AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Shaun Mosley - Designer / Researcher at Nava Public Benefit Corporation.

March 19, 2022 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Shaun Mosley
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Shaun Mosley - Designer / Researcher at Nava Public Benefit Corporation.
Show Notes Transcript

Shaun Mosley is a Designer / Researcher at Nava Public Benefit Corporation. With seven years of experience in Product Design, he applies technology in order to create a more equitable society. As an active member of the civic tech community, Shaun fills his time pushing for prison abolition, mentoring new technologists through Code for Atlanta, and making Georgia the best state for Black people to live in. You can find him emoji-reacting to comments in many Slack channels and on Twitter as @ShmosKnows.

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript and will need to be checked if you wish to publish it. AXSCHAT Shaun Mosley

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat I am delighted that we are joined today by Shaun Mosley from Nava. Nava is a public benefit corporation. For those of you that don't know, public benefit corporations aren't just there to make profit. In the UK we would call this a community interest company. It is slightly different from B Corp because B Corp is a specific brand and certification. But Shaun, tell us a bit about Nava and the work that you're doing with government and of course government requires accessibility. Tell us about yourself and how you came to be in the space? Welcome.

SHAUN:

Well first thanks everyone for having me on. It's absolutely a pleasure. My name is Shaun Mosley pronouns he/him. I am based in Atlanta; Georgia in the US and I have been at Nava for about two years now. And Nava is a government software vendor. So like any time that different services that the government would offer and they are looking for contractors, we would look to apply. Specifically focusing on services that serve the public and any needs that they might have. And so, one of the biggest ones, services that we have liked been known for contributing to is healthcare.co working with the VA as well. Those are interesting things for us and the way that I have like gotten into it like I started off my career as a software engineer then went into design and recognising the more human aspect, going beyond the technology and one of the things that really strikes me and I really love about Nava and just things about government services as a whole is we don't have the option to choose who our audience is and who we want to serve. We have to serve everyone and so that truly means that we are accessible and including everyone from the beginning.

NEIL:

Yeah. We have seen this when we have been talking to you know a number of sorts of UK government counterparts. We have had our government heads of accessibility on and that is one of the key things is that you can't segment the market because the market is everyone and therefore you need to build for everyone. I mean the obviously you know you said you got into the more human side of things, and you know actually people think that government work is the boring end of town. You know you're not making a whizzy new app. You don't have a fruity logo or lickable buttons or anything like that. But at the same time actually you are going to have to do a lot of work and Debra typed into the chat. Assumption that there is no innovation and actually that is not the case. Actually, there is an awful lot of stuff and thought that needs to go into making these services good. So, what was it that really sort of lit the fuse for you about sort of getting into sort of human centred design and then from there into designing sort of accessibility first?

SHAUN:

Great question. It was basically as a software engineer and not a knock to any software engineers at all but for me I felt like I was just pushing ones and zeros. And I was like what am I doing this for. There has got to be a better reason behind why I'm creating software in the first place. And so, I ended up going to grad school and I got introduced to human centred design and while being introduced to that process I was also introduced to this idea of Universal Design. And one of the points that it really hammered home is if you serve the needs of those who have the most need then you will serve the needs for all. And that if thinking about how we can serve for everyone it really struck for me and then also as a black man in America I have been able to connect on the idea of being excluded and knowing what it's like to not be centred and to have part of my identity so I can definitely empathise and relate to different aspects on that side of people who have been disabled and have been left out. So, it has been very personal for me, and I have been able to relate and now, I am able to fold it in and make sure that everyone gets included and that we are not leaving anyone out and creating anymore harm.

ANTONIO:

So, Shaun in many you know many governments and countries operate differently, you know in UK and many European countries accessibility is something is at the heart of government, so the trigger comes from inside. So, government wants to make their service accessible, and they use procurement, and they act on that. Can you tell us a little bit about how it works in the United States? Where is the trigger to make government services accessible?

SHAUN:

That is a good question, and I would say honestly, I'm probably not the best expert on knowing everywhere, Debra is waving her hand.

DEBRA:

I can help address that because one thing that we do in the United States is we have you know a lot of business in the United States of all different sizes, work with our government. And so, we have schedules and Shaun will know there is like a schedule 70. There is a tonne of schedules. But how the schedules work are those are the kind of projects that are associated with and so, one thing that we found early on was that they weren't asking anybody in all of these procurements that were coming out to be accessible or I should say to be section 508 compliant because that is what we would be talking about with the US government. So, we are trying to blend it into the procurement in the United States, but we still have not done it. We still are putting out procurements that do not require the vendors to make the product accessible. It is amazing because who gets hurt. We get hurt, the community but also the government has to pay multiple times to get things right. I just wanted to point that out really quick. So back to you, Shaun.

