expensive gear on which I listen to music (sighted men with some extra money tend to talk about cars; blind men talk about audio gear) and I find the audio quality of the AirPods Pro to be pretty amazing. They sound far better than I had predicted and they have so many other features of value that I recommend you read about them and, if you can afford the $250 price tag, give a pair a try.

The AirPods Pro also further demonstrate Apple's commitment to accessibility. I will readily admit, I know little to nothing about hearing problems. I know a couple of people who identify as deafblind but I know nothing at all about hearing aids or any other technology a person with hearing issues would use. Every Saturday, though, I listen to a podcast called Skeptics Guide To The Universe, a science enthusiasm and scientific skepticism oriented show from which I learn something new every week and a few weeks ago, they had a story about how Apple AirPods Pro were tested professionally and in almost all cases outperformed hearing aids costing much more. I wrote to Jay, one of the show's hosts, and he sent me a link to the article they used as the source for this story. I noticed that the settings for the AirPods Pro have an entire section on using them to help with hearing but, as I don't understand hearing issues, I didn't do much to explore them but, if one can use a pair of $250 ear buds instead of hearing aids costing $1000 or more, Apple is doing something very special.

After Leaving The Store

It had been my most enjoyable experience buying anything at all that I've had in years and now I was going to start testing the new Seeing AI indoor wayfinding feature. I was feeling quite tired but we went to a seating area in the mall and I gave the Microsoft software its first test drive with the new gear and was immediately impressed. Susan and I went home and, when I tried to pair my old AppleWatch with my new phone I learned they were incompatible so we returned to the same mall and Apple Store the next day. On seeing us arrive, the greeter ran off and got Nate and Sylvia for us again.

As I was only buying an AppleWatch SE (I don't need all of the features on the fancier AppleWatch models), I didn't need a lot of help. This gave me another opportunity to talk with Sylvia about Seeing AI, various speech synthesizers and other topics around blindness. It was a very pleasant conversation and I hope to get the chance to talk with her more in the future.

Setting up the AppleWatch, using the same "restore from back-up" feature as is on the phone, went very quickly, we paid for the purchase, thanked Sylvia and Nate for their excellent service and returned to the mall to test Seeing AI indoor wayfinding more seriously than we did the day before.

As we included my testing story in our article "Seeing AI Indoor Wayfinding, First Looks, I won't repeat it here but will say that it performed far more impressively than the Microsoft disclaimer suggests it would and far exceeded my expectations.

Blind People In Retail

I've often heard that one doesn't feel accepted until they see someone who looks like themselves on television, on a stage or in some other public forum. I never felt as comfortable with a person working at an electronics retailer in my life as I did when Sylvia was with us at the Apple Store. To be certain, I've never had a bad experience at any Apple Store in any number of cities but having another blind person present who knew and understands the products they sell far better than I ever will was a great comfort.

With Sylvia, I didn't have to supplement a salesperson's knowledge of VoiceOver as she will probably forget more about it than I'll ever learn. I didn't have to answer any awkward questions about blindness. I didn't have to explain what I did and did know as she could tell by what I was doing. Having Sylvia present made the entire shopping experience so much better as, because she has the shared experience of blindness, I felt at ease, no pressure and she provided me with the most important information a blind person would need to know about the nearly $1600 of what I had bought those two days.


By hiring blind people to work in their stores, Apple has raised its already excellent accessibility program substantially. I didn't need to buy a handful of devices only to come home and need to read a lot of stuff online to fully utilize my new toys; Sylvia had me up and running and, while I have learned more about the new phone and AirPods since, she had given me all of the information I would need to start testing Seeing AI and to do most other things that a blind person might with this new and impressive bit of technology. Having someone like me in the store made me feel more welcome and far less like an outsider. I walked away with a better understanding of why diversity is important as this was the first time I had a person working in a store who is one of "my own." It was a special experience and I hope Apple employs more blind people in more of their stores so other blind people can enjoy the same experience I did.