Giving Back: Using Assistive Technology to Volunteer and Help Others

When I was growing up, I was always afraid of being “that friend”...

You know, “that friend” who is always asking for something but is never around when you need them?

“That friend” who, whether by accident or design, elicits so much sympathy and/or pity, that people feel like they have to help them? 

As a young adult, I was so afraid of being “that friend” that I never asked anyone to go to lunch or dinner out because I was afraid they'd think I was asking them only so I could get a ride.  After all, why would anyone want to go out to eat with me?  What could I offer?  I couldn’t pay for both meals every time…

I was so afraid of being “that friend” that I took my self-reliance to extremes at times.  There could be a foot of snow outside and I would walk the five blocks to the store and bring back a few bags of groceries if it killed me!

I could dissect this whole thing and lay it out for everyone to see...but that's not really the point of this article.  I will say that as I matured and gained life experience (as well as some self-esteem) I began to realize that I did have something to offer others so I didn't have to be “that friend”. 

One thing I realized I had on my side was technology.  It opens so many doors for so many people, especially those with disabilities.  We have different ways to reach out to others.   

Don't believe me?

Here are five iOS apps (and yes, they are all accessible with VoiceOver) and ideas of how to use them to give back to your friends, family, or community.

Uber/Lyft

I take foster animals into my home rather than volunteer at the shelter, mainly due to time constraints (by the time I get to the shelter after work, they're almost ready to close and given that I don't drive, Saturday is prime “errand running day”).  Besides, foster care is needed for animals who are ill, need a quiet place to recover, or need socialization.  I use both of these apps to drop off and pick up animals when my BVFFF (best volunteer foster friend forever) isn't able to help me transport them to or from the shelter.  As long as I let the drivers know ahead of time that I'll have a pet carrier, they don't generally mind (and if they can't guess that a ride going to or from the Humane Society probably involves animal transport one must wonder how they ended up with their divers' license).   

That's just one example of the many uses of these ride sharing apps.  Offering to give someone a ride home from an event by scheduling an Uber or sending a Lyft to pick up a stranded friend are just a couple of the creative ways these apps can be used to help our friends, family, or even a complete stranger whose car broke down. 

Blood Donor

This is a free app put out by the American Red Cross.  After creating your account (or entering your American Red Cross Blood Donor Card info) you can find blood donation drives n your area.  The app provides you with a location, address, and means of scheduling your donation appointment. 

Amazon

Have a friend who is stuck at home?  Amazon is a great way to send them something they may either want or need.  I've been known to do this for friends or organizations (many of which keep Amazon Wish Lists of things they need).  Fun tip: if you happen to have Amazon Prime, you can still get free shipping when sending an item to an address that is not your own.  So go ahead, send your shut in Aunt Harriet that case of Spam, if it's available on Prime, you still get the free 2-day shipping. 

Big Oven

There's always at least one neighbor or coworker or friend who is under the weather.  Why not make them one of their favorite recipes?  Sure you can search Google for a recipe, but somehow using an app is a bit more fun.  If you find a recipe you like or that your friend enjoyed, you can mark it as a favorite for easy reference. 

Local homeless shelters are always in need of donations.  In my area, there are smaller shelters that take in only ten to twenty people at a time.  They get lots of donations between Thanksgiving and the New Year, but could probably benefit from some home cooking in February or July. 

One time, my neighbor did me a huge favor by blowing the rest of my leaves into the gutter the day before collection day....he likes raspberry pie.  Never made one in my life before that, but I found a great recipe on Big Oven and now every year he gets a pie (he also keeps an eye on my wandering cat and lets him in if it's too cold out). 

PayPal

After the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, there were many organizations looking for donations.  Everyone from the Red Cross to local charities were looking for help.  Many websites had a “Donate with PayPal” button or something similar, but if you wanted to search PayPal directly, there is a “donate” button right within the app where you can search for specific charities.  Most charities will appreciate as little or as much as you can afford. 

Not sold on the idea of volunteering? 

According to this page on the Corporation for National and Community Service website, benefits to volunteering include a sense of pride and accomplishment, which can lead to an increased sense of self-worth.  Volunteering provides numerous health benefits, particularly for seniors as it “provides them with physical and social activity and a sense of purpose at a time when their social roles are changing”.  (See also a report by the same agency entitled The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research)

So basically what you have here is a win-win.  You are less likely to be “that friend” and your life will be longer, not to mention richer, for the experience.

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