Filmmaker James Rath says Apple saved his life.
Born legally blind, the 20-year-old Rath says he was severely bullied as a child and had difficulty learning. He attempted suicide when he was 11 years old, and was diagnosed with depression at the same age.
But when he got his first MacBook Pro on his 14th birthday, he found that the computer’s accessibility features allowed him to see things he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see. He could read his schoolbooks and zoom in on software that allowed him to edit video.
“My whole outlook on life changed after I got my first Mac,” Rath told CNNMoney. “I stopped doubting myself.”
Rath uploaded a short film about his story to YouTube on March 12. Titled “How Apple saved my life,” it was immediately noticed by Apple’s engineers.
On Wednesday, Apple’s public relations team reached out to Rath to thank him for the video. They also said that the video had made the rounds at Apple’s accessibility team, and they asked Rath if he had any thoughts about how to improve Macs and iPhones for people with visual impairments.
Rath was flattered, but he had no idea that his story was about to go viral. Three hours after Apple PR called, Tim Cook tweeted out Rath’s video.
“That blew my mind,” Rath said. “I was in shock. I had no idea it got as far as Tim.”
The emotional four-minute film details Rath’s early struggles with visual impairment. He suffers from two conditions: Ocular albinism, which gives him blurry vision, and nystagmus, which makes his eyes shake uncontrollably.
His school provided him with a slew of tools to help him in class, including blowing up his texts using a photocopier. He said those visual aids were unwieldy, and led to some harsh bullying.
On his 14th birthday, his parents took him to the mall to get a present. They wandered into an Apple(AAPL, Tech30) store, and Rath said a specialist introduced him to the zoom and VoiceOver features on Mac OS X, which allow the visually impaired to see and hear what’s on the screen.
His parents bought him a MacPro, and it had a profound affect on his confidence.
“I rapidly got out of my depression,” Rath said. “It happened pretty quickly.”
Rath said he had been interested in filmmaking since he was eight, when he started playing around with his parents’ camcorder. He was amazed by the zoom function, which allowed him to see objects he was never able to see before.
He became a very early YouTuber, posting videos starting in 2006. During his depression, he dropped filmmaking for a while. But he got back into it after getting his Mac.
He uses iMovie and Final Cut Pro on his Mac to edit his films, and he solicits feedback from his audience on YouTube.
But his most famous video almost didn’t end up online. He said he was hesitant to post it, unsatisfied with its quality. But a friend convinced him to upload it. Four days later, the world’s most famous CEO was tweeting about him.
Rath said he hopes the video helps other people who are going through similar difficulties.
“There might not be a solution but there are accommodations out there,” Rath said. “Apple really gave me the accommodations I need. I’m hoping someone will learn that options are out there.”