Reason #6 to use distance family mediation: It takes advantage of the “great equalizer”

There are a lot of articles on the Internet about how technology is the “great equalizer” when it comes to disabilities.  I didn’t fully understand the degree to which this is actually the case until reading Norman Doidge, M.D.’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself (Penguin Books, 2007).

The book, for those of you have not read it, explores a variety of inspiring human stories about the brain’s plasticity, along with the results of some pretty extraordinary scientific research. As a case in point, on page 207, Doidge refers to a 26 year old paralyzed man who had a special silicone chip implanted into his brain and attached to a computer:

After four days of practice, he was able to move a computer cursor on a screen, open e-mail, adjust the channel and volume control on a television, play a computer game, and control a robotic arm using his thoughts.  (This amazing story also appears in an article in the New York Times.)

While I would imagine most people with disabilities do not have access to such radical, experimental technologies, the communication technologies that are readily available are quite remarkable in their own right. From voice activated typing software to videoconferencing services which make closed captioning available, today’s technologies provide people with a range of disabilities with many effective ways to communicate.

Because it uses technology, distance mediation – even in its simplest form (for example, using the telephone to mediate) – takes advantage of the “great equalizer’s” capabilities by allowing people to participate in mediation with the communication technology that best suits their particular needs.

Photo credit:  “computer i” by Redworm

4 thoughts on “Reason #6 to use distance family mediation: It takes advantage of the “great equalizer””

  1. Interesting, Susanna. Thanks for sharing. Hadn’t thought of ODR too much in this way… yet it makes sense. I usually think of the “equalizer” effect in terms of power balancing, e.g., when one party has an emotional hold on the other just by being in the same room with the other, ODR can help mitigate that.

  2. I just replied to Ben’s tweet to say

    “What “equalizing” effects does online #mediation offer participants?” #odr – eqlzrs HipShooters v SharpShooters

    To expand, and with the luxury of 140+,I mean that some people shoot from the hip without thinking and may say things they would prefer not to have said had they given themselves time to reflect. Others are very effective in responding quickly on the fly (ie “sharp shooters”).

    Also if there is an ongoing or previous relationship (as in family or boardroom mediation) they may have developed a way of interacting that inhibits one party in his or her expression of opinion and wishes when in the presence of the other more dominant one. See if I can put that in 140 characters!

    I suppose its all about the dislocation of the parties disempowering the unspoken influences one may have over the others

    Then again ODR software like Zeleznikow and Belucci’s ‘Family Winner’ takes the inter-party discourse between the parties,whether directly or via the neutral, out of the equation so solution finding is advanced through the machine and driven purely by the evaluations of each party to each of the elements in the dispute. So Katsh’s fourth party itself levels the playing field.

  3. Your comment has me wondering, Ben, what other “equalizing” effects technology could have in mediation. For example, where disputants have vastly different communication styles, might using technology for mediation be particularly effective (e.g., where one has difficulty expressing themselves using text-based communications, while the other needs or benefits greatly from the reflection time this mode offers)? I don’t have a clear picture of how that could be managed by the mediator, in a practical sense, but it does open up some interesting possibilities.

  4. Graham, not only do your comments strike a chord for me, especially as relates to family matters, they also foreshadow my reason #8 to use distance mediation! Not to argue against myself, or you, the question that does arise of course is what to do when the fourth party ‘unlevels’ the playing field, in cases where technological adeptness or comfort is at different degrees.

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