Assistive Technology and Disability Campaigning

Bootcamp graduate Kush was recently named one of the most influential BAME people in tech in the UK. We spoke to him about the future of Assistive Technology and campaigning for disability rights.

Congratulations on being named one of the most influential BAME people in tech in the UK! How were you nominated and has anything changed since your nomination?
I was nominated without my knowledge by an organisation called Inclusive Tech Alliance. It was set up in response to new research by Inclusive Boards, which shows that the technology sector is behind other sectors when it comes to diversity within senior leadership teams. I was recognised only a few weeks ago in Parliament and have already been featured in a special edition of the Financial Times, charity newsletters, NHS meetings, and global conferences in Europe. The recognition has helped to raise my profile by giving me a platform to raise awareness of some key issues around diversity and equality.

You came to Bootcamp with a campaign for free parking spaces in all hospitals across England. How did you persuade the NHS Foundation Trust against charging for Disabled Blue Badge holders to park at their Chelsea Westminster site?
I raised awareness by describing the current reality of the real and challenging situation that disabled people currently face in the UK. I highlighted the truth that the borough of Kensington and Chelsea has some of the highest rates of inequality anywhere in the country. I also stated the facts and the evidence that the rates of poverty, multiple conditions (co-morbidities) and mental health are all correlated with disability. Disabled people are more reliant upon cars as most London stations are still inaccessible, especially around the hospital. I even had to quote the Equalities Act and state that positive action for protected characteristics is legal, and I highlighted that the proposition was not in line with values of the Trust of being “Unfailingly Kind”.

You’ve delivered speeches in Parliament. How does it feel when you give a speech about something close to home? Would you give us some advice on public speaking?
Be passionate, be real, and be honest. I try my best to embody the Nolan Principles in everyday life: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. I believe embodied, value-based leadership is much harder for others to dismiss out of hand. So live life by example and be a role model. When a person acts in a selfless manner and speaks the truth, I believe it resonates with a much greater power and frequency, as there is clarity with no hidden agenda. Be professional and compassionate, even if people disagree with you. Speak with a clear and balanced mind, be passionate but at the same time, wise. Speak clearly with confidence, as confidence is contagious, and only when you truly believe in yourself can others truly believe in you.

You brought some really valuable meditation exercises to camp. Do you have any favourites to share with our readers?
I learned on a recent retreat to the Plum Village Monastery in France that Buddha stated once that 90% of all our perceptions are false. So, I use this to sometimes reflect upon my own thinking: is it based on my perception or is it based on facts? What’s the likelihood that my thinking is wrong? So, this gives me more opportunity for reference points and time before forming opinions. I try to be more aware of the labels that I place on people without really knowing them as it’s an old habit patterns of the mind. Being aware of these patterns of mind can help us to reframe and gain new insight with a more open mind.

Stephen Hawking famously said, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change”, and because of his disability and Assistive Technology, he was able to fulfil Alan Turing’s words of wisdom “sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of, who do the things no one can imagine.”

The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by someone’s impairment. What changes do you hope to see with the social model of disability and assistive technology in the next five years?
I see assistive technology becoming the real enabler for the social model of disability. We already have Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as Amazon Alexa which is becoming life changing for blind and partially sighted people. I recently tried smart caption glasses at the National Theatre that provide real time subtitles using voice recognitions software, so that the deaf community can enjoy live performances. As more and more tasks become automated with machine learning and AI, this will help further empower disabled people. Creating more opportunities with a level playing field and ensuring a better quality of life for more and more disabled people.

I can see this technology rolling to all aspects of live sports and entertainment for both disabled and non-disabled people. I had both my hips replaced in 2002, with titanium and through computer aided design, and am only able to walk today due to assistive technology. In the future this will be much more common for more human body parts. I see the next evolution in assistive technology being embedded inside the human body.

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