Designing With Empathy – Ep.18

Defining Yourself – Ep.17
February 5, 2021
Practicing Unity – Ep.19
February 26, 2021

Dr. Dee Miller joins the podcast to discuss inclusivity in product design. Dr. Miller explains why empathy is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to inclusive design and the approach taken to overcome, shares strategies to uncover unconscious biases, and what users should keep in mind when it comes to consumer biases.

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share, or is actively part of building solutions in this space.

Let’s get started. So I am so excited to have you here, and so intrigued with how you got here, and many of the things that you’re working on outside of your day job. It’s spoke volumes to me through your bio when you said you came from a military family. So I was like, “Oh, that level of excellence I can see was probably built in at birth.” So Dr. Dee, I will just dive right in, because there’s so many people out here focused on diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, and you have such an expertise in design thinking, service design, and inclusive design. So when I’m thinking about inclusion, I’m always focused on ensuring that the thoughts and ideas and perspectives of all individuals matter. But how does that translate when you think about design?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. So, when you think about design. You’re trying to think of the perspectives. I always tried to speak to whoever I’m working with and say, “Who’s missing?” That’s whether we’re building a program for the community, whether we’re designing products, you take a step back and say, “Who’s missing?” Because often what we’ll do is like, oh, this is the person that’s supposed to use, or is intended to use, but we end up forgetting a whole set. And so, even in some of the different areas of health care particularly, is what a lot of my work has been in as well, you forget, there are people who can’t get to the hospital, can’t get to the clinic. How do you design your applications to address those needs and things of that nature?

So my main question when I think of inclusive, it’s who did we forget? And inclusions on so many different levels that you have disability, you have race. So you have to think about that. Who is your intended audience? Who are you forgetting? And also, often I want to tell people not to get stuck in the intended audience. If someone who wasn’t a part of the intended audience tried to use whatever you’re developing, what would their experience be like? So, yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, and that’s so interesting because when you think about how these applications affect people in communities, when nobody’s thinking about inclusion and design. What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to inclusive design?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. I think one of the biggest challenge in what I’ve seen, and I’ve been doing this since undergrad, so I’ve always said, “How does technology impact society?” We’re always trying to build something for it to be better, but there’s unintended consequences sometimes. And so I remember even recently, about a couple of years ago, you go into the restrooms at different restaurants or in the airport, definitely, and you put your hand in front of… to get the water to start. Well I, and then this article came out and I know now I’m not crazy, I couldn’t get the water to start. I had to turn my hand this way to get it to start. But if I showed my pigmentation, it wasn’t able. And so these are things that wasn’t tested. You start thinking about that. So now let’s think about now we’re in AI. AI is built off of data. Data is biased.

So now we’re just continuing the issue of being biased and developing technology that’s biased. And so that is where the problem comes into play because we just perpetuate what we’ve been doing for so long. And so you’re leaving people out. And so when you think about it, from that perspective, I started taking that and looking at how we do policing and what do we do there. And how now we’re trying to do big data and technology and policing, an area that normally does… What does that really mean? You already have these infrastructures and issues where there are racial issues in policing. Now you’re going to add technology that can actually contribute and make it a worse situation.

And so that’s what you have to think about when you’re bringing technology into the realm and what it really means for inclusive design. So, I mean, in the end, it’s like having that conversation and being open to understand that we already have the structures and systematic injustices and disparities, social disparities in place. That adding technology could be a band-aid versus helping, and not address the root cause. And I always tell people, if we look at it from a tree perspective, there’s the root and then the leaves are the symptoms. Let’s not just address the symptoms. let’s start addressing the root.

Melyssa Barrett:  Definitely. So then, I mean, is part of the challenge for inclusive design and acknowledgement, that there is this issue and these disparities?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. I think a lot of it is acknowledgement. I think some of it is, is that there’s this, it’s not there anymore. Like, oh, we’ve come so far. It’s not there. And that’s not true. The reality is it is still there. And so a lot of times people want to act like everything’s okay and it’s not. And when they think about, particularly in design, how they’re designing, designing for diversity and what that really means, it also has a negative connotation. So design in itself, let’s take a step back. When you’re thinking about it from a product, design doesn’t always get the best love. If I was to think about it from all the organizations I’ve worked at as a researcher, as a UX designer, we’re coming in kind of like the bad guys in a sense. We’re looked at as like, oh no, you’re going to have usability issues, going to take us longer to develop.

