Collective Intelligence & Disability Movement Values

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Helpdesk4Seniors.org is a startup dream being floated by Greg Tsutaoka from MiDocs Foundation. It is one of several un- or under-funded initiatives starting 20 years after Mary Furlong's pioneering work with SeniorNet to increase social capital for older adults using technology. Who knows, maybe they will be the first such group to champion binary economics and we will see a SeniorSite with Boomer sensibilities and deep pockets to accomplish their mission!

On the Helpdesk4Seniors blog yesterday was a post introducing collective intelligence and technology with specific reference to disability thus suggesting connections to Universal Design. Below is a response to that post, Collective Intelligence: Include The Everyone for Success

A response to Collective Intelligence: Include The Everyone for Success

Collective Intelligence is what you observed when you worked with SeniorNet Learning Centers like the one in Almaden -- the sense of purposefulness, shared by peers, around a defined task. One characteristic of mature learners is the ability to value the limits of their knowledge not as a cause of frustration but as the starting point for personally relevant learning. That self-knowledge becomes a meeting point for teacher and learner as Charles Curran taught in his Counsel-Learning methodology. Shared life experience (generational affinity/culture) among seniors creates the peer-community which is the engine for the Centers' pedagogical practice of classes with a 1/3 instructor/learner ratio. The "co-opetition" is energizing!

As you discuss Universal Design and Assistive Technology (i.e talk about disability) be cautious not to trigger the generational aversion to "coming out" about the disabilities. Let no one fool you. Disabilities are experienced by each and every senior. It takes self-knowledge and social resiliency skills to admit it however.

Your arguments on the value and power of disability are classic Social Model of Disability but your vocabulary is the conflicting Medical Model of Disability. You will need to make a fuller presentation of the Social Model to overcome seniors' aversion. Your advice to value diversity is a start. It is core Disability Rights Movement philosophy:

"Not only do physically disabled people have experiences which are not available to the able-bodied, they are in a better position to transcend cultural mythologies about the body, because they cannot do things the able-bodied feel they must do in order to be happy, 'normal,' and sane....If disabled people were truly heard, an explosion of knowledge of the human body and psyche would take place." -- Susan Wendell, author of The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability

One of the characteristics of Boomers moving into the space you intend to serve with Helpdesk4Seniors is a different level of comfort with disability as well as a demand for usability as defined by the aged bodies of Boomers. That trend is being consciously strengthened as those of us in the leadership of the Disability Rights movement -- Boomers by birth -- intentionally redefine aging on every level.

Note the opposite of your diversity-aware approach to knowledge in David Weinberger's piece in this issue of KM World, "The Adversity of Knowledge":
http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=37313

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