Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How Can We Design A Space...

...where everyone feels comfortable interacting with autistic people?

I live in San Francisco city and often take the public transit. Lately, on three different occasions, I noticed strange interactions (or, rather lack of) with autistic people. The moment an autistic person boarded the Muni (San Francisco's public transit), passengers stared at him or her and then uncomfortably looked away.

About three weeks back, a 45 year old man boarded the Muni, along with his 20+ year old friend, who was clearly Autistic. Everyone stared at him for a minute and then ignored him. I usually smile at people when I make an eye contact. And, usually, when you smile at someone, you get a nod, or a smile. Sometimes, you can initiate a conversation. In this case, my usual approach was not optimal since my smile was not acknowledged.

Throughout the Muni journey, I wondered how to engage in a conversation with the 20+ year old. Also, the experience made me wonder whether there is an opportunity to design a space, or a space within our usual spaces (cars, buses, trains, etc), where socializing with autistic people can be made easier for everyone involved in the process?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Glimpse Into the Future

Early January, I visited my dentist for a semi-annual cleaning. Due to an urgent patient situation, I had to wait for over one hour, which is not the norm at my dentist's. He was so apologetic. He stressed on the fact that he had to do something for me, in spite of my several,"do not worry about it(s)". He thought I was a great candidate for a teeth whitening exercise. Not because I had yellow teeth (I swear I do not!), but because my teeth were perfect - no cavities and an infectious smile (I like to think that!).

The trainees took impressions of my dentures and made a cast. I was told that the cast should fit like a glove. I was asked to come back after a few days and when I did, I was explained how to use the teeth whitening material.

Process: Brush you teeth before whitening, put 1/3rd gel in the dentures, which are fake plastic, put the teeth whitening for 1-3 hours, clean, dry and repeat again after a day, or whenever you like.

All this sounds simple...right?

The process is extremely uncomfortable - the dentures feel as if someone has put chains in your mouth. I keep spitting every 10 minutes over the course of one hour (notice how I use the minimum suggested duration), I can not talk to anyone during that time, and I get the tingly feeling in my mouth. Also, at times, my gums get tired and I feel like I have fake teeth!

Although my teeth are getting whiter, the terrible teeth whitening user experience made me realize how life will change when I turn 75+ (if I live that long). I would need to wear fake dentures, which would be extremely uncomfortable. I would be living and breathing this horrible experience day after day...yeesh.

A far fetched flash into the future can be inspiring at times...I, now, vow to respect & appreciate my teeth, and take care of them forever till death do us apart.

On another note, I think there is nothing sexier than a woman who greets people with an infectious white smile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Importance of Speaking the Right Language

Business, often teaches MBAs to speak the right language; a language that the CEOs, stakeholders, and target audience can easily understand. In fact, one of my favorite courses at Rotman taught me to present my case (or, point of view) in a clear, compelling, and memorable way. A recent personal experience shed a whole lot of clarity on why speaking the right language is absolutely crucial.

My eye-sight check up was long overdue. My family doctor recommended an optometrist in downtown San Francisco.

On January 27th, I visited my optometrist, who was housed in quaint little place in San Francisco. As I waited for my appointment, I could not help notice that all the optometrists were in the age range 50+.

I thought,"Great! experienced optometrists...this is nice!".

Time for my appointment: The doctor (let's call him - jabber) escorted me to his exam room. Jabber sounded friendly.

Jabber: "Hi Shalu, let me ask you something: why brings you in today".
Shalu (thinks): Great! I like people who get to the point right away. This visit will be a breeze.
Shalu (Replies): "Oh, when I play Rockband on Wii, my eyes become watery. So, I was wondering whether my eye sight has changed".

Jabber: "Ah! Not a problem at all. I see people like you come in every day".
Shalu (thinks): really? I guess a lot of people must play Rockband..
Shalu (replies): "Oh?"
Jabber: "Which instrument do you play?"
Shalu (thinks): Weird question..but whatever, he is the doctor.
Shalu (replies): "Sometimes I play drums and sometimes I sing".
Jabber: "Oh I see...you know, I get people like yourself from San Francisco Orchestra/Symphony all the time".
Shalu (thinks): Huh?
Jabber continuing: "And, the problem is that when people perform under bright lights and they are on stage, they can get headaches and their pupils dilate as well. It is very common. You should put some eye-drops before going on stage and under bright light. I would even use the drops back stage"...jabber continued for 10 minutes and discussed the importance of wearing eye drops before performing.
Shalu (thinks): WHAT! Does he think I am a musician?

The optometrist was one of those people, who are really hard to interrupt in a conversation. I tried a few times, but failed. The conversation happened while he was testing my eyes with his fancy eye equipment. In turned out that my number had a minute increase. Finally, I got a chance to interrupt him.

Shalu (frantically trying to get her point across): "Wait! I want to clarify something - when I say, I play Rockband on my Wii, I mean at home. I hope you understand what I am saying".
Jabber: "Of course! I do..I am going to give you these eye-drops, which you should wear before you go on-stage next time and use them back stage as well....just one drop and you'll be as good as new". He then continues for another 5 minutes about bright lights, musicians, and stage performances and how all these things affect light.
Shalu (thinks): Oh God! this is ridiculous.
Shalu (replies): "Yes, I understand..now do I need to wear these drops when I am not performing?"
Jabber: "Oh no...just wear them before you go on stage".
Shalu (replies): "Thank you! It was an enlightening visit".

I bet the optometrist did not know what a Rockband, or a Wii was. He must have thought that I was being modest and therefore, did not give him much information about my shows. Most importantly, he thought I played in a band!

And, I agree with my friend Komal, who says,"This has to be the joke of the decade!" :)

The silly conversation could have been prevented had I started with,"Oh, when I play the game Rockband on my gaming system, Wii, I get watery eyes"..

Alas! The choice of words is absolutely necessary. But, for about 30 minutes, I got to live the dream of being a lead singer and drummer in San Francisco's Orchestra! :)