On this Tech Tuesday, as we approach the 4th of July holiday, we at the Harris County Law Library are reflecting on how technology empowers us to be more independent. For the elderly, advances in technology offer opportunities for greater autonomy. For those with disabilities, accessible design provides freedoms that previous generations could only imagine. And in the law, information technology (with the aid of public law libraries) has opened new avenues for self-represented litigants to access justice and the legal system.
Smart Tech for the Elderly
As we age, maintaining our independence and autonomy is important to us all. Thanks to "smart home" technologies, telemedicine, wearable sensors, and digital assistants, such as Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, many older people who rely on caretakers to assist them in the tasks of daily living now have tech alternatives for "monitored independence." For those with cognitive or mobility impairments, the future looks bright as well. For an excellent resource on this subject, consult Technology Tips for Seniors, a publication of the American Bar Association. Volume II will be published in August.
Accessible Design for the Disabled
To ensure online accessibility for all, web designers need to present information in ways that account for differences in how people interact with online resources. Accessible design of online content allows those with visual impairments, for example, to navigate the Internet more easily. Therefore, web design standards that specify requirements for accessible design are an important part of digital content development, and mobile apps should meet the same standards. Increasingly, developers are creating apps to facilitate greater navigability of the physical world, especially for those who travel on wheels.
Innovative tech designers are using the crowd-sourcing capabilities of mobile device tracking and user feedback to create apps for civic improvement, including apps that help mitigate barriers for people with disabilities. Google Maps, for example, now offers route suggestions (in a limited but growing number of cities) for the best path of wheelchair travel on city streets, and other apps help those with low vision.
Information Technology for Self-Represented Litigants
The justice system can be difficult to navigate. For those who represent themselves, resources for learning about and engaging with the legal system are invaluable. That's why websites such as TexasLawHelp.org are a lifeline to people in need of legal assistance but who are unable to afford legal representation. However, as we've noted previously, many people with modest means still face major barriers to accessing the Internet. Fortunately, public law libraries help remove some of those barriers by providing computers with Internet access, educational programs to inform people about the legal system, and legal assistance from volunteer lawyers or lawyer-librarians. We at the Harris County Law Library strive every day to provide assistance for those unfamiliar with the law and inspire the independence to act confidently on one's own behalf.
The common goal of all these solutions is to ease access and navigability -- of daily living, of the digital and physical world, and of the legal system. Tech design modifications for easier access to information and ideas are critical as information is key to independence in all areas of life. Improving the user experience for all people should be a shared goal of the tech community. Seniors, people with disabilities, and pro se litigants must not be left out of the design equation.