Editor’s Note: The John A. Hartford Foundation is collaborating with ASA to advance equity in aging by supporting ASA RISE, a 20-week social justice and leadership program for rising leaders of color in aging, and via the development and dissemination of equity-related, partnership-based thought leadership through ASA’s Generations platform. This blog post is the 15th in that series.
In April 2022 at the On Aging conference, I sat in the audience captivated by a keynote speaker, Raymond Jetson, who examined “The Illusion of Economic Security.” I felt in awe not only of his achievements and powerful message but also of being in the presence of the 27 other ASA RISE fellows. Unbelievable.
Finally, we were together in person, beyond Zoom’s two-dimensional checkerboard images from the weeks prior. What a world of difference. All the varied personalities converged to exude a certain liveliness, vibrance and magnetism. Perhaps it was the mounting anticipation after months of being on weekly calls together; or maybe just the chance to get out after being confined to our homes for years (compliments of COVID); or the city of New Orleans that put us in a good mood; possibly all of the above.
The ASA RISE fellowship was one of those amazing opportunities that came at the right time in my career and personal journey. Call it synchronicity. For more than a decade, my day job was in healthcare I.T., developing my user experience and human-centered design skills. Outside work, I dove into the world of gerontechnology, or as it’s now called, AgeTech.
I volunteered with Aging2.0, hosting events to promote the longevity ecosystem of funders, entrepreneurs and innovation. I attended global conferences to learn more about the most pressing needs in aging. For years I was an advocate for older adults as a commissioner with the Sacramento County Adult & Aging Commission. When I found out about the ASA RISE program, I was working as the digital program manager at Sourcewise, an Area Agency on Aging in Silicon Valley. I conducted user experience (UX) research to understand the impact of technology on older adults and their feelings of isolation and loneliness.
‘The most valuable takeaway was learning how to look at systems through an equity lens.’
During the six-month ASA RISE fellowship, the articles, presentations and discussions with subject matter experts and my peers laid a solid foundation. The most valuable takeaway was learning how to look at systems through an equity lens—examining polices, influencers and drivers that shape the world.
What really brought home the topics of equity and (in)justices were RISE fellows’ testimonials, journeys and perspectives. When we spoke about current events, it helped me to process my own feelings, theories and thoughts. I realized many of what I had thought of as my own experiences weren't just my own. Being in those weekly discussions was the first time I had been in a (virtual) room, in a large group, with only people of color. By discussing hard truths in depth and with vulnerability, I felt safe, understood and visible.
Opening Doors, Widening Experience
The fellowship immediately opened several doors. The first has been the incredible ASA network of people who are equally passionate about the field of aging that has led to seats at tables previously unapproachable. The California fellows were invited to attend the California Master Plan on Aging “Day of Action” in the fall of 2022, and I was asked to join the Board of Directors for Community Tech Network (CTN), an organization striving to bridge the digital divide through digital literacy training for low-income adults. I truly feel seen and included.
After learning about Liberatory Design during the fellowship, I embraced it like a new religion. Design thinking is a non-linear way to approach complex problems with a focus on the end-user’s challenges, needs and objectives via empathy, exploration, collaboration, creativity, experimentation and continuous improvement.
Liberatory Design takes design thinking and applies an equity lens by raising self-awareness of habits that perpetuate inequity, shifting the relationship between people who hold power to those impacted by it, and fostering an environment for collective liberation, learning, and agency. Because of my background in human-centered design and my applying of Liberatory Design in the first cohort's capstone project, I was asked to lead the training for the second cohort.
‘I see a world where ASA becomes the flagship of equity design in the aging sector and beyond.’
These experiences fueled my pursuit of learning more about equity design in other industries, to leverage and refine it for the ASA RISE fellowship experience going forward. I see a world where ASA becomes the flagship of equity design in the aging sector and beyond.
Lastly, the fellowship launched me on a trajectory that has given me confidence to say “yes” and venture into different topics in aging that perhaps I wouldn’t have before if I had only focused on AgeTech. At the 2023 On Aging conference I attended sessions on telehealth and employment programs for unemployed low-income older Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island (AANHPI) communities. Outside of ASA, an organization that provides health services to AANHPI in the Bay Area has reached out to explore the idea of collaborating with me on a design project and in providing digital literacy skills training to their patients, many of whom are older adults. My brain has kicked into high gear to connect the dots and fill those gaps through digital training and programs that CTN offers.
Growing up in a household with a father who fought for Japanese-American rights and redress after World War II and a mother who guided me to find my own strength as a woman of color, I always felt strongly about equality for all. Now I can apply what I've learned through the fellowship so that I am not only an ally, but a driver in justice and equity for older adult communities, particularly those of color.
The ASA RISE Fellowship has been a springboard for connection, exploration and advocacy.
Keri Vogtmann is a director of Project Management at Blink, a UX consulting firm and a board director for CTN, helping underserved communities to bridge the digital divide.
Photo caption: Left to right, Cohort 1 ASA RISE Fellows Lauren Garcia, Samantha Sousa, Jerry Zuniga, Ocean Le and Keri Vogtmann.
Photo credit: Courtesy Keri Vogtmann.