Let There Be Light

689 words; est. 3 min

Sunday, 1 Oct 2023

Priscilla couldn’t see any light at the end of her tunnel.

A dear family friend, Priscilla abandoned teaching when her father was diagnosed with wkidney failure and dementia. Stepping into her world – even momentarily – offered me a glimpse into her crushing reality. Random outbursts, dialysis appointments, round-the-clock feeding: I was instantly overwhelmed on days I dropped by to help. Beneath the smile she valiantly wore, Priscilla was crumbling.

Constrained by the unforgiving miles separating our homes, our arrangement was, at its base, exceedingly fragile. Priscilla’s futile search for affordable eldercare services only etched deeper lines across her visage. Who cares for caregivers when they can no longer care for themselves?

In our blinding pursuit of profitability, I realized that those poised to be technology’s biggest beneficiaries are often left behind. With a few taps, every one of us can summon a handyman, cleaner, or chauffeur. But caregivers, stretched to their very limits, need more: and here technology offers them little respite.

I sought to alleviate the turmoil caregivers endured by developing Swap, a mobile application which provides on-demand care for their families. I adopted a grassroots approach, conducting door-to-door interviews and testing user flows with caregivers of Singapore’s Dakota estate. Behind the scenes, I devised a geolocation matching algorithm that unlocked a latent network of willing individuals who lacked a flexible avenue to volunteer. Through Swap, caregivers can engage these volunteers to temporarily relieve them of their duties, affording them the opportunity to recuperate, to breathe.

Returning from her first night out, the spark in Priscilla’s eyes was something I hadn’t seen in months. You’ve no clue how much I needed this.

She wasn’t wrong: my stint as a substitute caregiver barely scratched the surface of her daily tribulations. And the frustration Priscilla felt scouring the Internet for help was foreign to me. Technology had always been a faithful sidekick of mine – its intricate algorithms reducing all inconveniences into effortless gestures. Couched in such ease, I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of her suffering.

But I now know something like it. Two years on, I was diagnosed with keratoconus – a degenerative disease marked by the bulging and thinning of my cornea.

It’ll be manageable, I reassured myself, till signages morphed into hazy blotches and my surroundings one blurry landscape. My reliable aides grew increasingly alien and unyielding. Apps devolved into mosaics of cryptic buttons and illegibly small text; submitting assignments online, composing functions in Xcode: tasks once executed with unconscious simplicity soon became Herculean efforts.

Navigating a world fading into abstraction, I found myself treading a path similar to Priscilla’s. I had been overlooked – by developers who regard accessibility features as optional add-ons; by product teams myopically fixated on mainstream market appeal; by an ecosystem glaringly indifferent to ‘uncommon’ needs.

It was at this intersection between Priscilla’s ordeal and my own that Photon was born. I wanted to set a precedent: one where inclusivity isn’t an afterthought, but a cornerstone of development.

Building Dime, I crafted flexible layouts suited to variable viewports and painstakingly labeled each component for screen reader compatibility. Still, accommodating the whole spectrum of cognitive and physical abilities goes beyond addressing visual deficiencies. I anticipated the unique ways individuals interact with technology; embracing these nuances by enlarging touch targets, simplifying gestures and subtitling app-wide video content. A daunting challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As architects of this digital age, it’s our duty to ensure that those who have been blindsided by life aren’t left watching from the sidelines. It’s them – us – who stand to reap the richest rewards from technology’s disruptive power.

Although my eyesight continues to wane, I resolve to coax light into crevices of despair, into the lives of those bound by their debilitating conditions or circumstances. With each blurring contour, my vision for an accessible future only grows more resolute.