Happy Friday Everyone! I don’t know about you, but I am definitely ready for the arrival of spring. It’s been an unusually cold winter this year and I’m ready to throw open the windows, plant some flowers or enjoy just sitting outside on the front porch.
Since the majority of us are still having to deal with a bit of the winter blues, why not take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to grab a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and read this week’s Follow Friday interview with a very interesting and influential individual within the blindness community.
When I received the news that I would have the opportunity to interview this particular individual, let’s just say that I could barely contain my excitement. My guest has been in the assistive technology and broadcasting field for nearly 30 years and he has definitely help change the lives of how the blind use and access assistive technology and continues to do so through his various projects, public speaking, teaching and radio shows.
Are you curious to find out who I’m talking about? All right, the wait is over. Join me as I had the honor to talk with Jonathan Mosen of Mosen Consulting.
Brie Rumery: For some of our readers who may not be familiar with Mosen Consulting would you please tell us a little bit about the company?
Jonathan Mosen: I founded Mosen Consulting in May of last year as a means to help make the world a better place for blind people. Through the company, I’ve been able to offer training and other advice/consultancy services under contract to a range of blindness agencies, as well as help individuals who for whatever reason are ineligible to receive assistance from such agencies. I’ve published a number of books and audio presentations, doing my best to balance the small size of the market with the socio-economic challenges many of us face. It’s been really heartening how well the books and audio have been received, and more are coming soon.
Although in recent years I’ve had a high profile in the field of assistive technology, I’ve also had a career in Government relations and advocacy, playing a key role in completely changing the blindness system in New Zealand. Mosen Consulting has also enabled me to pursue my passion for promoting the self-advocacy and empowerment of blind people.
BR: Recently you launched a new project called Appcessible.Net. Why did you feel the need to start this project and how will it help the blindness community?
JM: There are two drivers behind Appcessible.net. The first is that all of us who use mobile devices want the world to be as accessible a place as possible. Many app developers still don’t realize that it’s possible for blind people to use smartphones and tablets at all. So Appcessible.net seeks to reach them, and let them know there’s actually a lot of revenue to be made by making apps accessible. Many developers will also be driven by the desire to do the right thing, but we’ve all got to make a living. Unless you’re developing one of the few really high profile apps, it can be a struggle to pay the bills when you’re an app developer. So if we can convince developers that we’re an often-ignored market with money to spend, that resonates. The Youtube video we did has had a favorable impact, and the dialogue Appcessible.net has generated with the developer community is incredibly positive.
The second reason is that blind people have skills, and it can be a struggle to receive appropriate recognition of and compensation for those skills. A developer can enable Talkback or VoiceOver, but that doesn’t help them to understand how a blind person might use their app in combination with those screen readers. Most app developers aren’t blind, so they don’t know if the app is talking too much, not talking enough, or saying the wrong thing. There are many competent smartphone and tablet users with skills that can really make a difference to an app developer’s bottom line. I don’t think we as blind people should necessarily be expected to give those skills away for nothing. Just like developers, we, too, need to put food on the table for ourselves and our families, and in a free market, it’s perfectly appropriate for us to sell our skills at a price the market will pay. So my dream with Appcessible.net long-term is that we can employ additional capable blind evaluators who can make a living through using their skills for the good of developers, and for all blind people. It’s a win/win scenario.
BR: What were some of your reasons for starting Mosen Consulting
JM: I was looking for a set of fresh challenges, and was talking over my options with friends and family. Even before I founded ACB Radio in 1999, I’ve enjoyed looking at new technology, considering its practical implications and relevance, and then explaining it in a way that hopefully makes sense of it even to people who aren’t particularly tech savvy. My partner, Bonnie, said to me, “no one explains stuff quite like you do”, and that’s where the slogan that we use, “no one explains stuff like Jonathan”, came from. It makes me a little…embarrassed, but it seems to have worked.
So the mission of Mosen Consulting is broad enough that few days are ever the same. I love it!
BR: What words of advice would you give to the up and coming blind entrepreneur?
JM: I could probably, literally, write a book on this one, but here are a few things I’ve learned from others who have been kind enough to offer advice, and also through my own successes and failures. In the interests of time, let me narrow it down to five key points.
The first thing is, working for yourself isn’t for everyone. The only boss breathing down your neck is you. At one point last year, I was writing two books at once, so I was working long hours, doing meticulous research, without any revenue coming in from either of those projects at that moment. You have to have the self-discipline to be able to maintain a routine. If you’re the type of person who finds that difficult, maybe this isn’t the best lifestyle for you and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone.
Second, assess yourself realistically. Some of us have received so many knock-backs in life that we talk ourselves down, others of us may have an over-inflated perception of our abilities. If we can realistically assess our strengths and weaknesses, it helps us decide the projects at which we’re likely to succeed, and those where it is in our interests to say no. Part of that process is opening up honest dialogue with people who know us well. This can be a challenge, because some people will tell us what we want to hear. They’re worried about offending. So go into the process with a thick skin, be clear that you want honest communication.
Third, nurture and treasure your professional relationships. I’ve been so grateful over the last year or so for the networks I’ve built up over the years in the industries in which I’m working. You are likely to have some competitors, but most people are potential collaborators in one form or another. And wherever possible, if you do have competitors, it doesn’t need to be personal. You may be a competitor today, but a change in circumstances could make you a collaborator tomorrow.
Fourth, be willing to fail. When you do, celebrate it, because you’re objective enough that you can extract the lessons from the failure and be a better person for it.
