Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Are we smart enough?

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Some evenings, I like to go to meetings that take me to the flipside of my day job–a job that focuses on the day-to-day needs of people I see.  I like to enter a world where ideas freely flow, where people think about what is possible with technology, with innovation in all spheres.

But then, as I sit and watch, I so often find myself feeling like that “yes, but…” person–a role that makes me very uneasy. You see, I am idealistic, a dreamer–and yet, as I listen to creators, I find myself ever questioning feasibility, accessibility, practicality. And I keep wondering if there is not a better way.

To be more precise, I come from a nuts-and-bolts operation, the non-profit, state-funded program. Things move slowly, often somewhat inefficiently, and I maneuver through systems that operate in archaic and difficult ways.

And beyond the question of public services is the bigger issue of people themselves, people with varying experiences, people whose adaptability varies also, greatly. Not always, but often, it can be difficult to bring in the new, the unfamiliar.

Enter the smartphone.

Yes, the smartphone, the I-Phone, the apps, and the digital world as a whole.

So much potential, and I can see as I hear the ideas how much it would help so many of the people I see.

I think of the woman a few weeks ago who had the meticulous paper diary of blood sugar levels, food she ate, things she had changed, stress level. If only she could have plugged it all in. (and then, also, if only her doctor had time in a 15-minute visit to review the data and make sense of it).

This woman does not have a computer.

I was fascinated this morning as I read the newly-released poll from NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health. It discusses the difference in perception about our healthcare system, depending on whether a person has had a chronic illness or disability within the last twelve months. You can read a summary of the findings here. I was not surprised to learn that people who are sick have a worse impression of what is going on. But more on that later.

The data fascinate me in this sort of study. So, while I find myself distressed (though not at all surprised) to learn that nearly a quarter of people who have faced a healthcare crisis have also faced a “very serious” financial crisis as a result, I am astounded to read about telephone use.

Yes, telephones.

In the most basic modern mode of communication, what is a person’s link to the outside world? (and I must add that the individuals polled seem to represent a good cross-section of adult age groups, as well as income brackets). A full 16% of individuals polled said that they do not own a cell phone.

I wish I knew more. I wish I knew about internet access, whether households have computers, or tablets, or smartphones.

At one of these “ideas” meetings that I love, I started talking to a man. Great ideas–I could see how useful they could be. And I told him about what I see everyday–the people with limited computer experience, the people who could really use the ease of technology, but who need for it to be accessible.

I felt that I was talking to another world–he told me that everyone has smartphones.

Another man, at another meeting, told me that I-Pads are great for people with disabilities, very intuitive, and insurers would pay for them, because it only makes financial sense to them if it can save on office visits. On what planet? If the insurer happened to be Medicaid, for example, can you imagine the uproar? Poor people using government funds to get Apple products?

But the the question of accessibility is not only financial, or technical. It is also very real. What about a person with low-vision, or no vision?

And that issue–as I note every time I look at so many things in my job–is not limited to the idea-world after work. A woman, at a day-job-related meeting, explained that an application for her program–which isonly for people with disabilities–is not available in an accessible format, yet.

I have the same feeling every time I pass by a new subdivision, all with lovely front entrances, elevated, stairs heading up to the door.

What are we thinking? If I could impress one thing on any new thinker, it would be to consider the user first and foremost–not an ideal user who thinks and looks like you, but a user who really needs that great idea of yours to work for him, for her.

Consider starting from scratch–where you turn it on, for example. Consider training, equipment, and whether it is usable at all as you are creating it, for whom you are creating it.





Written by Only Anecdotal

22 May 2012 at 7:33pm

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