Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast Ep5 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Dr Caroline Casey of the Valuable 500

In this episode of the Inclusive Designer Series we hear from Dr Caroline Casey of the Valuable 500 who talks about founding the Valuable 500, hidden disabilities and why it is essential that business adds disability into its inclusion and diversity agenda.


Perito:     Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A podcast all about creating inclusive environments and about helping us all become expert at identifying exclusion and create an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Perito believes that we are all designers in some capacity even if we are not the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects.  This podcast is out there to help everybody become a community expert in recognising exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.  The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and challenges of our interviewees and the topics we cover so that you will have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world without boundaries.  Now in this episode we’re really pleased to be joined by Caroline Casey who will be chatting about some high profile and important issues as well as telling us about the valuable 500.  (1.00) Hi Caroline how are you doing?


CC:            (1.05) Hi how are you doing?


Perito:     (1.09) I’m pretty good this end thank you very much. Obviously, we’re not in the studio so to speak we’re on the sofa and so we’re over the Ringr app. so you over in Ireland at the moment aren’t you Caroline?


CC:            I am I’m sitting on a sofa in a house full of four people trying to do their day job over some form of digital form, so yeah it feels very strange, very full house, full environment but it’s beautiful and sunny outside, I want to go out and play.


Perito:     (laughter) (1.30) It would be good to kick off with a bit of a warm up and why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are in Ireland as well that sounds lovely and your background as well?


CC:            You know first off that’s a very open question for an Irish over talker (laughter), I live in Dublin and it’s a funny thing when somebody asks me a question like this to give a description of who I am, I could give you all the titles of the things that I’ve done but I believe anyone of us are defined by a role or any one specific part of myself but I think this is what my professional (laughter) descriptor is, I’m an activist, I’m a campaigner, I’m a social entrepreneur, a businesswoman I have been in the space of disability business inclusion for nearly 20 years, I’m an ex-Management Consultant, an ex-Archaeologist, an ex-Masseuse so that’s (laughter)…


Perito:     (laughter) That’s quite a few things that’s good.


CC:            …all my stuff and who am I, well I am 48 years old, I am in the middle of Menopause I am married to a wonderful man, another entrepreneur called Gar, I love, I’m very, very passionate about design it’s one of my absolute joys in life, photography, art, dance, animals, adventure, branding, marketing I mean absolutely all of those things, love being fit I’ve just come in from doing a hip class online which is hilarious and the thing that probably, I think if you were to ask me anything I’m a dangerous dreamer.  I’m a person who really doesn’t just daydream stuff I really try to make it happen, I’m hopelessly stubborn, I’m very sensitive, I’m very emotional, I’ve had a long journey of, I guess to where I am today, and I think the thing that surprises people most if they see me or meet me is that I am actually registered blind or severely visually impaired, I have a condition called Ocular Albinism and I do not look registered blind but I only have about 2 foot vision and what’s very unusual about that and why you wouldn’t know when you meet me is when I was diagnosed at 6 months, I’m the eldest of three children my parents I think struggled with it and made a very unusual decision in 1973 that they would bring me up as a sighted child because the world was not designed for people…


Perito:     Okay interesting.


CC:            …who was basically impaired, and they were worried about me so that is me, hope that kind of gives you some sort of sense of who I am.


Perito:     You said something to do with elephant somewhere in are you kind of an elephant trainer or something along those lines is that correct?


CC:            Yeah I mean this story of, so I think yes I am elephant handler and I’m a cow girl (laughter), I’m a wannabe biker chick, yeah I’m many things, Caroline who I am as Caroline is all my heart but all the things that I do they’re quite crazy and if you put them altogether and you read them out of the list I go god, what am I, but the dream to be an elephant handler came from when I watched the Jungle Book when I was 6½ years old and of course I was sitting in the front row of a cinema and I didn’t know that I couldn’t see the Jungle Book very well but my favourite scene of the Jungle Book was Mowgli and when Mowgli met the elephant and I’d always been fascinated by elephants and so as a child I had this desire to go to India and hang out with Baloo and Bagheera and become Mowgli and I always wanted to do that and when I was 17 years old when most people were making decisions to go to be, I don’t know, to go to become a Doctor or a Lawyer I wanted to become Mowgli from the Jungle Book and I wanted to be a cow girl and I wanted to be a biker chick and on my 17th birthday I discovered that my dreams were not necessarily appropriate or whatever because I found out that I was registered blind because my father gave me a driving lesson for my 17th birthday, so yeah, so that’s kind of, that was it and I did become this Mowgli from the Jungle Book eventually when I was 28 years old.