SHAUN:

I definitely appreciate that Debra because that definitely helps paint the full context. It's kind of a landscape to where government wants things to be accessible, but government also doesn't have that internal knowledge all the time. And government also, that is a big term and there are different levels of Federal verses State verses Local. There is a lot of nuance and complexity to it. But the way that it does work in the US is that like when a government entity goes and applies and says hey, we have a bit out and he we want partners to work with us and build it for us. We as Nava are able to like to come to the table and say like we have the accessibility expertise and knowledge. We have the experience having thought that out and so we help to bridge that gap for any government partners that might not have that accessibility knowledge. And for those that have accessibility knowledge we're able to pair with them and move things even further.

ANTONIO:

So, to follow on that question, so in the projects that you have been involved with and working with, what is the general feeling, do you feel they are calling you at the right time or sometimes they are calling you a little bit too late.

SHAUN:

That is a good question. I feel like it's a bit of a learning process all-around of you know, how does government work because there is a very big belief in idea, I would at least say in the US that like government is slow incompetent and unable to do things but I would say like some of the hardest working people that I have seen, some of the smartest people that I have gotten to know are public servants and working and they are absolutely passionate about making things accessible and getting it to where everyone can get it. But there are different hurdles that they do face. And so, I think while we are working within those constraints our partners are definitely very good about when to call us in and how to leverage our expertise to help everyone solve the needs that we originally set out for and making sure the service provides what we were aiming for it to provide.

DEBRA:

And those are by the way very good questions. Very hard questions, Antonio you're asking Shaun because our beautiful government is a little messy here in the United States. But we have been working on it. We have been working on it and we have seen some interesting things coming out of our Department of Homeland Security which I might be wrong but there used to be 23 agencies involved with our, but I might be wrong you know things are always changing but they actually put together a testing program at the Department of Homeland Security so that we could, the government could actually tell if what we were saying to them as vendors was true. Are we really being accessible and once again, accessible is not the right word to use? Now we got to use the word compliant. Arre we compliant to section 508 which of course compliments with 2.1. Neil makes a face like, yeah, we are not, and we are not. But there is actually quite a bit that has been done and our government as Shaun said, a lot of these public leaders they really want to do the right thing. They are very committed, but I would say, and they have tied this into score cards for leader, government leaders, we have done a lot. But I would think a lot of people think that right now in the United States we are not focused on at all supporting the government. We are all about supporting corporations because that is the only conversations I hear anymore and so, when Shaun had reached out to me, and we were talking about it I thought good I'm glad somebody is in there. I just am not seeing the conversations as much and I said that to you Neil before we went On Air and you're like that is not happening in the UK.

NEIL:

Yeah, or Europe for that matter. So actually because of the way that you know we have got some slightly more recent legislation for public sector which has really sort of lit a fire underneath some of it. So, we got the public sector web accessibility duty. So all of the public facing web and public ally fun. web in UK and Europe has to be accessible. There is reporting on that. Most of the countries have reported. We won't necessarily shame those that have not yet. Portugal. Sorry Antonio. Couldn't resist it.

ANTONIO:

And Ireland.

NEIL:

Double hit.

DEBRA:

Tony, we blame you then.

NEIL:

It's your fault. It's entirely your fault. So that is happening and then you have got the European Accessibility Act coming in. So, legislation is driving it. The second Act is private sector as well. So but a lot of work has been done and in UK you have got government digital service which was really quite innovative in terms of the approach and user research and everything else. So, we know that innovation can exist in the public sector. That said

SHAUN:

If I may, I wanted to interject, as you mentioned the digital service team gov.uk has been an excellent inspiration for us. Stateside is looking at what is possible inside of government. And so, like one, to give one, kudos to that team and what they have started in setting the trend and moving things forward and additionally also giving kudos to the different partners who I have worked with they have also embedded Accessibility Teams and not only is it dedicated Accessibility Teams, but they've also hired people with disabilities. So, when I'm going through and I'm testing a design and I'm considering for a screen reader yes, that is a good test to do. But I am not the user. I don't know how to use a screen reader. I don't know what it's like. So being able to one, actually hire people with disabilities and two, have that expertise to really be in the room and weigh in is super powerful and that is another way that government partners really can empower and move forward with their accessibility efforts.

