Technology “Inclusiveness”

By Duane Gordon 

 Microsoft has an office of “Disability Inclusion.” But does it include us? 

We Depend on Technology…

Technology has probably saved my life. It has saved my sanity and my career. As an adult with ADHD, I’m sure you’ll agree technology has made life easier. I rely on devices, apps and computer software to cope with ADHD symptoms. Technology gives me ubiquitous access to my calendar with its alerts and reminders. I can’t survive without note-taking apps. Even the ability to take a digital photo for free helps me cope with daily tasks. Most of the adults with ADHD I know (and I know a lot of them!) have integrated technology throughout their lives. 

At Work, At Home… Everywhere

In my work, I depend on the Internet, email, video conferencing and chat applications. Most employees use software as part of their work today. I rely on software to compensate for ADHD-imposed limitations. Before technology, would have been unable to do my job. Software checks my spelling and grammar (in two languages). Software ensures consistent formatting. Software performs all my calculations. Software tracks my progress against proven procedures. I have worked hard to take care of my ADHD. But I can’t imagine doing my job, or any similar work without the technology I use. 

With Potentially Devastating Consequences

Like most adults with ADHD, routines and habits help me be productive, organized and consistent. I support many of my routines and habits with the technology that permeates my life. I love it when new technology promises to make my life easier. But I also dread updates to any technology that has been woven into the fabric of my life. When technology I count on changes, it can impact my habits. That can have a disquieting ripple effect throughout my life.  

We Give Up Control…

Technology companies are the most powerful and fastest growing businesses in the world. Names we all recognize – Google, Microsoft, Apple and more – have become integral parts of our lives. Providing software ecosystems, these companies wield enormous power. Is it possible to work a corporate gig anywhere in North America without using Microsoft Office? Companies update their technology many times a year. They change everything from the operating system to the user interface. By doing so, they force users to follow along, offering very few options for opting out of these updates.  

But Why?

In most businesses, customer demand drives product or service changes. We would hope that in the software industry, the changes they make are in response to requests from users. But we’ve all seen the resulting dramatic failures and backpedaling when users reject such a change. These changes are not user-driven. These changes are often instigated by a design team who thinks they know better than users. Or worse, products updates only justify another billing cycle. As we move to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, updates are ever more automated. It is impossible for the user to control or prevent their system changing before their eyes. 

Employers Are Including Us…

Years of work promoting the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce has borne fruit. Desperatcompanies facing a shortage of skilled employees has also helped. There is increasing pressure in companies for disability inclusiveness. But invisible “disabilities” like adult ADHD have no voice in the technology design process. We are being left out of the design conversation.  

But Is The World of Technology?

The technology I use allows me a successful career and a full life. I’m grateful. But I agree with the World Health Organization when they say, “Disability is a function of design.” If any of the technology I use to cope with my ADHD were to disappear, the effects would be devastating. It’s unlikely a popular technology will disappear. But we’ve all seen unanticipated, unprompted and unsuccessful design changes. And some of those changes made technology more difficult for adults with ADHD to use. In extreme cases, my career could be at the mercy of design changes completely out of my control.  

I work in the technology industry. I am more comfortable than most adapting to changes in technology. I am also able to afford to replace systems that have changed enough to now be useless for me. What effect have dramatic changes in user interfaces and functionality had? How have they disrupted people who are less adept, but as reliant on technology as, I am? 

How Are Technology Changes Disrupting Your Life?

I’d like to hear what you have to say. If you are an adult with ADHD, and you consider yourself to an extent “dependent” on technology. If you are a professional working with adults with ADHD. If you are the partner of an adult with ADHD. Please share stories about disruptions in your life caused by “improvements” in technology.  

Have changes to technology challenged you, your partners, clients or patients? Please share specific ADHD-related examples of challenges that went far beyond simple annoyance. 


To your success,

Duane

 

Duane Gordon, President

Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)

    • C. V.
    • February 7, 2020
    Reply

    Oh and I have tried several times to reach out to two Microsoft product developers of their Immersive Reading products/features but the ignore me or give very vague answers like ‘yes we do offer assitive technology for professionals’.

    I feel discouraged and left out. Even the Learning Disability Association of American has very scant information for adults, mostly K-12. But eventually the K-12 audience becomes 9-5, so what then?

    • C. V.
    • February 7, 2020
    Reply

    Emma Evans,

    I completely understand. People tend to think I’m not into learning new things but that is not true. It’s just that learning is harder for me as I am diagnosed with ADHD and Non-verbal Learning Disorder. It’s hard enough to find assistive techonolog that works for me as an adult in the professional world with a LD, never minds when techies change things up and either the product, app, ext becomes obsolete or is not longer functional for my needs.

    There are huge supports for K-12 but what about 9-5 folks?

    But what can we do about this??? Seriously?

    Chris

    • P Edward Murray
    • September 17, 2019
    Reply

    Great topic!

    Believe it or not, I’m a former Team Leader/Tech Support Rep for the now-defunct “Panasonic National Diagnostic Center”
    Want to know why you have problems with Japanese made products? The manuals are composed and written in Japanese then
    translated. That’s why they are so hard to understand:(

    Anyway, I’ve just recently “upgraded my skills” taking a class via “Careerlink” on Microsoft Word & Excel plus another one entitled ”
    Customer Service bootcamp” because , having been out of the workforce for a while, I’ve been told that’s what is expected.
    Having purchased an new laptop..with Windows 10 now… “I was very happy with Windows 7” I too, protest the needlessness of updates
    and upgrades , that , to my opinion, are “make work” projects and usually make the product even worse:(
    Oh and I’ve been very cordial and nice about it….
    Right now, sitting next to my computer is small “astronomical eyepiece camera” that I hope to begin using again…I just hope that once I find the software…that it will work with my new Windows 10!

    • Emma Evans
    • June 5, 2019
    Reply

    Updates are a constant battle for me. When I go to use an application that I rely on only to find I need an update, the extra step and time of doing the update is often enough to get me off track of the task that I wished to complete. For example, I heavily rely on mobile banking application to track my finances, and without them I am guaranteed to lose track of what money has come in and what money has gone out. I find that my mobile banking app needs to be updated pretty frequently, and when I can’t log in, I often impulsively pull the trigger on a purchase without checking my balance.
    When it comes to promising new tech that might make my personal and work life easier, I get SO overwhelmed with the number of emails that are sent by some tech companies after you register for their service. This makes my inbox extra overwhelming and difficult to organize.
    I work as a program officer at a small IT company, and a lot of my work deals with accessibility compliance. I am familiar with 508 and WCAG standards, but sometimes I feel they do not reach far enough to address issues faced by individuals with ADHD. Hoping to think more on the topic of ADHD user experience as it relates to web-based application design.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • Reply

      Thank you for sharing! I think we all too often assume that technology is only helpful. And it is in many ways, but those are excellent examples of real-life issues we face all the time. If only the technology companies realized what a loyal audience/market they would have it they would listen to us and cater their approach to meet our needs!

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