AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat with Rob Sinclair , Global Head of Accessibility at Atlassian and Co-Founder of IAAP.

January 10, 2023 Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Rob Sinclair
AXSChat with Rob Sinclair , Global Head of Accessibility at Atlassian and Co-Founder of IAAP.
AXSChat Podcast
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AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat with Rob Sinclair , Global Head of Accessibility at Atlassian and Co-Founder of IAAP.
Jan 10, 2023
Antonio Santos, Debra Ruh, Neil Milliken talk with Rob Sinclair

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Rob has played a highly significant role in developing accessibility over decades we are delighted to welcome him to AXSChat in his new role. He describes himself and his role below:

“My mission is to create solutions that profoundly improve how people of all ages and abilities work, play and experience the world around them. From a business perspective, this is the best way to create customer value, brand loyalty and differentiation in today’s market. From a personal perspective, I cannot think of a more valuable way to spend my time.

I have had the opportunity to work with many talented & passionate people over the years. Perhaps the most impactful, so far, has been the years spent building Microsoft’s accessibility effort from a small team into an enterprise-wide program and global strategy tightly integrated with the company mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. That journey required deep investments in the platforms, tools, design philosophy and engineering practices. It meant rethinking how to work closely with the community and partners to create and support inclusive solutions. And, it taught us you cannot achieve these goals without hiring people with disabilities and integrating inclusive thinking into every aspect of your way of doing business (HR, Support, Marketing, Sales, M&A, etc.).

After taking a break from the corporate world and exploring startups related to clean water and wildlife conservation technologies, I’m happy to be back in the tech industry, working to accelerate the industry’s pursuit of fully accessible and inclusive digital workplaces. I chose to join Atlassian because products like Jira, Confluence and Trello are used by teams of all sizes – from one or two people up to enterprise organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees. This is an enormous opportunity to ensure every person can fully participate in today’s digital work environment.

I think we can all agree that the world is facing unprecedented challenges. Our best hope for the future is to ensure we benefit from the ideas, insights, and expertise of every person on the planet.”

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https://twitter.com/neilmilliken
https://twitter.com/debraruh

LinkedIn
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Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Rob has played a highly significant role in developing accessibility over decades we are delighted to welcome him to AXSChat in his new role. He describes himself and his role below:

“My mission is to create solutions that profoundly improve how people of all ages and abilities work, play and experience the world around them. From a business perspective, this is the best way to create customer value, brand loyalty and differentiation in today’s market. From a personal perspective, I cannot think of a more valuable way to spend my time.

I have had the opportunity to work with many talented & passionate people over the years. Perhaps the most impactful, so far, has been the years spent building Microsoft’s accessibility effort from a small team into an enterprise-wide program and global strategy tightly integrated with the company mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. That journey required deep investments in the platforms, tools, design philosophy and engineering practices. It meant rethinking how to work closely with the community and partners to create and support inclusive solutions. And, it taught us you cannot achieve these goals without hiring people with disabilities and integrating inclusive thinking into every aspect of your way of doing business (HR, Support, Marketing, Sales, M&A, etc.).

After taking a break from the corporate world and exploring startups related to clean water and wildlife conservation technologies, I’m happy to be back in the tech industry, working to accelerate the industry’s pursuit of fully accessible and inclusive digital workplaces. I chose to join Atlassian because products like Jira, Confluence and Trello are used by teams of all sizes – from one or two people up to enterprise organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees. This is an enormous opportunity to ensure every person can fully participate in today’s digital work environment.

I think we can all agree that the world is facing unprecedented challenges. Our best hope for the future is to ensure we benefit from the ideas, insights, and expertise of every person on the planet.”

Support the Show.