NEIL:

Absolutely. I just wanted to come back to the topic about compliance for a moment because and particularly we are 508 compliant. That phrase, right? Because you get that a lot from vendors and actually what they mean is we have filled out the V PAK form. We have an accessibility nonconformist statement. And I think that what then happens is that the procurement professionals hear we are compliant. Here is our statement. Job done and so we know that this happens, and we have been working with our procurement teams and others to help raise the awareness of actually how to sense check these things. We are not expecting people in procurement to suddenly become accessibility experts. But they can read the document and go oh that is a red flag and then they can engage the accessibility professionals to do this stuff. And then the other point you have just raised which is, I've seen some really interesting debate on LinkedIn just some comments on linked in, Derek Featherstone, who is a salesforce, posted something about actually not every disabled person wants to be in the accessibility team. So, I mean, so I have two disabilities and I work with people with disabilities. But my work in the accessibility team is to enable people with disabilities not to work in our team but to be able to work and do stuff everywhere. And I think we need to, of course welcome people because we design with and not for and the stuff that you are doing is functional testing and then we go to the community for the user testing because if you're looking at compliance it's against standards and it's against expected performance and behaviours and you need to do that in a certain way. Compliance with Wikag or with 508 still doesn't mean it's usable. So, you need the pair of them to have a really good end result.

SHAUN:

Exactly and I am very glad you corrected my comment and added it in. There is definitely nuance to it of not just bringing someone in because again this is where I see the overlap between my race and how that plays out to, oh well Shaun is black so we should just have him do all of the things during black history month. And it's just like I have a couple of other identities beyond being black, I don't just have to do things during black history month and that goes for the same hiring people with disabilities, they don't only live lives with disability, they have other life which are valuable and important to them and that they have expertise to share with. And that is one of the, I have read an article recently that was saying hire people with disabilities and the caveat there is don't just hire them to speak for disability, hire them because they have expertise in different areas and can speak to that.

DEBRA:

I love that. So it's about identity too. It is. It is about breaking down. I mean we have our she/her/hers and he/him and it's funny Shaun because I have people outside the US that sometimes makes fun of the US because you know we are picking apart what does it mean to be she/her, do we have to tell. Well, I also really appreciate the young people doing that because you know, what I Shaun hate about the United States is that you would be treated differently than I would be treated because I am a white older woman. So, because I'm an older woman I get even more of a pass. I used to get a pass as a white younger woman but an older white woman and purple hair, oh my God. So that is great but at the same time something is wrong with that because I have a beautiful friend of mine who just went through a divorce and she is an African American woman and she was told you are a successful black woman, do not go up to the Judge and act like you're all that. Now if you're a white woman you could do that. But you have to not get a lawyer, you have to act super humble. Oh my God. She had to completely be a different person so they would not take everything away from her because of her horrible husband. But obviously I took her side not the husband. But the point is, if I had done the exact same thing, I have a different experience. That is wrong. Sorry but it's wrong.

SHAUN:

No, I mean I thank you for standing up and speaking out against that. That is exactly what we ought to do to combat everything. And there are so many overlapping and like different aspects of oppression that show up to where one day, one life as a white woman like you're ahead and the next life you're looking at pay difference, you're behind. So, there are so many different ways to where we are privileged one second and then oppressed the next and so definitely speaking for everyone to no longer be oppressed.

DEBRA:

Right and Shaun how does that tie into you caring about human centred design and software and the government. It ties majorly into that right?

SHAUN:

Absolutely.

DEBRA:

And that I believe makes you a better vendor as well. Because I know that when the United States government and it's probably the same way in Europe and the UK but when we put out the big procurements in the United States, they are big. They are a lot of money, and they can take a small business like mine and really stabilise it. Right so all of sudden everybody becomes accessibility experts which by the way is not true. But I also would sort of say this to you Neil maybe and Antonio in that, one thing I wish that we were doing more of and I might just be not knowing what is going on, that's very possible with everything I have walked but why is the United States government not working with the UK government and the Canadian government and the European government so that we all can benefit from what everybody's doing?

ANTONIO:

I have a take on that. If I look historically to people that were hired at Central Government in the United States and compare them with the people that they hire in other parts of the world, okay? Sometimes there has been a kind of a, people hired in US government services are very well connected to consumer services. They have a kind of a career path that went to consumer services, okay? And then they bring that experience to government. However a citizen is not a consumer, okay? So, everyone, when you deliver services for government everyone needs to be able to use the services. If I don't like, if I'm in the consumer side, well if this brand does not appeal to me or is not accessible, I can go to the other one. But in government I don't have a choice, and this is, I believe, one of the reasons why sometimes the US government has been doing what they could do because of that perspective.