Perito:     (5.34) But what I like about everything you’ve said there is to say you’re a dangerous dreamer but actually you have these ambitions, these dreams and you go ahead and make them happen, so you don’t, I can appreciate if there’s something similar, but you have this thought and then it’s like “no that’s impossible let’s go and do it” and it obviously doesn’t cross your mind that there’s restriction here, you just make it happen and I guess that kind of aligns very closely with what we’re going to talk about more today as well.  So you mentioned you being in the inclusion diversity space for 20 years now and there’s obviously a lot that drives you on, what are the principles that get you excited about changing the world for the better? sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience from the past that might lead into this.


CC:            Well you know it’s interesting whenever I’m asked about who I am and I hear the jumble that it comes out like I mean my life has unfolded, I was never planned, nothing I’ve ever done is planned really, it goes with my instinct and I think my heart and actually all of the work that I’ve done has come out of a very tough place like a lot of my big moments or big achievements have come from very dark and painful places and from, yeah I think from huge talent and from barriers and when we talk about designing and what inclusive design is I guess for me the principle of the work I do and how I got into disability business inclusion is all in a tag talk that people can listen to and I don’t need to go back over that but is I really believe in creating a world where anybody can belong, not fit in and not try to be exacted to belong in their own unique and beautiful way and if that sounds cliché well so be it.


Perito:     No, I don’t think it does.


CC:            I believe we’re all equally unique and valuable and I think the only thing that we have in common as human beings is that we’re different, I think innovation is born from difference, I fundamentally, and this is where I become quite emotional, there is nothing that makes me more sad then when I see a child or an adult in the corner of a room being left out, I remember as a kid being in school and watching a child that was bullied, I was bullied in school actually but watching a child be bullied was horrible but worse than that was watching somebody being ignored or invisible and I think that’s a really passionate part of why I do the work I do.  The reason the work that I have done for 28 years it comes from a place of heart, a place of equality, a place of justice, a place for the right for every human, not necessarily to be liked because we can’t all be liked but be respected and be given dignity and to have the barriers removed for them to be who they need to be.  There is nothing that breaks my heart more than somebody not been seen and heard as themselves, we all don’t have to agree but we need to make safe in our world for every one of our opinions, every one of our manifestations of who we are as a person to be allowed to reach fruition and I’m sorry but I do not believe one person is more valuable than another.  There are rules in life like presidents of countries and CEO’s of companies but they are not as human beings more important than anybody else and they’re the people who are in positions of influence and power who can actually ensure that all of our voices are heard and all of our lives can be meaningful, and so that kind of segue ways into what I do because the group of people to which I belong, I’m a person who has a disability I belong to 1.3 billion people tribe in the world who have lived experience of disability and there’s an inequality crisis for this group of people, it is not a minority, disability will touch every single one of our lives and yes there is a crisis of exclusion right across the world no matter where you live in, where you are marginalised, ignored, invisible, you are not served, you are 50% less likely to have a job, 50% more likely to experience poverty if you are a child with a disability, 90% of kids with a disability don’t get to see the inside of a classroom and the reason I do what I do is I believe that that scale of a problem cannot be resolved by Government alone or charities or conventions it needs the most powerful force on this planet which is business and if business includes society includes I believe in that more core principle of inclusive business creates inclusive societies and I believe inclusive leaders create inclusive business end of.

Perito:     (10.06) There’s a lady called Cat Holmes who you may be familiar with and she if I get this right…


CC:            Yes, oh I have a big crush on her.


Perito:     …yeah she’s very good, well she came up in a book about the comment of we’re all just, I’ll paraphrase this, “we’re all just temporarily abled” and I think that’s the great way…


CC:            We are.


Perito:     …to look on this and the fact that yes we’re 7.4 billion unique humans but we’re all temporarily able and I think that’s the mindset change that we just need to be looking that is to say that this impacts on everybody, that leads us onto what you’ve kind of done to bring this to fruition.  (10.37) Dis-valuable 500 also known as the V500 why don’t you give us a bit of an intro on this cos I expect a lot of people will maybe have vaguely heard of this or perhaps not be familiar?