So you already have that as an issue. Now you’re saying, oh, on top of that, I’m now going to tell you, you need to be inclusive. And what does that really mean? And how do you break that into the process? I think one of the challenges is, is that the process is not linear. And that is really, and everyone’s like, oh, it needs to be a part of the agile process or the waterfall. It’s not going to be that simple. There are layers to making sure, and checkpoints, throughout the process that you have to take into account.

So if you put on top that we already have some type of negative… I mean, I will say that in the last coming years, UX has got better at being appreciated at different companies and accessibility has become important and things of that nature. But it’s not to the extent that it needs to be. And I don’t think people know what product inclusion really is to some extent. I know Google has opened up a group, or has a team, and they have really focused on product inclusion. But I think sometimes at companies where we’re stopping, there’s an acknowledgement issue, but there’s also like, oh, it’s only accessibility.

And then when you think of what the accessibility is, it’s like, how do you define accessibility? And that’s, normally, people are talking about people who have disabilities But it’s more than that. Its goes beyond. That’s why I think inclusive design in itself has layers, and it’s critical to address those layers. That’s one thing, I’m actually working on something at my current company, as it relates to how do we bring in inclusive design across the board.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. Well, I mean, at the ethic crux of it, it’s like diversity and inclusion is one thing when you’re talking about retention or recruitment of employees. But then when you get into the product design, there’s a whole ‘nother layer of trying to figure out how that integration actually looks and feels to everyone that you’re serving, right?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  So then you talked about, I think, inclusive design and then a lot of what you work on also has this community base design. And what is that exactly?

Dr. Dee Miller:  So community base design is really mobilizing the community to be involved in whatever solutions we’re coming up with. So I recently worked on a project where we looked at gentrification, well, the process of gentrification going on within Austin. It was critical that this community was a part of that conversation. So we already saw the developer and what they’re planning to do. We already see what the city of Austin’s planning to do. But it’s like, it’s going to impact this community and it’s going to push them out, and they don’t want to be pushed out. They want to be there. And so it’s like, how do we help them not get pushed out, not raise the cost and allow them to stay in their community? Well, it’s bringing them to the conversation, really doing that community base, engaging with the community, aligning with them on what the real problems is.

I think one of the things that I’ve seen from my experience is that we don’t know how to define the problem when we don’t define the problem from the people we’re trying to help solve. So it’s like, this is your problem, but that’s not their problem. So it’s having those conversations. And that is what… working with Measure. I worked with this organization, Measure, and we developed a care model, which is about community, advocacy, resilience, and evidence. And what it taught, the first step is engaging the community, having them come to the table and really aligning on the problem saying, okay, here’s the data that we understand. This is the problem we understand. Is this your problem? And often you’ll hear, “No, that’s not our problem. Here’s the real problem.” And bringing them along in the journey and helping them to solve the problem themselves. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s awesome. So when you use it, I mean, you talked about a complex problem right there. But I know there’s so many things going on within communities. And one of the things that is so challenging when you think about diversity and inclusion is you have this opportunity to do better and be better. But there’s all this complexity as to how you actually make the social impact you really want to make, whether you’re a corporation, or you running the city or whatever. There is such a challenge to figure out how do you bring everyone with you.

And certainly in the United States, we’d love for everybody to be happy. But as we’ve gone through the election cycle, we also saw lots of differences in terms of extremes on one side or the other, and trying to figure out how to bring people together. So I know, and certainly with the George Floyd incident and all the things that happened in the last year, I think you’ve done some real interesting work with the police and the communities as well. Can you talk a little bit about that from your design and user background?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. So I was at a talk about four years ago where… yeah, it was about four years ago, where the leader of this organization called Measure asked a question. And at this time, she was running big data and community policing conferences. That’s what she was doing. And so we’re at IBM for a talk about technology, and she raised her hand and she’s like, “Have ya’ll ever thought, what could y’all do, well, how do you use design? How do you use technology to address the social disparities and issues in community policing?” And I sat there and I was like, what is this lady talking about? We’re here at this talk and then I had to think, and I was like, oh, but design thinking is about taking a different approach to problem-solving. And I said, I think that’s the issue from what I understand in how the police works currently. They’re doing the same thing. They’ve been doing it for so long.