Follow axschat on social media
Twitter:

https://twitter.com/axschat
https://twitter.com/AkwyZ
https://twitter.com/neilmilliken
https://twitter.com/debraruh

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/antoniovieirasantos/
https://www.linkedin.com/company/axschat/

Vimeo
https://vimeo.com/akwyz




This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. AXSCHAT Rob Sinclair

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat. I'm really delighted that we are joined today by Rob Sinclair. Antonio is still on his Christmas break. We are recording some of these out of sequence a bit over the Christmas period. Rob, if you have been in the accessibility world for decades like Debra and I is someone that we're welcoming back into the fold. He was formerly the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. Probably the first CAO anywhere in the technology industry, maybe anywhere in the world. So now you are at Atlassian as global head of accessibility, can you tell us what tempted you back to the world of accessibility where we are glad to have you and also a little bit about what Atlassian is as well because I know who they are but maybe our audience don't because they are providing technologies that are really pivotal for the development of technology but people might not necessarily know what about what Atlassian do.

ROB:

Yeah, great. Thanks Neil, thanks Debra, it's really great to be here. Yeah, you're right, it's fun to be back. So, I was pretty burned out, after 20 years at Microsoft. So, ready for a time, ready for a break. Had some family health issues too to take care of. So, it was just the right time for me to take a break. My original plan was to take a year off and regroup and decompress and then come back in. But that turned into a five-year break, I guess and included three start-ups and a master's degree and a lot of work on a new house that we had built or bought and the renovations. I literally left Microsoft and the next day I put on a tool belt and worked side by side with the subcontractors on this house. I did that for 18 months straight. It was really great to get a break. Get out of the tech space and just use my hands for a while. But in the process of doing that, you know I was really also thinking about what I wanted to do next, and I remember you know, one of the things I loved most about my time at Microsoft was working with AT vendors. Small companies, you know, sometimes two to three people, often times, two or three people who were building products trying to find market fit, and also trying to a meaningful customer problem. And what I regretted from that time was we never really had a chance to take that kind of a space broadly of working with small companies and helping them understand how to do accessibility. Here, obviously not AT vendors, but obviously just start ups and small companies in general. And in this time, I was also interested in exploring start up ideas that I had that were unrelated to accessibility. I did one around clean water technology and did one around wildlife conservation technology and I did a consumer technology device, I had helped with one a friend was starting, for people who were aging in place and living alone at home. So, I went through three really rapid start up fail fast scenarios and it was a great learning experience. Along the way, I was introduced to Atlassian products. So, I had known about Atlassian a bit and I had used Trello, but I had never used Jira or Confluence and we were using those in a couple of these start-ups I was in. And that's when I really started connecting the dots and I thought there is a massive opportunity to help that early stage set up companies that are just getting started. They don't have time to like to have a dedicated accessibility team or even hire someone specialised in that. They are just trying to become viable. And it brought me back to some of the early thinking that the power of good tooling and good infrastructure and support to help small organisations learn how to do accessibility and how to be inclusive, I believe could be transformational. And so, I started looking at companies where I felt I could have an impact and I kept coming back to Atlassian, really impressed with their products, really impressed with the customer loyalty that they have and the stickiness because the tools are so unique and so powerful. But also recognising that they really had a lot of opportunity for improvement in accessibility. So, that's what pointed me in the direction of Atlassian and then I actually have a colleague who had just joined Atlassian and so it was great. It was great. So, I'm super happy to be here. I've been here a year now. And we are in our own start-up phase of completely rethinking and rebooting the approach to accessibility at the company. That was a very long answer, I hope that was okay.

DEBRA:

It was a long answer because you've a really esteemed career. And I also want to, you know you brought up that you were supporting the small AT community and that was something that I knew you for, Rob. I knew you for fighting for our community. You fought for AT. And when you left, we felt you leaving. We could feel it as an industry and I'm not speaking out of turn. I imagine there are so many AT providers, that you could ask this question and they would say, when Rob left you know. But at the same time, you also co-founded IAAP and I remember at the time, when you were talking about it and Microsoft, God bless Microsoft was going to get behind it. There was a lot of controversy and a lot of people trying to stop it and I remember writing a blog about it, going, guys, shouldn't we be doing this? So, what you did for our industry Rob, that's why Neil and I are thrilled you're back and so many others because you laid down a foundation for us that was so powerful and obviously you still care about that because, one thing that I'm seeing is that you have organisations supporting people with disabilities and they like my company, 90% of my team have disabilities. We are very proud of that. But the reality is, often we aren't accessible ourselves in the disability community. So, one thing we are doing at Billion Strong is we want to help the organisations of persons with disabilities be accessible themselves. And we want to make sure we are supporting small vendors like AT. I mean, there are just so many powerful things happening and now that you are once again sitting at the helm of a very large technology company that I also am familiar with, I wasn't familiar with the name Atlassian, I was familiar with the tools, which is interesting and powerful. I can't help but love it was started by two young men who are really interested in making a real difference in the world. And so, I'm fascinated with what Atlassian is doing because you were software, you are workforce productivity tools, right? That is what I consider the tools.

