Why does your workplace need a diverse workforce?

"Luckily there is a broad recognition of the power in benefit of a diverse workforce, but there is still that friction between when it comes to IT and being able to give you the solutions that you desperately need to be as productive as everybody else in the office."

Jonathan Mosen MNZM, CEO of Workbridge, an organisation that "gives people with disabilities a fair go in the workforce", chatted with Robin Christopherson MBE, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, all about diverse workforces and disability rights during our latest Accessibility Insights webinar series.

Highlights from the webinar

Screenshot of Robin Christopherson and Jonathan Mosen during the webinar

"A more diverse workforce is a happier workforce. It takes less sick leave, and teams that are more diverse are more productive," Robin also commented.

Jonathan also mentioned, "I'm passionate about the need for more disabled people to be in senior leadership roles because you can bring authenticity to leadership. It's hard for an employer to argue that a blind person can't be a senior manager or lead in an organisation with offices across the country when they've got somebody sitting right in front of them."

During the webinar, Jonathan and Robin also discussed topics including:

  • Changes to disability rights and cutting-edge technology
  • The role assistive technology plays in the world today

Watch the full webinar recording and download the transcript:

Need to improve your diversity and inclusion?
AbilityNet can help, with courses including inclusive recruitment, onboarding, assistive technology and accessible meetings. We can also support you to build a workplace that is inclusive by design and uses technology to enable all employees to perform at their best.

About Jonathan

Jonathan is CEO of Workbridge, New Zealand's largest disability employment agency, and veteran disability rights campaigner.

A Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) and winner of the Impact Award for his contribution to the disability community, Jonathan’s advocacy has led to significant legislative change in New Zealand, including the passage of New Zealand’s world-leading copyright legislation which ultimately led to the Marrakesh Treaty. Additionally, Jonathan has held senior leadership positions at global assistive technology companies HumanWare, Freedom Scientific and AIRA.

Jonathan also has lived experience of disability, being totally blind and hard of hearing. He hosts the 

weekly Mosen At Large podcast, which brings a global community together for a live radio show and podcast discussing tech, living with blindness and more.

Webinar FAQs

This webinar lasted 30 minutes and included an opportunity to pose questions to the guest, please see below the questions and answers from Jonathan. You can find an archive of our webinars on our website and we also offer paid role-based accessibility training. 

Q1 Do you feel that there needs to be a standardisation of qualifications for accessibility assessors/accessibility testing?

Jonathan: I don’t advocate going down this road, because we have seen the capture that can occur in other parts of the disability sector, such as rehabilitation professionals who are not disabled themselves but purport to know what is best for us. Instead, my preference is to encourage organisations of all kinds to engage with real-world end-users and listen, listen, listen.

Q2 What are your thoughts on the segregation of disabled people in mainstream vs SEN schools in how assistive technology and other accessibility tools are distributed within education schools. Mainstream schools often do not have access or funding for assistive technology in the same way SEN schools do which perhaps leads to further segregation?

Jonathan: One of the challenges disabled people face is that many public policy makers want to treat us as if we were one homogenous group. That can produce suboptimal outcomes. For example, the interventions required to successfully mainstream someone in a wheelchair are different from those required to mainstream a blind person, who uses an alternative form of literacy that most teachers are not equipped to teach. I therefore count myself extremely fortunate that I attended a school for the blind for a time before I was mainstreamed. It gave me an excellent grounding in literacy and blindness skills that allowed me to succeed in a mainstream environment.

That kind of success is certainly possible in an exclusively mainstream education, but it takes more resourcing than is commonly allocated today. Given that assistive technology is expensive, it’s obviously easier to buy equipment that is going to be shared by a few people than used by just one. I am very proud to be blind and consider blindness a culture that I am proud to be steeped in. I would also add while on this subject that mainstream kids having access to adult mentors who have the same impairment as them is critical.

Q3 In New Zealand- do you feel that legislation limiting disabled people from immigrating is negatively impacting New Zealand's economy or perception by the rest of the world?

Jonathan: I know of several disabled people who have come to this country and made a great life for themselves, my own wife included, who is from the United States and is blind. That said, the health requirements in our immigration legislation are so strict that they do have the practical outcome of excluding some disabled people from moving here. I find it absolutely shameful. It tarnishes our reputation in the world, is not the New Zealand way and needs to be fixed.

Q4 Relating to the "price of being on the inside", do you feel that if there are more disabled employees then these criticisms will be able to be more open?

Jonathan: Yes, that will help. Sadly, certainly in this country, being a disabled CEO is a real novelty. If we can see more disabled people participating in all walks of life, it will make it easier to speak our truth. It is always helpful to have allies.

Q5 In your opinion - why is disability law so under enforced?

Jonathan: Lack of disabled people in positions of influence to insist that it be enforced. We need more disabled people in senior positions and political office.

Q6 Why is knowledge about digital accessibility less common unless you're disabled or a well-informed developer?

Jonathan: I think accessibility is still perceived by some as a fringe thing. You know, someone else’s problem. It is also perceived as being really difficult to do, therefore requiring a lot of expertise. We need to emphasise that most accessibility challenges are quite easily addressed, particularly if you do so at the design stage. Friendly, nonintimidating little checklists are helpful. I also think that the accessibility industry can be its own worst enemy.

One of the worst things that has happened to discussion about accessibility on social media, Twitter in particular, is the use of the #a11y hashtag, which I never use under any circumstances other than to call it out. Unless you’re on the inside, part of the clique, you wouldn’t dream of searching on that hashtag, someone has to explain to you what it means. So by using it, ironically we have made conversation about accessibility less accessible. I wish it would stop.

Q7 Are you aware of any recent legal cases regarding digital accessibility?

Jonathan: I am not aware of any in New Zealand. We are not a very litigious society, and unfortunately I don’t think our disability discrimination legislation has sufficient teeth.

Q8 What do you think could be done to improve enforcement and understanding of disability law?

Jonathan: As mentioned in a previous answer, having disabled people in more key positions of influence will help. But a lot can be done by simply introducing more people to the way accessible technology can change lives for the better. I sometimes get the opportunity to demonstrate the technology I use to audiences of senior business leaders. When they see someone using it and explaining the difference it makes, suddenly it changes from a risk that they need to mitigate to a realisation that this is truly cool and empowering. As the old saying goes, you sometimes catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Q9 How do you think web-accessibility could be better enforced internationally?

Jonathan: It’s a good question and I don’t have a straightforward answer. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities talks of accessibility, so that could be a starter. But perhaps some sort of international treaty, similar to the Marrakesh Treaty on copyright law, might be appropriate.

Podcast recording

You can also listen to this webinar as a podcast, below. Listen back to all our TechShare Procast episodes (transcripts provided).

Date of webinar: 
12 Oct 2021 - 13:00