And so I raised my hand, and I said, “well, I think you could apply design thinking.” And never did I think that she would follow up with me and asked me to come up with a curriculum and apply design thinking to community policing. And so in Austin, I ran that course and it was very interesting dynamics for the first time when I ran it. I remember some people did not want to come into the class, because the police officers were in there with their guns. And what was critical about this class, for it to be successful, you needed the community and you needed the police officers. A couple of times after I asked police officers, could they just come in regular clothes? And there was a reason I did that too. 

Melyssa Barrett:  They were in uniform.

Dr. Dee Miller:  They were in uniforms, right.

Melyssa Barrett:  Oh okay.

Dr. Dee Miller:  So I wanted to show, also, the community, these people are your community. It goes back to that question, who is missing? And often it’s community versus police. And I’m like, no, the police is a part of the community. So you have to understand that and look at it from that perspective. And so I used design thinking, and I really focused in on the empathy part. So there’s five core steps in design thinking. And there’s other people that have done other versions, but the five core steps is empathy, defining the problem, identifying the solution, prototyping. And so, in looking at design, I said the issue I saw was the empathy part. Empathy on both sides. And this conversation gets really heated and never do I ever finish through the class, through this because of this particular empathy of them understanding. The police officers understanding the community’s perspective, as well as vice versa, the community understanding.

And I gave an example where I was like, well, I’m going to use myself. Police officer helped me with this. And I said, I’m speeding. You pull me over. I tell you that my mom has passed away. How do you respond? Are you going to give me a ticket? Are you going to let me go. I need to go. Or my mom is in the hospital and she’s on her deathbed, and I need to go. And it was interesting. So everybody, all the community was like, “Oh, you’re getting a ticket. No matter what. You’re Black, and you’re a woman, and you’re a speeding ticket. You’re getting a ticket.” And I was like, wait, tell me what would you do. And they explained. They were like, this is the situation where I can empathize with her and say, okay, this is why I would probably give her a warning, tell her to slow down because we want her to get there to see her mother.

And everybody was surprised that that was the response. But I said, that’s the empathy part that you guys forget that they’re human too. They have a mother. But I said also, and then I took one on the flip side and I said, you see a person, how you approach us on the street is really critical. You can’t come to me saying “What you doing” versus “Hi, how are you?” There’s a difference in how you communicate. And so the community base part is really listening to the community, using design thinking to really start that conversation and understand what does empathy look like. And then also pushing the officers to really think about when you bring in technology to solve a solution, if you have a hotspot issue, and you’re now going to put cameras everywhere, what does that mean? What have you now brought up in the community? How are they going to react and feel? What does trust happen? You’re trying to build trust, and now you’ve got all these cameras around. Well, is there trust? Would you like that? How does that look and start having those conversations and things of that nature.

And so that’s what design thinking, I never, honestly, ever thought to even apply that to this. But once she asked and I had time to really sit down, I was like, oh yeah, this would work. And so I’ve gone around to different places in Texas, and I’ve started also going to California and really teaching, and then also working with DC. I’m starting to work with DC. I’ve been in communication with them to see how we can come in and do classes really about evidence-based policing and showing them different ways to approach solutions and community, community and policing. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. And it’s amazing to me because I think even in my own community, in California, we have begun doing that work of getting the police and the community together. In fact, my late husband, actually, I think, triggered the first community discussion between the police and the Black community here. And it turned into, let’s create a committee and let’s actually interact. And what’s amazing when you actually get to know people and connect, that you start to be able to discuss common issues and kind of figure out what the synergies are to create yet an alternative solution that maybe can meet most of the needs, if not all, right?

So I love the fact that when you think about inclusive design, that you’re attaching it to all of these different complex social disparity issues. Because at the crux of it, the business case for, or the use case, it becomes diversity-

Dr. Dee Miller:  Inclusion.

