One idea that struck me recently is that we could use readily available mobile technologies to connect volunteers with people in their vicinity who require a little help each day — not permanent care and supervision, but assistance with small tasks and everyday activities, like crossing a busy street near their home, getting groceries, or walking their dog for a couple of minutes. The timeframe for the task is set to be smaller than 20 minutes but that does not preclude volunteers from staying longer. The general assumption, however, is that each instance of help would conclude within this 20-minute-long window, a “quick helping hand,” so to speak.
The target groups
To ideate potential target groups and the problems that our app might solve for them, we had to ask ourselves: What challenges do senior citizens and volunteers face?
A. People who require short periods of assistance on a day-to-day basis – primarily the elderly or people with disabilities.
B. People who want to offer help, but don’t have the time to get fully involved with volunteering.
PROBLEMS – The elderly/the disabled:
A. they need assistance everyday and often there is no one around to help them,
B. they are afraid that the effort required by the things they have to do could lead to loss of consciousness or other dangerous medical issues – often as little as 5 minutes of someone else’s time would be of great help to them
PROBLEMS – “Freelance” volunteers:
A. would like to help, but don’t know how or where to start
B. don’t want to invest too much of their time, maybe 10-20 min max per day.
How to Start Using the App to Receive or Give Assistance
Joining the “Helper” group: Anyone with Facebook or Twitter account can log in and create a profile. To prevent undesired and potentially dangerous situations (for example theft) we could add an additional layer of identity verification, via confirmation of phone number.
Joining the “need assistance” group: Users from this group will need a phone with either iOS or Android. To use the app, they just need to provide their name and phone number. Additionally, they can provide further information about their disabilities. This will make it easier for “helpers” to prepare what they may encounter.
Requesting assistance through the app:
Due to the fact that our target group will often be suffering from mobility, vision or hearing impairments, the app should have a simple UI, with basic functionalities, clear messaging, and contrastive colors easily distinguished by anyone, even people with color blindness. To request assistance, the user would simply have to place a finger anywhere on the screen and the app would take care of the required arrangements. To prevent placing the call accidentally, the user would have to hold their finger in the same spot for at least 5 seconds. The message informing the user of placing the request will be read out loud via phone speaker.
When the app matches the request with a volunteer ready to help in the vicinity of the user placing the call, it displays relevant information, like the estimated time of arrival, on the screen (or reads them out loud). While the request is pending, the user placing the call can either cancel it or call the volunteer.
The “Assistance” Side
The app should work on both Android and iOS systems. Anyone can apply to be a volunteer, and after their identity is positively verified via means we described earlier, they will start to receive requests from people in need of assistance in their vicinity. The app will also display a map to provide the volunteer with directions to reach the person who placed the call. Furthermore, the app will also provide the volunteer with information about disabilities or medical problems the person they are supposed to help suffers from, so that the volunteer will know what to expect upon arrival.
Thanking the Volunteers
If the person who placed the call wants to express their gratitude for the volunteer’s help, they can hold a finger on the screen and automatically send a predefined “Thank You” note via Facebook (or Twitter). The app also allows the user to edit the message that will be posted in their name. The “Give thanks” screen will disappear after a specified period of time after the “help” event, but will still be available from the app’s menus.
I’d Love to Hear from You!
This is just a concept, based on assumptions and Internet desktop research. I believe that using technology to build something that makes the world a better place is always a good conversation starter. I didn’t have access to real users and people in need, so the best thing at this stage would be to establish a relationship with an NGO or people who have real access to data and users and could review my concept. I’m open to all discussions and tips how to make make it happen, because it’s totally possible to make an app like that a reality. Let me know your thoughts on this!