Last Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook flew out to New York City, where he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn University, his alma mater. Cook graduated from Auburn with a degree in industrial engineering in 1982 and is an avid Auburn football fan.
In his 13-minute acceptance speech, Cook devoted much of his talk to discussing equality and human rights.
As a child who grew up in 1960's Alabama, Cook recounted a childhood incident which provided him his first glimpse into the "devastating impacts of discrimination."
Remarkable people were denied opportunities and treated without basic human dignity, solely because of the color of their skin. And not far from where I lived, I remember very vividly witnessing a cross burning at such a remarkable family. This image was permanently imprinted in my brain and it would change my life forever.
Cook also expressed pride that he found himself working at Apple, a company that he was thrilled to discover espoused values such as equality and human rights. Apple has been at the center of much controversy surrounding working conditions in its supply chain. With Tim Cook at the helm, however, Apple has taken more steps than most similarly situated companies to ensure that labor abuses are curtailed as much as possible.
For this reason and many others, I was very fortunate that my life's journey took me to Apple. In addition to finding a company and a founder unlike any other, I found in Apple a company that deeply believed in advancing humanity through its products and through the equality of all of its employees.
Now much has changed since my early days at Apple, but these values, which are at the very heart of our company, remain the same. These values guide us to make our products accessible for everyone. People with disabilities often find themselves in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged. They're frequently left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others. But Apple's engineers push back against this unacceptable reality. They go to extraordinary to make our products accessible to people various disabilities, from blindness and deafness, to various muscular disorders.
I receive hundreds of emails from customers every day. I read them all. Often, they are written like one might talk to you at the dining room table at night. Last week, I received one from a single mom with a 3-year-old autistic son who was completely non-verbal. The child had recently been given an iPad, and as a result, his mother told me that for the first time in his life, he had found his voice.
Cook also referenced the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, a piece of proposed legislation which prevents discrimination on account of one's sexual orientation or gender identity. Cook previously championed ENDA in a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this November.
"Now is the time," Cook said, "to write these basic principles of human dignity into the book of law."
The full video of Cook's speech is below and is well worth watching.