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, I 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.
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. Desperate companies 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 Gordon, President
Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)