ROB:

That's a good way to summarise it. That is right.

DEBRA:

That's the way I think about it. And so, think about how we can embed the accessibility really truly into the workforce productivity, the innovation, the communities really coming together. That really excites me especially as somebody that I know, I know your background, I know your leadership, as Neil was saying, I think you were the first Chief Accessibility Officer ever and that's exciting. That's exciting. Because it doesn't matter about the title, what matters is accessibility. Accessibility really, really is important.

ROB:

Right.

DEBRA:

So, I was really excited to see that you were back. I was thrilled to see you were back. You're one of the few people that when you left the industry, we felt you leave the industry Rob, which is amazing, you're just one person. But we felt it, we felt it. So, we are thrilled you're back, just thrilled. So, what do you hope to accomplish now? You have already accomplished so much. Your legacy is so powerful. And I think many, many people don't know your legacy, Rob and I personally am going to make sure that more people know your legacy. But it's very powerful. So, where do you go now?

ROB:

Well, that's very sweet thanks. I really appreciate that. But I think it's also really important to recognise that we did a not lot of amazing things in the 20 years. But I think it's really because of the power of the team. I had an amazing team of people who were working with me. You mentioned the AT partner programme in the community. I mean, we started working with them and realising that they didn't have a voice. You know, we had these tinny little companies trying to influence IBM and Microsoft and Adobe and trying to make, you know, basically having to hack the operating system and applications to try to suck information out of them and make them accessible and so, we took on some really daunting challenges of how do we now formalise the technology and make that so we can extract that information in a secure way. I think more importantly when Gary Molden said we actually, we need to rethink the way we work with these companies and try to bring them into the fold and give them a voice and I mean he is the guy who, I mean he was the trailblazer there that actually defined the de facto AT partner programme in the industry and it was hugely transformational. So, I'm really proud of a lot of the work we did there. I think we changed way we worked with AT vendors. We changed the way we engaged with disability community and advocacy organisations. I still remember this really funny moment when people thought I was insane because we were getting competing priorities not requirements from the different blindness organisations in the US, the three big ones. So, I said you know, all of the requirements are valid, but they are all giving us different priorities. So, we really need to get one agreement on one set of priorities so we can start working down the list. So, we brought them all into the room and had one meeting together and someone at the beginning of the meeting said when where they were introducing themselves said, you're either brilliant or insane because I don't think you understand that you know, we all have slightly different perspectives and we have never been in a room together to have this kind of a conversation. And so, I said, I'm probably insane but we'll decide that later. But it turned out to really help because it helped the organisations themselves also understand like, what input we were receiving and so, it started to change the dialogue within the advocacy organisations as well because we could then start to have a one unified view of what is the most important problem to go after first. And so, similarly with IAAP, I was in meeting with organisations in private sector and public sector around the world and we kept hearing this refrain that we don't know where to find people who know what to do. You know, we hire someone to do accessibility. We spend $150,000. We launch our updated website and three months later we are being sued because it's still not accessible and we said, so, how do you, where are you people who actually know who to do this. So, it was that whole route cause analysis, there is no formal training, everyone is self-taught, everyone is doing their best but there is no way to determine, as someone who myself was self-taught. Have I actually missed something? There is no way to know. That is where we started to formally decide this idea of maybe we should have certifications so that people could figure out have they covered the basis. Do they understand the full range of accessibility or are there other areas that should be learning more. So, it was a great first phase for my career. I'm really proud of the work our teams did, and my teams did. I think now, what I'm looking for now is, when I was taking that break, I really wanted to find a new place where there is a really complex problem that needs to be solved that's systemic that will also provide a new foundation for growth and innovation and Atlassian's mission is to empower, I never can remember the exact words, but it's something like, unleash the potential of every team and when I saw that I thought, that's exactly what I'm trying to do and that's what accessibility is trying to do and so, there is a natural fit there. The leadership is truly, they understand that, they value it and they believe in it and so, you know, I think that's one of the great things about picking, when you're out looking for a new role, if you have an opportunity to pick a company and opportunity that aligns with where you want to go that's ideal. I was really fortunate to find that. So, my next big step is to think holistically not just about technology but the full range of DEI perspectives. The way we think about hiring and recruiting and supporting employees and team environments. How do we give them great tools to make their work seamless and allow them to do their best work and then also I am attracted to the Eco system that's building solutions on top of Atlassian products. We have tens of thousands of additional extensions or products built on top of ours. So, it's not even just Atlassian, it's the entire marketplace of solutions that we need to go and tackle. So, it's a daunting challenge which is exactly what I want because I think if we can figure out how to solve this problem here, it might provide a way for the industry at large you know to gain some insight of how we can go after the industry wide problem.