DEBRA:

Because we don't share. Yeah. Sorry.

SHAUN:

And I mean I think there's like there is several things and this also allows me to loop back to one of the other points before of 508 compliance where it's, one there is the idea that it's just check box thinking of like, oh yeah we did it, it's accessible like send it out verses the actual aspect of caring and thinking of like why is 508 a responsibility in the first place and how are we actually achieving it which is going to be a cultural change and will take a lot of energy and I mean hopefully this conversation can help to start and drive that to where it's more about actually solving for people and not just filling in the check box and actually caring. So that would be it and Neil, I will let you jump in.

NEIL:

Okay so I think so I am a friendly critic of gov.uk. I think they have done some really good stuff. They make the best forms that I have ever had to use. So in terms of you know being able to apply for stuff, so I'm dyslexic and ADHD, forms are my Achilles Heel. I would procrastinate for days about form filling and get it wrong multiple times. But the way that they design forms and process is really good. What I would say is that not everything on gov.uk, when it's informative needs to be just this wall of text because my God, as a dyslexic person, it's hard to absorb and it's boring, right? So, you know, we want to engage citizens as well as serve them but the transactional services they do are really very good. So, I was able to renew my passport in a flow process that took me 25 minutes. It uploaded my photo. It did facial recognition. It took my old ones, it told me what do. My passport arrived within ten days, and everything was done. Same, every time I move house, I have to renew my driver's licence and everything like that, four days my new driver's licence turned up. Printed out, photo, the works. So it drives efficiency within government and that is good for the taxpayer. And making it easy and making it cognitively accessible because actually a lot of this is not about does it work for screen readers. But for a large part of the population actually we have got really low reading age. I have got a high reading age despite my dyslexia, but a large part of the population had a reading age of around 11 years old. And so, when we are making complex language and complex forms, we are making it difficult for people to transact with government and that is expensive. That costs the government money. So cognitively and accessibility we are being accessible to people that don't consider themselves to be disabled but it is an accessibility issue. And I think when we compare this again I am comparing back to something I saw just the other day was that someone was talking about their experience renewing their passport with the Canadian government and what they were saying was that what they do is there's an online form and you register and you put in your details and then you can expect a call back at some random time in the next 48 hours for them to then do an appointment and take your details. I was thinking how sort of customer unfriendly that is. Obviously they are polite, they are Canadian. But you. ow we are working. So I'm in meetings for nine or ten hours a day. So, I just what, randomly expect a phone call? So that is sort of stuff I think digital services can be really empowering and really useful. So, I think that putting the thought in and the design and making it cognitively accessible and broadly usable has not only you know benefits for the government and the individuals. But benefits for the wider society because it's saving us taxpayers money and we ought to be recognising that this design is an investment.

SHAUN:

Exactly. And one thing I want to highlight and I loved absolutely the most that you frame that Neil is the idea of being a friendly critic because it's very easy to like slip into thinking like government is bad or government is good but it's like it's so much more to it and there are people that are working like I mention at the beginning like public servants, they want to serve, they want to see their community do well too. But there are different things that it's not being done as well. So, it's just to say not that anything is easily good or bad on one side. But the fact that we are able to say hey, we have done a great job pushing here and we have gotten 508, that is a great step, but we are not meeting everyone's needs and we're leaving a lot of people out and doing more harm, so how can I help you. But no, not that you're not serving them and government bad, no, friendly critic. I want you to succeed so that we can all succeed. So I definitely love that framing that you put there Neil.

DEBRA:

It is really good how you said it too Shaun. And I wonder as Neil was talking about what he went too through, I started thinking a little bit also, people are really afraid right now. I think we can all agree, all over the world, people are confused and afraid. It's horribly intense times and so, if a government asks me to fill out a form, I know here in the United States I am just going to speak for myself, a lot of Americans are afraid of our government. And there are parts of our government I'm afraid of. And so, I try to look at our government as a whole like Shaun said. There's a lot of amazing people in our government. Mostly 99.9% are amazing people. Anyway but when you make, if I'm speaking to government when you make these forms so complicated than it actually just starts making us feel stupid and it starts making Americans feel like we are incompetent and we don't know what we are doing and it adds another level I think of distrust between us and our government. So, if we could all make sure that Shaun is in the room when the government is building anything so we can be fully accessible that will actually help our relationship with our government, I think, I don't know. That is what I think based on some of the things you're saying. So, I was just, what do you think, Shaun?