Melyssa Barrett:  … and inclusion. So really everywhere you go, you’re thinking about how to do that. So then when you’re talking about some of the things you’re doing in terms of training and coaching, where do you have to start when you begin to bring folks together? Because if empathy is the challenge, how do you kick off to encourage people to empathize? Because I think sometimes people come to the conversation, they have their view and their view is right.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yep. Yep. So one of the activities I have everyone do in these courses is called an empathy tap. And what they do is they actually write from the perspective of the other person. I’ll give a situation and I’ll say, what do you think, how do you think they feel? What do you think they’re hearing? You see things of that nature. And then what are the cultural aspects? Added that piece to it to understand, what are the cultural aspects that you need to consider? And you start, that’s when they are looking at this map, and they’re like, oh my goodness. This is different. They start having that conversation and said, so you see this person on the street, how would you treat them? Versus if I would’ve just said, “Hey, this is Sam, and Sam is doing this, this and this, and you know nothing,” versus now you’re now thinking, “Okay, Sam came from this community. He’s probably thinking this way when he’s in this type of situation. He’s probably hearing this when I speak to him this way.”

So really taking that empathy mapping activity and helping them. And in the class, they’re interviewing each other to understand and listen. And so that that’s critical to the whole process of getting them started too. And I mean, ultimately, you have to be open. And that’s what I tell them in the beginning when I start. I say, “You’re here because you want to learn how to better engage with the community and how to better engage with your community police officers as well. So this is your purpose. If you’re not here for that, you may want to get up and leave right now, because that’s what we’re going to be doing.” But that sets the stage, and then we go into those lessons and things of that nature. It’s always just mind boggling of what people come up with and what they say, and what they learn just by sitting there and listening to people and hearing,

Melyssa Barrett:  You give that space, which I think is so missing a lot of times. It’s just to create the ability, that silence for people to think and create and connect. So that’s incredible. I mean, I think it’s interesting too, because not to pick on the police, but there is a safety issue. In some cases it’s like, yeah I want to empathize, but I want to live, and I want to make sure that we’re protecting people. So there is that kind of dichotomy of quick thinking one way or the other. They have to do a lot of that in an instant. But I think sometimes, too, it’s also the point of, hey, we made a mistake, or how do you own that? And as we think about integration of design, because I think everybody’s so worried about the mistakes.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. And I think that’s what makes UX and design really interesting in this aspect, because the one thing about, and the design thinking process, you don’t just stop at the end of testing. You reiterate. So that means you’re allowed to make a mistake. That’s the thing. It’s continuous learning, and I think that is what needs to be taught too, that it’s okay. I mean, the mistake can’t be too big. You don’t want to… But it’s okay, you’re going to make mistakes. And I think it’s the whole concept about failures teach you. They’re not negative. They’re there for you to learn. And that’s something I think that I do like about the design thinking process because of that iterative process. That allows us to keep on improving. And so it’s that continuous improvement mindset that police offers need to understand.

I think that’s going to need to change from the higher up of how police officers are trained in a sense, and even in the military to some extent. My dad may kill me, but in the military, they’re training to be perfect in a sense. They can’t make a mistake. To your point, safety is what’s important, so they can’t let things… And I think we have to change that whole mindset, but what that really looks like? Like you could still be safe, and there are going to be some mistakes, but allow yourself to learn from it and be open to learn. So, yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. And I think, to your point, kind of coming full circle about that empathy. Because it’s like, none of us are perfect.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Perfect. Right.

Melyssa Barrett:  And when somebody owns that mistake, like, okay, I appreciate that and let’s move on. But a lot of times people get hurt. People get killed people. People… you know, I mean, like…

Dr. Dee Miller:  And that’s the thing. Yeah and that’s where it’s like, was it a mistake? I think also understanding what is considered a mistake. Well, how do you define a mistake? Some of these… Many of these are not mistakes. And you have to own that first.

Melyssa Barrett:  Fair point. Yes. Yes, for sure.

Dr. Dee Miller:  So that’s critical too. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yeah. So we spend a lot of time talking about unconscious bias and things like that. How does that roll into some of the inclusive design, and how do you eliminate that as you go? Because I think design is one of those things where you are impacting the marketplace and there are, I’m sure, lots of blind spots that the team may not even see when they’re creating the design.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yep. I agree. So it’s really critical and important to really understand the space. But even in understanding, you know you’re going to be missing some pieces to it. I think in, my roles have always been to really far reach beyond the user itself, really looking at the ecosystem and understanding what’s going on.

in a project outside of work, one of the things we took was to address the bias, was that we came up with a document that talked about your core values, but then also ask questions as it relates to your bias. And I think something like that can be, like when you start a project at work, what are your core values? Everybody goes around the table. This helps you understand, empathize. And when I say empathy, often people are thinking of users. No, I mean empathize with your team. Understand from their perspective what are the pressures on them. And this is where you get the core values. You should think about that, okay, this person thinks this is important. Okay. As we’re designing, you’re thinking about that, but then also talking about and answering those questions, as it relates to what are your biases, and what does that look like? And what does that mean? And have those conversations very early on.