CC:            Well I believe, as I do, that inclusive business creates inclusive societies I want to be really clear, we don’t need, the world of disability does not need for business to do this cos it’s a worthier good thing to do, I believe that the disability community is hugely valuable to business and actually is a really overlooked opportunity for growth and innovation and grand differentiation and talent, it’s a mark with a disposable income of £8 trillion and this market is growing because of Cat Holmes is a great example, we are all temporarily able, every one of us will be at some point and if we look up with 1.3 billion people in the world with a disability and we’re just say there are two people that love us okay, a mum and a dad or that’s 54% of our consumer base.  So based on these principles I was frustrated over the 20 years and we have had huge success, I have to be honest, massive success around the work that we’ve been doing which has been really looking at the opportunity that can be gained between business and the disability communities but I was very frustrated that disability was always been left on the side lines and increasingly I was watching the diversity and inclusion agenda become ridiculous (laughter) I mean just ridiculous, when we were literally cookie cutting up humanity into these categories of gender and race and LGBTQ and I was like what is this craziness, now disability has never really been in anywhere central to business, it really hasn’t but over the last 10 years it has got ridiculous and what was happening with this comm policing agendas, disability was always been left and I hate to tell you but disability doesn’t discriminate it’s everywhere, do you know what I mean, it’s just everywhere and I couldn’t get over the scale of this issue and disability was being left off it.  So we did some research and the research was done by EY first of all and these are the three stats that terrify me, 54% of our governing bodies are the Boards of Business, the Leadership Boards had never had a conversation about disability, yet 90% of our companies were claiming they were passionate about diversity and inclusion, 4% were considering disability, 7% of our CEO’s are leaders had a lived experience of disability yet 4 out of 5 of them were hiding it.  Now there you go, there’s the problem, so the Valuable 500 why did we do it, well let’s be honest, the Valuable 500 exists simply to level the playing fields, it’s to make sure that disability is equally included within the inclusion and sustainability agendas of business.  The second thing its to do is to make sure leaders speak about it, we wanted to get the attention and intention of leaders so we can operationalise disability throughout the business like everything else and lastly, honestly James is to end the inclusion delusion or the ridiculousness of what is going on, now I’m probably very controversial when I say this I actually think the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda should be canned and Inclusion and Belonging should evolve into the sustainability agenda of business and so what the Valuable 500 is was this iconic search for an inclusion revolution that was launched in Davos in 2019 asking for 500 of the world’s most powerful CEO’s and their brands to commit to having a leadership conversation about disability, making a leadership action and communicating that externally with their customers and their employees and by doing that we would build a 500 strong community of leadership that we would work with to use our power and influence to change the system over a period of time to equally include disability, that’s our job.


Perito:     (14.35) I read an interesting article in the FT, it was only a short thing on Beethoven it was a book review actually for a new book that someone released and in it the lady was reported as saying “Beethoven wasn’t as deaf as people thought he was and he could hear from, in his left year from, if you shouted in his left ear quite closely” but what was interesting was that he ended up actually self-isolating for much of his later life primarily because, according to his notes, he got fed up with people looking at him thinking Beethoven you must have amazing hearing because you’re so good at music, what I found interesting about this is that the lady didn’t necessarily isolate that bit this was a social exclusion because of his disability that he felt this way and he isolated himself but it goes to show this affects everybody from high and low with amazing genius skills across the board and I think that adds value to what you’re doing here with the Valuable 500.