DEBRA:

I just want to, before we leave the history, I just want to point out of a couple of other things, I started my company Tec Access, TEC Access, in 2000 and I didn't know what I was doing, like so many of us. I still don't most of the time. But I remember when, we were going to build websites at the time and then I tripped across the section 508 thing and I thought oh, and a man who actually was blind looked at my website because I wanted to employ people with disabilities and that is what I really wanted to do and he looked at the website and he said well, yeah, I'm blind Debra, I use a screen reader and your website is one hundred percent inaccessible to me and I said what, what do you mean? So, then what I did Rob was I went out and started educated myself and went to the training courses that you all had at Microsoft, and I taught me and my team accessibility with your courses and then we also shifted into the courses IBM was doing. But I also wanted to say that as I travelled all around the world, Microsoft was always there. I remember being in Egypt, for example. I was doing a session in Cairo. It wasn't you; it was two gentlemen that worked for Microsoft from Egypt, and they came on stage and the crowd was ripping them apart and at one point it got so hostile that I stopped, and I said, Microsoft right now is the only corporation that's brave enough to come in here and take this beating. So, can we acknowledge that they are here, and we appreciate it? But at the time there was no one else in the room. Now we see, thank you Neil ATOS in the room, we see, thank you Rob, Atlassian in the room. We see Google, Google is so in the room. But at the time, that's all we are seeing. So, I just wanted to acknowledge that little bit of history as well and let you know that we are grateful. I'm grateful. My team has been very grateful for the work that you and your team did. So, and this is how we move things forward. So, but I do have a question really for you and Neil because Atlassian as you said, to me, these tools help us be more productive, more innovative more creative and you've ATOS, which is a system integrator, you're billion-dollar companies. How do we move forward in these new times? And like you said Rob, how can we leave out these major parts of the community and think that we are going to be successful. So, that would be a question for both, that I would be curious, from both of you as leaders. So, I'll turn it over to you first, Rob.

ROB:

Yeah, great, thanks for the softball question. Yeah and I think it's a super important question. I mean, I think for a me there's a couple of dimensions to that. One is, one thing that was for me to come back in, so I took that four-to-five-year break, was to actually see for me to where things have moved. What had changed, what had not changed but also getting the opportunity to restart a new programme from scratch also allowed me to benefit from all the work we collectively had done over the last 20 or 30 years and so, there were a lot of new building blocks in place. And so, I think one thing for me to answer that question, is I don't think we can just rely on the things that are working fairly well in the industry. I think we also need to constantly be thinking about are their better ways to solve the problem or more impactful ways to do that. In many ways I'm absolutely thrilled there are so much better tools, better training and education. We have IAAP, we have Teach Access. We have now Procure Access, there are all these different initiatives and activities that are up and running that help us not only as industry but also you know, new students coming out of school, coming out hopefully with some idea of what accessibility is. So, I think that's part of one of the fundamental issues, I think to your question is, how do we continue to enrich the pipeline of people because without people nothing happens. And so, because there are not just engineers, as we have talked about, I think many times. It's everyone involved in every aspect of society and business and education and the workplace. And so, how do we continue to build inclusion and acceptance and embracing, and you know, accessibility into society is a completely nontrivial problem. And I think tech companies have a huge responsibility in helping to facilitate that and the part of the world that they touch with their investments, with their products and with their services. And so, for me I think that's the biggest issue, I always take that holistic view though. I always look broadly at what are the systemic issues that still need to be solved? If there are solutions in place, I am the first person to leverage them. I don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel, but I still see one of the big problems, I'll jump to that is, one of the biggest challenges I still see is, it's still really hard to motivate accessibility in most investments in most organisations today. Culturally, Atlassian is very amenable to that and it's a great fit. So, I'm super excited to be here and doing the work that I'm doing here at Atlassian, because I think there's a real opportunity to have that latitude to think differently about how to approach it. But in the end, even one company still can't change the world and so, I still am really interested in how do we change the way accessibility is perceived, understood and implemented in every organisation and that goes to a lot of the things we have all talked many times which is not just about people with disability, although that's obviously incredible essential as the number one opportunity and the most important. But I think for organisations to understand that it's also about more innovation, you know, better products, more usable products, more, I forgot my word but a business model and a business that's more resilient, that's the word. I think it's just helpful for people to understand that it's not about a small segment of the audience, it's about every single person benefiting. So, I think continuing to think about how do we continue to anchor this and position it, is still like one of the biggest things I always consider it. And I think every large company like ATOS or Atlassian, I think we have an important role to play. Sorry for that long answer, Neil I'm going to toss over to you.

NEIL:

Thank you. And we...

DEBRA:

It's complicated though. So, it is a long answer. So, luckily Neil, is going to solve us all right now.

ROB:

Thank goodness.

NEIL:

Yeah. Maybe. Look, I agree with you on the systems approach, and I think that I've always been a big fan of systems thinking and I'm the world's worst technical accessibility person, right? I'm a historian, an arts student, I did an MBA in operations management so, I'm really interested in how we get the systems to work and so son and how we can build the skills and like you say you have got to teach access and you've got the IAAP certifications, we did apprenticeships in the UK which basically got the government to recognise accessibility as an occupation and it's filtering through, as a result of that and now we're having do to get that into Germany and Spain and other countries and in the UK it's funded. So, people get subsidised accessibility education, and they get a rounded education in a way that I never did, you know. I played around with tech for 15, 20 years. So, when I first you know, my first entry into assistive technology because I was first not an accessibility person, I was an assistive technology person. I worked for one of those small companies, when I joined them there were 20 people and when I left there were 120 and we were doing speech recognition systems and providing assistive tech for people and we used to play around with tech and yeah, it was important for us to come and meet big companies like Microsoft to understand how we could integrate stuff and work with the operating system. I think things have changed markedly over the last decade or so. Firstly, there were far more in-built assistive tech in all of the major platforms that people use in their day to day lives now whether that be your mobile phone on Android or IOS or your Windows device. There is so much AT built in. At the same time, there is still a need for working with the specialist vendors that go beyond the features that are the built into the OS. So, I think collaboration is key, which is why I'm really interested that you had landed at Atlassian because Atlassian is essentially an organisation that helps organise collaboration and it's the sort of the gut behind the product creation and updating product life cycle process and creativity process for so many organisations. So, it's not just the potential of making Atlassian products accessible, from my point of view what I'm hoping for is that you'll be building in more accessibility into the workflows. It's like the work that's going on at the moment with WordPress for example, where maybe fixed WordPress and fix the workflow for WordPress you fix hundreds and millions of websites around the world. You know, it's dealing with stuff at source. So, that's super interesting for me that you landed there. But it's also part of a broader trend where we're seeing so many more companies bringing on accessibility people now and valuing it. I think it was really interesting where we saw Twitter do what they did to their accessibility team and all the rest of their teams but what was gratifying to me was it wasn't just the Microsoft and the IBMs of the world that were then coming forward and saying hey there are jobs, there were loads of companies saying we've got roles. So, a couple of years before you wouldn't have dreamt that there would be, you know doing accessibility, let alone having the investment and the budget to say that you got open roles because it's been a journey to get to the point where I've built my community and get the latitude to hire. You know, even in multibillion pound dollar euro companies, each department has their own budgets, and you know, people think that these large organisations have bottomless pits of money to go and hire people. It's not like that. You know, it always has to have a business case. So, the fact that people have succeeded in convincing the management in these companies that accessibility is a viable and valid thing is really important and gratifying and I think that definitely we need to find ways to systematise accessibility more. Whether that be in how we create products and workflows and collaborations that Atlassian helps with or whether that be through education initiatives and the certifications from IAAP and aligning them with other things like apprenticeships and degrees and so on. We need a sort of multipronged approach to make all of this work because it is. It's a complex thing. You're spinning plates the whole time. And I think that's probably why I love the career so much as an ADHDer, I can flip from one thing to the next. There is always something shiny to keep me interested. So, I think that it is taking that sort of systems view. So, if we're going to solve stuff and what we have done within my own organisation is we've aligned how we deliver accessibility with how we deliver decarbonisation and sustainability. So, we are taking the same models with exclusion like pollution because it's a negative externality of the production process.