I say that to say that you don’t stop after you say, you have to come back to it. And I think that’s where the issue is. People often bring up biases and up in front and then forget about it. And so every iteration, and what’s nice about design, because you’re iterating, you should be bringing back saying, okay, did we add another user? Do we have any biases? Did something… As we’re looking at the result, are there any inherent biases here from the results? How do we think about that and moving it forward?

So again, it’s going back to that process of being able to come back and really ask those questions over and over again. I know it sounds redundant, and to some extent sounds tiring and easy, but it’s not really easy, actually, because people forget. Because you have so many competing priorities going on. So you have to be intentional to really do that.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. That’s my word for the year. Intentional. So then just to kind of flip us to, we’ve talked a lot about some of the challenges and all of those things. What does success really look like in the space, when you are successful at creating an inclusive design? And what does that mean? As you iterate, how do you remain success?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. I think in inclusive design, when you’re thinking about this and what success looks like, you have to think about it from an equitable perspective, and really understand, okay, I designed this for this group. There are other groups that possibly could use it, doesn’t meet their needs. And really that, I mean, that’s really what, it doesn’t leave anyone out. If I use finance, if I’m developing an app, will the un-banked be able to use this? When I think about that, or from financial inclusion, who are we including, who are we ex- So when you’re thinking about it, you’re thinking about it from the perspective I designed it for this group, but is there another group that can actually use it and will be able to use it? And so the success of it is if you think about… I’ll go back to the AI example, or voiceover. And you think about those voice communication, how we’re using that tech, or mixed reality. Can Dee and all her friends use the technology? Is it inherently leaving out people that it shouldn’t be who’s a part of that group that you intended to use?

So if you’re building a technology, like a toy for kids, the age group three to five, every three to five year olds should be able to use it. Okay. There’s layer layers to that. What does that really mean? It’s not just a particular, it’s every three to five. When I go into the store I’m looking at the age. Okay, three plus. I should be able to get that for anybody and it not discriminate in any type of way.

So, inclusive design is really about being able to sit back and say, did I develop an equitable design? And again, was it equity-centered? How did I take this approach? And it’s more and less about the design, but the process in getting to that final design. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  Yes. The process. I love that. I think a lot of times when people think about diversity, they’re thinking maybe gender and ethnicity or race, but they don’t think about all the other things that are unique about Dr. Dee or Melyssa Barrett. You know what I mean? And so it’s interesting because you talked at the beginning about how inclusive design can elongate the process to get the product to market, but at the end of the day, you obviously end up with a better product. So it’s interesting as we think about agile and expanding into different markets, and just being able to generate the right features for value to each of the communities. It’s almost like you have blown out the product development process to the point where you really have to be aware of what markets you really are interested in, and then really figure out how to prioritize. Because it becomes this prioritization, which of course cost-

Dr. Dee Miller:  Money.

Melyssa Barrett:  … money.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yes.

Melyssa Barrett:  So it’s kind of interesting when you think about the successes of maybe who, are there folks that are doing this really well in the space that you have seen, or that we could learn from?

Dr. Dee Miller:  I think the fact that Google took it to the level that there is actually a product inclusion group within Google, I think that speaks volumes in itself. And I think they are approaching it in a good space. It was interesting, and I say that because it’s always… I was hesitant about saying Google, because I know there’s other issues that are at Google that are not saying that they’re being inclusive. It’s like, you took the initiative to create this group, and I think that’s a great step for many companies, is really creating a product inclusion group. And-

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and the devil’s always in the details, right? So. It’s like, it’s great that you threw yourself out there, but… You know?

Dr. Dee Miller:  But. Right. So that’s the thing. So I think, are people doing it? I will say this. Accessibility has come a long way. And I think people are doing that really well. When we start touching on other layers, we have a long way to go. When we start thinking about race and things of that nature, and how you design technology… We’ve been talking about this for a long time. You think about Barbie and what Barbie used to look like versus now. Race in technology isn’t a new topic. It’s just, we still haven’t moved the needle as much as we need to as it relates to race.

