Jan 8

Mutual Aid App: Helping Seniors During COVID-19

5 min read

Article 1

The Big Idea

How can we build a mutual aid app for the elderly population of New York City during COVID-19?

At the peak of the pandemic in New York City, just like during any other natural disaster, governmental insitutions on their own were not able to cater to the needs of every single citizen. And so, people decided to help each other out through community led initiatives. We started to see Google Spreadsheets and WhatsApp groups being created with people putting in their requests for help and others volunteering to help out where they could. A more formal term for such community-based efforts during critical times is "mutual aid networks".

These networks offer services for people whose needs have fallen through the cracks of existing programs. However, as many mutual aid groups are volunteer efforts that form in real time as a disaster unfolds, they rely on free, mainstream technology tools which are built for the general public and not specifically for the communities they seek to support. In this project we focused on people over 65, where challenges in the realm of mobility, social connections and technology literacy make this population particularly vulnerable and hard to reach. If you really think about it, how many of grandparents are comfortable enough with technology to ask for help through spreadsheets or WhatsApp groups?

Our final product is an exemplary mutual aid app that is specifically designed for elderly users and can be adapted to local community contexts beyond New York City.

This project was part of a graduate course at Cornell Tech, INFO 6940 Technology and Social Justice. The goal of the course was to explore what it means for technologies to engage with social justice and how technology design can better serve marginalized communities.