ROB:

I like that.

NEIL:

Right and we have a way of doing this, right? So, you know we have systems, we have processes. We are really good at this, we are CDPA rated and DJSI top in our field and so on. So, it's baked into the company culture. Not every company is going to have that same sustainability culture. But you can bet they are all building it right now because it's a pressing business view. So, as they are building those structures, actually you know disability inclusion is part of the UNSDG's, it's already there. It's making people aware of it. And I think that half of what keeps Debra and I on this, week after week and Antonio generally too for the last eight years is that we know we need to keep talking about it. Even if we are sick of the sound of our own voices and my wife is certainly sick of the sound of the my voice, especially after a couple of weeks off that we just continue to push that message home and push the message about quality and about that this is doable, this is actually doable, if we put business frameworks around it and we don't go against the flow. So, how do you, where do you see the flow going? What is the flow in Atlassian that will get you to where you need to be?

ROB:

I think, yeah, I mean I think what is interesting is, so far what I've been doing is we've been only starting to rethink the approach of the company. So, I've been building the, I'm doing a central team in that I'm actually having, I've built three platforms and we have three major platforms in the company. So, we are investing in the platforms, we are investing in the central team, we are building all the normal things, right? Training, we are thinking how do we build, how do we leverage the employee resource groups. We are looking at all the systems across the company. I think what's more, maybe to your point around the flow is that, I spent a lot of time just getting a perspective from, you know the leadership and the and I mean that broadly, like leaders across the company, of how do they think about this and how do they understand it and of course, you know a lot of people have, there is a lot of different views. So, really just trying to get as much as possible a company of 12,000 people right now, to have a unified view of what we are talking about and why it's meaningful and impactful, is kind of where I've been so far. Like, that's the bulk of the cultural investment I've been making is, how do we make sure that people understand this is already a natural element of the company culture, which has been delightful to validate over the years. Like, what I perceive the company to be and what I said it was culturally, is actually really what it tries to do on a day-to-day basis. So, really living up to that culture. I think more broadly I think the flow is that, is what you said, I think there is a massive opportunity to not only use the products but the company’s approach to rethink or not rethink but I mean just think about how do we really innovate this into the way companies and organisations work? How do we make accessibility not just a feature of a product but an outcome or a result of using the workflows and the process and the products and the mindset that's woven into what we deliver. And so, I think that's maybe a little too terse but that's I think how I think about the flow is we are at the beginning, there is really fantastic support. It's been really surprising to see how supportive the executives have been, and you know, the entire company. There is a real appetite to do it. It's really a question of how we are going to do this in a way that's scalable and can be done as velocity which is of course the goal. If you ask any team anywhere in the world to do accessibility but somehow sacrifice their core business objective, you're in a very difficult spot and it also means, I think, I tend to believe that you're not taking the right approach is and I've seen the three of you quote all the stats around how accessibility actually improves business results and outcomes so I think, if you're doing something that's slowing the business down or hindering its own business objectives, I mean assuming they are appropriate objectives, then I think you're somehow not aligned and not the in the flow of the company. That's how I always start is to understand the company strategy and the company culture and then think about, how do you augment that with accessibility or vice versa. So, did that answer your question, Neil?

