My battle with Stargardt disease highlights technology as a powerful force for good
When my life flashed before my eyes in September of 2018, it wasn’t because of a near-death experience. It was because my neuro opthamologist and retina specialist had just told me I could no longer drive. Visual deterioration caused by Stargardt disease, he explained, had rendered me legally blind.
At the time, I was crushed. I pictured all the limitations of my future life: I’d be unable to drive my future children to soccer practice, unable to hike solo in the North Shore Mountains, unable to reach my favourite Salt Spring beach with my dog, Hogan.
As the founder of my own business, I’m used to relying on my own resilience to get through tough times. But this was different. This time, I had to look outside myself for support – and what I found changed both my business and my life.
With July being Disability Pride Month, an annual celebration of inclusion and visibility of people with disabilities, I’ve been reflecting on how technology has made so many aspects of my personal and professional life more accessible.
Microsoft’s free SeeingAI app, for instance, speaks text as soon as it appears in front of my iPhone’s camera, scans barcodes so I can hear product information in stores, and even describes photos I’ve taken. Speaking of my iPhone, its accessibility features, dark mode, and quick-zooming camera make life so much easier, as do apps like Google Maps, which speaks street names when I’m struggling to read signs. Instead of squinting to read product packaging in stores, Amazon Ops and SPUD let me order on-line and deliver everything I need. (Diaper sizes don’t matter… said no new mom ever.)
As for getting from A to B with a stroller, briefcase and baby-supplies-stuffed backpack in tow, it was a lucky coincidence that Uber and Lyft became widely available in Vancouver before the arrival of my first child.
In short, I have learned from experience that technology is one of the most positive and powerful tools in humanity’s toolbox. But like most forms of knowledge, the more I learn, the longer my reading list becomes.
Tech’s role in transforming my own life was at least part of the reason my company, Switchboard Public Relations (Switchboard), shifted its focus to collaborate with innovators and leaders who are working to create positive change in the world by developing groundbreaking solutions to big problems.
As with accessibility issues, it helps that many of these problems are deeply personal to me. For instance, it fills me with hope that my seven-month-old son could benefit from CubicFarms’ automated indoor farming technologies, which are designed to prevent food insecurity and environmental degradation. While the pandemic forced my parents and in-laws to limit their time with their new grandson, it’s comforting to know that AbCellera is working to combat COVID variants and ensuring Canada has the capabilities to respond to future pandemics.
And I can’t leave out the BC Tech Association — who are supporting companies of all sizes, all over the province — to ensure that groundbreaking innovations reach their full potential. Who knows one of these companies could be working on a piece of technology that will make my life a little bit easier?
More than $100 billion in new federal innovation spending, announced during what is likely to be an election year, provides a clear indication that leveraging tech is essential to the growth and success of every business. While this provides some nice validation for Switchboard going all-in on tech, I’m not all that concerned with doing the right thing.
After all, with tech clients like ours, doing the right thing is the only thing.