My life has had its share of disruptions and perhaps that is why I am so attracted to the ethos of the Disruptive Technologists. Disruptions can be difficult and painful but also present remarkable opportunities. Forty-one years ago, my Jessica was born, and her birth and life certainly didn’t align with most of my ideas of parenting and childhood. I was a corporate banker in NYC, living in the suburbs, and doing the daily slog into Manhattan. Then this little redhead came into our lives with numerous developmental delays, including cerebral palsy and cognitive challenges. Discovering ways that I could help her came just at the time when personal computers were making a huge splash in the marketplace and I saw in them a tool, a prosthesis, that might overcome some of the challenges left from her damaged brain.
Another disruption happened in the late ‘90s, when banks consolidated and markets changed, leaving me with little emotional personal connection to my work. Changing careers is terrifying and a key ingredient is a very understanding spouse. Starting at the bottom of the rung in the field of human services, I worked in group homes, helped people with disabilities find jobs, served as their case manager, taught them advocacy skills and this gave me more emotional satisfaction than I ever had in the business world.
Then, in 2010, with the debut of the iPad, the world of special-needs technology was disrupted, and Jessica found the device that became an essential part of her life and I found a new direction in human services. Suddenly, personal technology was much easier, pervasive, and affordable. So now I work at promoting the use of smartphones, tablets, smart speakers, and home automation as ways that can help people with cognitive disabilities be more independent in their lives. The tech giants now see the potential markets that universal design and accessible products can open for them.
With the pandemic crisis, our human services industry has been disrupted, pivoting to remote delivery of services like so many other systems. There are further disrupters ahead – the world of ambient intelligence and intelligent agents that can relieve care staff of some of their workload while providing more independence for the people they serve.
And my iPhone signals me each day that Jessica is starting a FaceTime session with me and I can share pictures of her new niece (our first grandchild) and be comforted that my daughter is happy and well in her group home, a couple of hundred miles away from where I’m remotely working here in Southern Vermont. So much of life is about disruption. Technology is a tool that allows us to welcome, and create, the next steps.