NEIL:

I think it absolutely does and you know, every company is going to have a different culture and so, how you align and the advice I give when we are advising other companies is, we need to understand your company culture. What are the things that make that your organisation tick before we decide what the accessibility priorities will be in the organisation, you know, there is a baseline. But, also it has to align with the culture because otherwise...

ROB:

That right.

NEIL:

You're going to burn people out. You're either going to be constantly at loggerheads with the rest of the organisation or people are just going to expend all of their energy and there are too few good accessibility people for the way that lives are fighting. So, we've always got to look for the path that works within an organisation. So, I'm glad you're taking that approach. I know we are pretty much near the end of our allotted time. Just curious right, there is a lot of really big new technology coming to the fore at the moment, you know, we have talked the metaverse and so on, pros and cons of that but also, I think in the last few weeks we've seen Chat GPT really explode in people's consciousness. We know people have been working on a for a long time. But it, again with all new tech, it's a double-edged sword. But it has real potential for cognitive accessibility and conversational computing. Do you think that this is something that people will naturally build accessibility into or our thinking about accessibility or do you think this is something where we need to be going and knocking on doors?

ROB:

Unfortunately, I think it's not. It won't happen automatically. I think we have to, it's another case where I mean, it's truly a new horizon, you know, the state that we are at for around artificial intelligence and general machine learning, it will be hugely transformational, as everyone knows but, that therefore makes it extremely exciting and extremely frightening at the same time. And I think you know, we have seen so many cases where, like how many of these chat agents have been launched and then people immediately seek out ways to break them and make them say inappropriate things and some days I just look at the nature of humans and just go, like why? So, I think it actually will be hugely beneficial for accessibility, AI in general, when applied appropriately. And what that means is that like every other technology we've all worked on in the last 30 years, it has to be, there has to be some human intervention during the creation and deployment and usage of that technology to make sure it's used in an appropriate way. And what I mean by that is, there has to be work done to ensure, in the case of AI and machine learning, that the right data is being fed into the system to as much as possible avoid building it in a way that has skewed perspectives around the population and around people, you know and as we all know there is a very high possibility of introducing bias through the dataset that's chosen. And this is not a problem that's specific to accessibility and it's in general building these models. It's very easy to unintentionally feed data in that creates biases and so, that's one of the huge risks and one thing I'm really happy to see is that this is active conversation that's happening. This is, like I'm not the first person saying this. So, it's understood and that gives me hope that we can actually, as an industry solve that problem but I think the other thing is, we also, like always when deploying these technologies they need to be done carefully, especially in the early days to consider what is the impact on people with disabilities and not even people with disabilities but just the different work styles and the different ways people consume information. I agree where you Neil, especially for cognitive this could be hugely transformational, and I think it will be. But I suspect there will be some bumps along the road and some missteps and misfires as things are launched and discovered we didn't understand this implication at the time and then they'll pulled back, modified, relaunched and I think, as long as we are doing that intentionally, as much as possible and looking forward and trying to be proactive, I think we can reduce the pain of getting from here to the really positive outcomes that I think do lie ahead.

NEIL:

Excellent. Thank you so much Rob. It's been a pleasure having you on the show. I also need to thank MyClearText for keeping us captioned and also for 2023, thank Amazon, for supporting us for 2023 and so, thank you Amazon for your allyship. So, thank you everyone. Really great chatting with you, really look forward to continuing the discussion on Twitter.

DEBRA:

Thank you, Rob.

ROB:

Thanks Debra thanks Neil. Thanks everyone. Happy new year.