SHAUN:

I think that is entirely true and I mean, I think like my answer to everything is there's nuance and complexity and we always want to jump to simplification but it's not so and that is one thing I have learned at Nava is how many levels and how complex government is. Like even at the fact that like government, there is Federal, State and Local levels, there are also different agencies inside of it. And so, thinking about like you know how all do, how so who are the actual humans that are doing the work. There are people doing it and so like how can I connect with them on that note? But yeah, and Antonio, I know you have been, ready do chime in?

ANTONIO:

I was about to comment on Neil's thing on the Canadian passport. You get the call, you won the Jackpot lucky you, you're the beneficiary of a brand-new passport. But you know just on the moving the conversation to the technology side, I would like to get from you and to share with our audience what are the things that you have seen lately over the last couple of months that you find in terms of technology that you find okay there is something here really new that can help me to improve the way I design the way I make accessibility better or even just with testing what are the technology that you have seen that were able to caught your eye?

SHAUN:

That is a good question. I think I would say like this is partially like a dodgy question of like I am not even; I think I don't follow like the technology itself as much as I really follow like the people. And seeing where everyone is. And how different communities come together and what we can do to uplift one another because one of the things that like I have recognised is I will often be passionate about a topic or something and then I will immediately jump in and think, wow this problem exists so no one has thought about it. I'm going to jump it and I'm going to going to solve it myself. So, I mean it's very common to slip into that thinking as though what I have done and recognised is like it's not even just the technology or any new specific app or anything that is out but more of like being able to connect with people that are already doing it. Being able to think man I really want more light brought to accessibility and stuff. Wait a minute I know Debra Rue on LinkedIn. I should reach out and make that connection. And like now we are here and starting to build the thing. So like, yeah I don't have new technology that I'm interested in. But I'm always excited to meet people that are just doing great things.

NEIL:

Okay.

DEBRA:

I have one more comment before. If you don't mind. Wasn't it great when I wasn't here for a couple of weeks? I wasn't so disruptive. I also wanted to just point something out that Shaun said at the beginning, but a lot of people wouldn't have heard it. One thing that is also interesting about the United States government and by the way any other government, is that we have our government, as Shaun has said, we have got Federal, State, Local. But then, even if you back up and just look at our Federal, we have so many agencies and then we have quasi agencies and guess what everybody, every single one of those agencies are deciding whether or not they think 508 is compliant. Every one of them. Some of them like the Department of Homeland Security that has multiple agencies, they are doing something together and they are sharing, but Shaun mentioned that there were working, I believe I heard you say the VA, the Veterans Administration. They really do care about that because guess what, their members are impacted. And like our Social Security Agency has done a good job. GA has done a good job Labour has done a good job. But I wanted to point that out that it's not equal. Don't think that everyone is doing the same. Yeah, go ahead.

NEIL:

I think that is the same the world over because I mean despite having gov.uk and having government digital service guidelines and all of this stuff or actually CDDO now. Which is Capital Digital, Richard Mortimer will kill me because I have the got the letters the wrong way around. How you determine your compliance with those implementations and everything else is different. And that is why I think that we are getting to the point where countries need to follow the Canadian example not their passport service by the idea of having a Chief Accessibility Officer and a Commissioner for Accessibility, so that you can start to have some kind of harmonised approach to this stuff because that fragmentation is problematic. It makes it difficult etc. So I mean, Shaun if you want to make a final comment before we close that would be great?

SHAUN:

Yeah, I mean I think one, again thanks for having me on, I'm super glad to talk about this and represent Nava and Nava can be found at NavaPVC.com and I mean, I think I would just like one to remind everyone, as Debra just highlighted, the government is very fractured and has a lot of complexity in it but we are also here to talk about it and as Neil mentioned earlier being friendly critics and being able to figure out how can we not only like critique but help move the things forward and actually engage with our government. So, I think that would be my closing thoughts there.

NEIL:

Excellent. So well thank you very much. Looking forward to you joining us on social media and continuing the conversation. We need to thank My Clear Text for keeping us captioned and accessible and look forward to it. So thank you very much Shaun, it has been a real pleasure.

SHAUN:

Awesome. Thank you all.

DEBRA:

Great job Shaun. Page | 2