And then there’s other layers, like I said, financial inclusion, you think about that. What does that look like? So depending on what area you’re in health equity. It depends on all the different markets that you can be in, that inclusive definition changes to some extent, and it’s hard to get. So are there companies doing it well? I think there are companies that are doing accessibility better than before. And accessibility is now a legal aspect too. So to get government contracts, you need to be accessible. So I feel like as government comes on and starts pushing things and people need contracts, that’s when things will get better in other areas of inclusive design. I think there are companies, such as mine, that are looking at how do we do that. I remember being on a research team, and we’re a global company, and I’m like global in itself, that word, means you have to be inclusive in everything you do.

It was brought to my attention, even with the mock-up, oh, Dee, you guys, you show us Americans, but we’re selling to Japan. But your product not showing us somebody that’s… And I was like, oh my goodness. This is the design piece. And I was like, oh wow, we have to be inclusive of everyone in every… And I think companies are doing well by having those ERGs, but when it comes down to process, and it goes back to your point of competing priorities, and things of that nature, and it costing money. That’s where we’re losing. I haven’t seen a company that I can say, yes, they’re doing it so well. We need to take their model. I think there’s pieces out there that we have to take.

And one thing I’m just like, okay, if accessibility is doing really well, let’s take a step back. How did we get there, and how do we replicate? Because that to me, it’s like the ability to replicate it in different forms and fashions for different levels of inclusiveness is what makes it successful in itself.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, and it’s funny, you mention that because when I think about it, I think back to the American Disabilities Act. There was like all of a sudden there… And it took a while, I would say, for us to get to the place where people are being intentional and thinking about how their buildings are designed, and how the doors work and all of those things. It’s funny that you say that because it is almost very intentional. But ideally you would hope everything doesn’t have to be government driven. The private sector certainly has an opportunity to really make a difference without having all of that regulation come with them.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. And I think I can see, probably, that moving more as we’re advancing in technology. It will be interesting, because as we are looking at data and we’re looking at AI, it’s a area that has to be addressed. Because we already know data is faulty. Data is biased. It’s an area that can no longer go ignored, so it has to be addressed to some extent. Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  So what do you think about, if we flip the script from looking at it from a design perspective, from the creation of it at a company, or whatever, the users themselves, are there things that users should be thinking about, talk about the bias in data? We all know that there is obvious biases in data. Are there things that the user should be doing or thinking about as they are being included in this inclusive design?

Dr. Dee Miller:  I think users should be asking for their research related to what they’re using. I think users should be giving feedback on a continuous basis and asking for the ability to have a mechanism to provide feedback. I think that’s where it becomes… Consumers like to talk. They like to give feedback. They like to give reviews.

Melyssa Barrett:  Well, usually it’s you either like it or you hate it. If you’re in the middle, you’re probably not going to give a review.

Dr. Dee Miller:  That’s fair. You won’t intentionally give a review. However, if companies and people and consumers… If a consumer says, “I want a forum to talk in,” I think that is what needs to happen. You need to be looking at, I think one of the examples I like so far is, I’m on the app Clubhouse. It’s the app that’s a, what I call, a audio podcast pretty much. That’s what I mean, and everybody can participate. That’s the thing. And what I like about it, I don’t know if it’s every Friday, but the founders have a town hall where all the users have the opportunity to give feedback on what features they like, what they didn’t like, ask questions, why this worked this way, why did you do… And I’m just marveled at it. I’m like, oh my goodness. And they address it at that time. And I’m like, if everyone could do that… But what was interesting, what I’m bringing that up is that the users were in there to do that. So it was like, provide me a forum and I’ll come. And I don’t know if it’s because people can’t really see them other than their face, and then you just hear their voice, and so they’re great with that. That could be it. But they were able to get that.

So from a user, you should be thinking about, does this work for me? Does this work for my kid? Does this work for my friend? And if it doesn’t, you should be able to find a way to provide that feedback. And I honestly think also users, if they don’t pay for it, impact change no matter what. I’m not going to buy this because it discriminates against me, or I’m not going to use this. That in itself, you have to hit the bottom line. You got to hit that bottom number in some kind of way for some times… So yes, private sector has the ability to impact, but in doing that, you sometimes have to impact private sector in letting them know money is where it’s going to get hit if you don’t improve.

Melyssa Barrett:  Absolutely. Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting to see companies go even much more broad, not just focusing on profit anymore, but really getting into the-

Dr. Dee Miller:  Environment. Yep.

