The case for equity and how tech can help.

Defining equality is a no brainer. It is about giving equal opportunities. About equally allocating resources with all. No one gets more or less. Everyone gets what every one else would. Sounds good? So, what’s the problem?

Every diverse group would contain individual differences. Everyone has struggles. But everyone’s struggles are different. We are unique in our own ways and so are our needs. Within a group, someone’s need (not want) may actually be more than others. In the name of equality, those who need more and need less are both served the same blanket solution. So equality isn’t necessarily fair. Enter equity.

Unlike equality, equity considers individual needs. This needs based approach gives more to those who need more and in proportion. There is respect for individual differences and treats everyone differently, according to specific needs and requirements. A classic example is the progressive tax systems that have those with higher income pay more.

Equality vs Equity

Source: “Addressing Imbalance,” by Tony Ruth for the 2019 Design in Tech Report. External link 

Equity may seem inherently differently from equality but is connected. Practitioners of both systems intend fairness at play. Equality targets this by treating all the same. Equity by treating each differently.

Its about levelling the playing field. About ensuring that those provided additional support, in proportion, go on to access the same opportunities as everyone else. . For example, sidewalk ramps in public places allow people with physical disabilities to navigate independently in their neighborhoods. Imposing such accessibility requirements ensure that everyone can equally participate in society and everyone stands a fair chance at the opportunities.

 Image courtesy Maryam Abdul-Kareem

Role of Technology

The role of technology in promoting societal equity is quite unsung, compared to the press its received on causing digital divides. Assistive technology now present tools to support diverse learners. With Online tutorials- one can create, communicate, and collaborate from anywhere. Be it at school or work, accessible systems ensure that no one is left out of experiencing innovative products owing to one’s disability or personal preferences. As conferences moved online this year in the wake of the pandemic, the new format posed several technical and organizational challenges. But technology provided the possibilities to reach global audiences and thereby not only reducing the carbon footprint of meeting travel and improving diversity but promoting equity. For once I didn’t have to worry about child care as I travelled virtually and presented internationally.

Conclusion

The hard reality is far from theory, its more complicated than baseball games and apple tree anecdotes. But treating everyone the same when we are fundamentally not is dangerous. As much as Equity is not equality, it is not inequality either. It is not about providing anyone with lesser opportunities but providing someone who genuinely needs it with more.

Equality and equity are both derived from the same root word aequus, meaning fair or even. But at the end of the day, true equality in pursuit of justice and fairness, should account for each of our unique circumstances and backgrounds. Consider this – a teacher may follow a uniform style to cater to the general needs of the class. But an equitable system will provide additional support to (economically, socially, financially, physically) disadvantaged students to ensure a fair chance to all. So that everyone has the same chance at the opportunity. So that everyone has technically the same starting point.

Featured Image Source: Cultural Organizing [External Link]

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