Wednesday, November 9, 2016

High Tech, Low Tech, No Tech

As I was driving to work a couple of days ago, I was half-listening to a radio interview with two different experts talking about economic issues relevant to the presidential race.

NOTE: this post is not about politics. Election Day is past. I’m not here to tell you who I voted for or why, or to tell who you should have voted for or why. So you can safely keep reading! 

Anyway, one of the interviewees was discussing job opportunities, and stated that he felt that some people “put too much faith in technology and progress and neglect the fact that about a third of the population is never going to be high tech . . .”

I bristled when I heard him say that. Now, I want to be fair and put the statement in context – I believe he meant that not every job out there would be in the high tech sector, and we need to develop employment options beyond those types of jobs if we want to make our economy stronger (you can listen for yourself for the context using the link above, it’s said at about the 2:30 mark of the segment).

But his choice of words is telling, in my opinion, and is a reflection of the challenge I think we are facing in the world of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD): a misrepresentation and a misunderstanding of what technology means in 2016.

I get that many people who need work aren’t going to find employment as computer programmers or app developers. They won’t be designing the next iteration of the iPhone or making adjustments to Google’s algorithms. But they can, and will, use technology in their jobs.

The stocker at Wal Mart, the cashier at McDonalds? They use technology all of the time. In fact, the technology they use is quite sophisticated, and probably would have baffled workers in the same positions only ten or twenty years ago. So why is the guy in the radio segment so quick to assume that former steel workers or coal miners can’t or won’t be able to have tech related jobs? In a few years, almost all jobs will be tech related in some way.

Which brings me to our field. I fear that when people hear that Imagine! wants to use technology as an aspect of our mission of creating a world of opportunity for all abilities, they assume we are talking about incredibly complex futuristic ideas, where the human aspect of providing care is absent. And while I’m not opposed to pie-in-the-sky technologies, they aren’t really the focus of what I’d like to see in terms of tech use for opening the doors to self-reliance for people with I/DD.

A quick example. We’ve shared before how some of the individuals we serve use task prompters on their smart phones to help them find and keep employment. Sounds exotic, right? Well, if you have ever used the map feature on your smart phone, you’ve used a task prompter, too. It helped to guide you to your destination in a step-by-step manner.

Returning to the gentleman in the interview, I reject the notion that a third of our population is never going to be high tech. They already are. And I reject those who say technology isn’t providing answers for bringing about better, life-long outcomes for individuals with I/DD. It already is.

Then again, what do I know?

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