Melyssa Barrett:  … environment and social impact and all of those things, which I think is fabulous. So to me, I’m like, oh, well, if we had started there maybe we would be a lot further along. But it’s great to see. So I’m just going to go back to the beginning because I recorded your bio, your intro, and it’s so interesting to me. So I just wanted to maybe cap it off with you telling us how did… You, doctor with an MS and a BS, how did you come to be Dr. Dee?

Dr. Dee Miller:  Okay. So I went to school, I’m a lefty. I feel like, I’m a lefty, I was into engineering. But then my grandmother… So as a lefty, I went to this class called Science Technology in Society. And they talked about how technology actually excludes lefties. So I’m a lefty with everyone in my family that’s right, my immediate family was right. My parents are… I blame them on anything I do right. Like, with my hand, my right hand, because they are right-handers. So sport-wise, I probably leaned towards the right because they don’t know how to teach a lefty.

But I was so interested in that piece and how do we design for all. So from there, my grandmother had diabetes, so I finished school, went to work for the National Academies of Engineering, did some work there. And then I decided I wanted to go back and then went to National Science Foundation. Met a professor there, and that was for me to pretty much look at how we can improve our engineering curriculum is why I was there. So I was a Science Education Analyst. And I met someone there, Dr. [Wafford 00:42:18], and she was averaging a tech. And she overheard me saying I want to go back to school.

And one of the reasons I want to go back to school is my grandmother had diabetes, and she couldn’t use her blood glucose monitor. And I was like, okay, first I had the lefty issue, now it’s like technology that’s supposed to help you, and you can’t use it. So Dr. Wafford said, “If you get into Virginia Tech, I’ll pay for your Master’s.” And I was like, well, let me do that. I think i can.

So I applied and I got in, and I worked under the advisement of Dr. Tonya Smith-Jackson. And I looked and I said, Tonya, we need to look at the design of technology and look at it from an aging and ethnicity perspective. I ran a study where I had people who had diabetes come in and have them show me how they were using, and did a product interactive focus group. Tried to understand how they were using, what were their issues, what they thought certain letters were. In the Black community, they don’t say diabetes as much. They say, “I have sugar.” As you get older, they be like, “I have sugar.” And I’m like, these are the words and terminologies that differ by race. And we found that there was differences.

From there I said, okay, I want to take this to another level, and I want to really focus on, so I decided to stay in Health Systems Engineering and I got my Master’s in Health Systems Engineering. I was there and I decided, okay, I want to stay for a PhD, but now what I want to do is talk about aging in place. So I’ve always been about inclusiveness. And I’m like, now we’re moving to aging in place. What does that look like? How does the technology need to work? How do we help our older population stay in place and not have to go to a home? So for my dissertation I focused on security and privacy as we’re moving technology into the home, and really understanding private and public areas in the home, and what older people, how they collect information outside and within the home, and what type of controls we have to design to maintain their privacy. So I found these different things.

But the entire time, when I look back, I was like, I’ve always been on this track about inclusiveness. It started with me.

Melyssa Barrett:  And how did you become a lefty and everybody’s a righty? But I have to say, my son is a lefty and the rest of us are righties. And he has the same issues. I don’t know where he got that from, but.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah. That’s literally where it… I’ve always had this passion to help people, even when I find jobs it’s about, what am I doing to help someone anything? So that’s my love, it’s for inclusion and to help bring it back.

Melyssa Barrett:  That’s fantastic. Well, and health equity is a whole ‘nother conversation. But there’s so much work going on in that area of health equity, and it is so, so needed. I’m encouraged to hear about all of the work you’re doing with technology, because I know there’s so much technology now being used in the health sector. As you think about privacy and security, I’m always thinking about who’s watching how many Fitbit steps and whatever I have going on, and what decisions are being made using that information.

So it’s really interesting. I would love to have you come back and talk-

Dr. Dee Miller:  Yeah.

Melyssa Barrett:  … even more about that. We’ll definitely connect. Thank you so much for being here. It has been a pleasure.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Thank you. This was great. I really appreciate the opportunity. I love it. I love this topic. I could speak about this forever.

Melyssa Barrett:  Dr. Dee Miller. We are so happy you are out there working on behalf of everyone. So keep up the great work.

Dr. Dee Miller:  Thank you.

Melyssa Barrett:  Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.