Finally, learn to handle criticism. This was great advice that Dean Martineau gave to me when ACB Radio was taking off. If you make a success of what you do, you’ll inevitably attract detractors. When I first started gaining a high international profile about 15 years ago, I found the jealousy and negativity upsetting, and I was incredibly defensive. Dean sent me an email at some point to say, “Jonathan, you really need to learn how to develop a thicker skin”. It was brilliant advice. Sometimes you’ll get criticism you can use. In that case, take on board the lesson learned, and move on. At other times, you get people whose objective is simply to be nasty and to troll. What they want is a reaction. Give them one, and they win. There’ll be times when you need to correct the record if errors of fact get out there, but in general, if you know you did the best you could and acted with integrity, that’s ultimately what counts.
Meditation has been invaluable for me in this area of my life. It empties my mind, brings me calmness, and ensures I don’t sweat the small stuff.
BR: Syntellia, the developers of Fleksy, are now providing their alternative keyboard in lieu of using the iOS default keyboard. Does this announcement change your opinion about the decision Syntellia made when they decided to create a separate version of Fleksy specifically for the blind VoiceOver user?
JM: No it doesn’t. There are two quite separate issues. One is the Fleksy app, the other is the SDK available for free to third-party developers. Fleksy is fantastic technology, and I’ve used it since the very first day it arrived in the Store. I’m looking forward to seeing Fleksy built into apps where it’ll really help, such as Twitter clients. It’s in Blindsquare now, and I appreciate how cool that is.
But having been talking to many developers of late, I know that it’s a common misconception that blind people need special apps, that third-party apps in general are not, and cannot be, accessible. When someone with the profile and PR clout of Fleksy goes down the special app route, it can create a public perception problem that has implications far beyond Fleksy. Sometimes, we’ve got to see the bigger picture and speak out.
That said, I think it was gutsy of Fleksy to appear on the Talking Apps podcast as they did, and answer my direct questions frankly. They admitted to some mistakes and unnecessarily indirect language about what they did, and they’ve also given a firm deadline by which time they expect the two apps to be one again. I really respect that, and contrary to some ill-informed speculation, there is no commercial relationship between Appcessible.net, or anything else with which I’m involved, and Fleksy. I did that podcast purely as a service to the blind community, and to give Fleksy a right of reply after my blog post.
I think it would be churlish to hold fast to a point of view when new information has been offered, and on the basis of the apology and deadline, am willing to cut them some slack. To me, being open to a modified position based on new information is far better than being intransigent when faced with new information. If the deadline ends up not being met, I will probably uninstall the app again as a matter of principle.
BR: I know that audio broadcasting and music are passions of yours, what types of assistive technology and/or accessible apps do you use to run and maintain Mosen Explosion?
JM: I’ve had much of my gear since I founded ACB Radio. It’s amazing that it has stood the test of time so well, but I did make a sizeable investment in quality equipment at the time which seems to have paid off. In my studio, I have an Axel Digital broadcast console with two telephone hybrids, not that I have cause to use the telephone hybrids very much these days. I have a couple of sound cards connected to that mixer, one for JAWS speech and the other for high quality input and output.
On the software side, I use StationPlaylist Creator, Studio and Streamer. They are developed in New Zealand, and I’ve used them since the day they were released. The developer has done an outstanding job with accessibility, and the combination of the software and Brian Hartgen’s truly powerful JAWS scripts are a great combination. StationPlaylist is now being used in a number of radio stations around the world, so this combination makes broadcasting a very viable profession.
BR: Looking towards the future, what types of accessibility do you think the blind can expect in the years to come?
JM: I think we’ll continue to see mainstream devices becoming increasingly accessible, which is a wonderful development. My only caveat here is that as someone who has always strongly believed in self-determination, it is critical that we as blind people ourselves have the ultimate say in the how. Real-world end-users of the technology are uniquely placed to ensure that this technology delivers what it should.
I am also a staunch defender of choice, and respect for the choices people make. That’s why I spoke out last year on my blog about the use of derogatory terms like “blind ghetto” product. It’s designed to demean someone else’s choice simply because the person using such derisive language would not themselves make that choice. It reeks of intolerance and I don’t think we as a community should condone such denigration of the choices of others. For example, I personally have no need for a specialized reading device now that I have my iPhone. I want to be loaded down with as few products, chargers, etc, as possible. But some people, even some with iPhones, find value in a specialized reading device. And to them I say, good for you. If there’s no longer a need for them, then the market will take care of the problem. We should celebrate productivity, and access to information, in whatever form it comes. My choice may not be your choice, but what counts is that we equip ourselves to be as productive and efficient as we can be.
Equally, we must not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with inadequate technology out of some misplaced sense of gratitude. We’re customers too, with specific needs that are as valid as anyone else’s. Apple’s inadequate Braille support is a case in point. What Apple has done is amazing, but here, they’ve dropped the ball and we need to continue to hold their feet to the fire until it’s addressed.
BR: Why is it important for Mosen Consulting to use social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?
JM: Engagement and communication are what it’s all about. One mistake I see many organizations who get into social media making, is that they perceive Twitter and Facebook to be one-way broadcast media. If you want one-way broadcast media, focus on your website. Social networking is about the conversation. I used to use an iOS app that had one or two accessibility issues. They would retweet anyone who praised the app, but if you tried to engage in a conversation about accessibility, they’d just not respond at all. I ended up uninstalling the app.
So if you’re going to get into social media, be prepared to have the conversation with customers or potential customers. That’s what I like, both as a service provider and consumer, best about social media.
I want to thank Jonathan Mosen for taking time out of his very busy schedule to talk with me, it was quite an honor. If you are not already following Jonathan on Twitter then please do so by adding @JonathanMosen to your followers list. For more information about Mosen Consulting visit mosen.org where you can find a wealth of resources including his new project Aappcessible.
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