Global leadership in accessibility

Leadership is a key theme of AbilityNet’s upcoming TechShare Pro 2019. We speak to AbilityNet trustee Kush Kanodia about how his global travels inspired him to champion accessibility worldwide.

Shows an installation of a globe with two figures looking at itAbilityNet Trustee Kush Kanodia says “it’s because of assistive technology that I can walk today.”

Kush has a condition called multiple epiphyseal dysplasia, which means his joints grew differently. “When I was young my hips used to dislocate. It affects all my joints. In 2002, I had both of my hips replaced. [And] because I'm like slightly smaller in stature they [healthcare professionals] actually designed the hips for me,” he explains.

“It was computer-aided design [and] they specifically designed the hips for me because it wasn’t possible to use hips ‘off-the-shelf.” 

The experience was, he says, his first experience of assistive technology and was a life-changing experience.

International Choices: a pivotal moment

Ten years ago, Kush was working for a major bank. The division he worked for was spun-off, and he took the decision to take redundancy rather than working overseas. With the money, he travelled the world including India, China and around Europe.

“I witnessed inequality and poverty, and I started to contemplate, 'what's my purpose in life?' Is it just to accrue wealth, or do I actually want to try to help people? And I thought ‘I'm in a fortunate situation that I can try to help’. I pivoted careers from then.”

Kush set-up the NGO Choice International to address discrimination and inequality throughout the world. “The idea was to use innovative ideas from the UK and around Europe, and inclusive design philosophy and role models for disability, and to replicate that in places like India and other places in the world. So, I did that for three years.”

Attendees to TechShare Pro 2019 will hear from a panel discussing Disability and Technology: A Global Perspective, as well as from keynote speaker Caroline Casey 

Since then Kush, who has just been named as one of The Shaw Trust Disability Power List 100, has become a leading social entrepreneur with a focus on four areas within his portfolio. 

“One is technology and accessibility, another is health and well-being, another is sports and inclusion, and the final one is employment and entrepreneurship. Disability is the common thread and it goes through all of these portfolios,” says Kush.

He’s retained his global focus and is an advisor to the world’s first Global Disability Innovation Hub founded in 2017. 

The Hub is led by University College London but is a collaboration that includes many others including Loughborough University, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London College of Fashion, Sadlers Wells, and the V&A. “You have universities, cultural organisations [and] charities all kind of focusing on a common objective, in relation to disability innovation," says Kush who first became aware of the Hub after he was a torchbearer for the 2012 Olympics.

There will be an opportunity to hear from the International Paralympics Committee at TechShare Pro 2019

Assistive Technology 2030: a Global Fund

Currently, a focus for the Hub is a program called Assistive Technology 2030. Having secured £20million worth of funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), the aim of the program is to look at how low-tech assistive technology solutions can help disabled people around the world.

“Globally it's estimated that by 2050 there will be two billion people that will benefit from assistive technology, but as many as 90% of them won't have access,” says Kush. 

“Assistive Technology 2030 is a collaboration with global partners including The Clinton Health Access Initiative, UNICEF and others. We have created Africa's first assistive technology accelerator program and we are receiving applications for that,” he adds.

The accelerator has already received applications from 19 potential ventures, which have been through two selection rounds for a program called Innovate Now, with a final round to come. The challenge fund will invest in assistive tech solutions for Africa. “The money that we've received from DFID will be invested in these kinds of assistive tech solutions around Africa,” says Kush.

AbilityNet’s annual Tech4Good Awards recognises companies investing in innovation to help disabled people, including Jangala, the winner of the Tech4Good for Africa Award 

The Hub has also launched an MSc for Disability Design and Innovation with UCL and the London College of fashion. 

Another of Kush’s passions is mental health and wellbeing. He is a governor at the Chelsea Westminster Hospital, and Strategic Advisor to the Museum of Happiness, a non-profit social enterprise that aims to “share the art and science of happiness in playful and reflective ways.”

“The NHS focuses a lot on ill-health so when a person gets ill they go into hospital and they get treatment. I believe that we're going to have to focus more on society and a proactive approach to well-being,” says Kush. 

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.