All technology is a servant of humanity.
And it’s at its best when it moves beyond making life easier and actually makes life better.
The difference may seem entirely semantic, but it hinges on comfort versus necessity.
It’s the difference between the technology that powers your car’s gps, and the tech that powers your car’s braking system. The difference between telecommunications that let you locate a restaurant in your area, and those that let 911 dispatchers find you.
In the world of video conferencing, it’s the difference between developing technology that better facilitates a business meeting, and developing something that could change the way people live their lives.
For people who suffer from mobility restrictions, video conferencing could offer a life changing means of travel and interaction with the agencies that support them.
Amazingly, one in five Americans suffers from a disability.
And the most common functional disability is a serious difficulty walking, which is reported by one in eight adults.
The word “serious” in the above sentence isn’t hyperbole; it’s the term the Center for Disease Control and Prevention uses to describe these ailments. That means there are some real limitations being imposed on a lot of people in the U.S. because of problems with mobility.
Any type of injury or illness that affects one’s ability to walk, be it acquired or congenital, is going to render simple tasks such as getting to one’s car a test of will. It’s certainly going to make prolonged physical activity, like walking around a supermarket or waiting in line at the bank, something to be avoided.
Unfortunately, people with these sort of conditions are more likely to have to deal with some of the most prosaic institutions in the modern world, namely welfare and government agencies. And that makes the millions who suffer from mobility issues the perfect candidates to benefit from the virtual travel that comes with modern video conferencing.
Traveling by Video Conference
First, the technical.
The quality and simplicity of current video conferencing technologies make it easy to set up a suitable service at home.
While almost every modern laptop now comes complete with a webcam, even a high-end, HD quality webcam costs little more than $100, and abounds with features such as autofocus and dual stereo microphones that make it simple to use.
And there’s an array of video conferencing providers that will let people dial in to one-on-one or even multiple caller video conferencing for free.
That gives both people of limited mobility and the agencies they deal with the “way” to speak to each other without the need for travel or standing in line, and negotiating the “will” portion of the equation shouldn’t be an issue either. There are no technical or security reasons why any government or welfare service that requires a face-to-face interview or visual assessment can’t be held via video conference.
Many video conferencing providers have already passed the U.S. Government’s test for security and interoperability. Vidyo won a place on the Department of Defence’s approved products list by meeting the demand that its software be able to integrate with the maze of government networks and programs, while Lifesize gained certification that its security encryption service was suitable to house and convey sensitive information. In fact, the Social Security Administration already conducts thousands of hearings by video conferencing each year.
Video Conferencing with Welfare Agencies
The best way to help people with limited mobility is to prevent them from any unnecessary movement in the first place.
The medical community is already providing online consultations, and the technology exists for patients to submit basic information such as heart rate and blood pressure to their doctor using wireless technology without leaving their homes.
Interviews conducted with government agencies such as Social Security will be far less intrusive with video conferencing technology, and far less dependent on the physical presence of the subject. If congestion is preventing the major provision of online services, perhaps a virtual waiting room can be designed to let people wait on hold until a video conference is available.
Great things are already being achieved in augmented reality video calling, and if these could be incorporated, a client could look through a host of 3D-displayed information while they wait, and be guided through the initial paperwork by an automated video.
Once the interview actually begins, any number of doctors or social workers who need attend or witness the appointment can also do so remotely, removing the complication of synchronized travel. The digital nature of this meeting makes it easier to get through any necessary red tape as patient records and other information can be shared instantly through a common connection.
The bottom line is almost anything that can be achieved in a face-to-face appointment can be replicated online. And video conferencing can be used to save someone who is unable to walk without difficulty from real, physical pain.