CC:            Yeah I think, do you know what I really want to do with the Valuable 500 before Covid and by the way Covid is now actually the greatest opportunity for all of us to reboot or reset the system and I’ve talked about an inclusion revolution that’s what the Valuable 500 was it was a radical revolution around inclusion to say listen we need to be talking about universally inclusive corporate cultures where everybody is included and everybody’s needs, the barriers are removed for everybody to engage with business equally, I mean that’s what this is about, it’s having design led thinking into business and that’s good for business and this is my point is when you value a constituent, when you value human beings you don’t exclude them, disability is a deeply uncomfortable thing that makes all of us feel uncomfortable, I mean I rejected my disability for 11 years, I was in the closet for 11 years from the age of 17 through to the time I was with Excentia as a Management Consultant for 2½ years they didn’t even know I was visually impaired, I hid it because I knew or I felt at the time that actually owning my disability would lessen my chances in life, and let’s be honest I was probably right because if you hear now that you have 4 out of 5 of our 7% of CEO’s are hiding their disability well they’re hiding it for a reason, because disability seems like damage or weak not as a source of innovation or opportunity which I believe it is and let’s just look at some small things like now one is, isn’t it extraordinary that the remote control was designed for blind people okay, to watch television, we don’t watch television, it was designed for blind people we all use the remote control, text messaging was designed for deaf people and I think that’s incredible, look how much we use it.  Let’s even look at Covid right today I think it’s fascinating people with disability have been asking for remote working for a long time and have been using digital and online communication and now the whole world is doing it and for many, many years employers were saying “no we can’t employ disabled people because we don’t do remote working” but look at it now, we’re all doing it, it may not be easy but we’re doing it and I think what the Valuable 500 was trying to do was say we want to look at the most powerful leaders in the world to reset this system and now just before Covid we had 261 of the world’s biggest brands and CEO’s.


Perito:     (17.58) Now these really are big companies aren’t they Caroline these are the Googles and the Microsofts.


CC:            These are huge James, these are the big companies we are talking big companies, the sales force, the PWC’s, the Accenture’s, the KPMG’s, the Barclays, the ITV’s, the BBC’s, champ I mean I can on an on, go onto the website and look at it and it’s the CEO’s signature who signed this, now think about it because we will have to emerge out of Covid, our system is going to have to reboot it, right it has to change so I think oddly here we have these now to 261 CEO’s, we will help them redesign this business system to equally include disability knowing to your points, you said we’ve had exclusion on mainstream how can we use that empathy and compassion and understanding and build it into our systems so we get the most out of our planet and our people, we are our greatest asset how do we do that, so I think right now what I had hoped for was a reboot of a system and that is coming maybe differently then we imagined but the need for it has been amplified by Covid.


Perito:     (19.14) When I was drawing up the questions this is where my thought process started to go because you’ve got 154 days to reach this target, 500 signatures, you’re almost there because you’ve got 261, so then I started thinking about what the staff or the Board at Corporate needed to do to get on board with this but I also thought about what I could to help you get to this point, do you feel that you are going to reach that or do you feel that Covid’s got in the way and is this the time to kind of almost go into supernova with this and gather everybody around to push through to the 500 or what’s your plan with that?


CC:            You know how I feel at the moment, No. 1 is getting companies who are in a crisis to join anything like a campaign or a movement right now is, I wouldn’t have said it’s the order of the day if I was running a business so we originally wanted to close the Valuable 500 in September at the UN General Assembly week in New York, we’re now going to extend that through to the end of January, Davos being the place that we launch the Valuable 500.  So I want to say that for starters because you know one of the things when you try to make big change happen you have to be aware of what’s going on around it, you may not like it but you have to and you have to adjust and be flexible so that’s my one, we’ll move that very quickly.  However, the second thing is it’s given us huge time to really plan and dig out and know what the next phase is going to be so once we’ve built this community of 500 what are we going to do with it.  However, that being said we are getting companies joining the Valuable 500 probably more than we expected during Covid however they don’t want to go public about it and I get that, so what they want to do, and this is very exciting for us, they realise wow we need to get this exclusion situation sorted, we know as a business we’re not going to be able to leave disability out anymore because now it’s here in our faces so what they’re doing is joining quietly because they want to be part of this very precious and very unique global community of 500 brands and CEO’s that together in safety in numbers they can learn and share from each other and reset their businesses as a community.  So what I think is happening what I didn’t plan is, they’re interested, they’re talking to us, some are joining now, some will join towards I say the last quarter of this year but what they’re doing is they want to get ahead into a peer led community where they can learn from each other and actually move forward.  So do I think Covid is getting in the way? Yes, maybe from the impatient side of me in building the 500 community.


Perito:     (laughter) Yeah I can relate to that.


CC:            Do I think we’re going to be success, yeah, do I think we’re going to be successful, well you know, everybody who knows me knows I’m the most impatient person on the planet so I think I’m a little scared honestly, I think actually we probably are going to have much bigger responsibility in the world then I ever even thought so.  When I started the Valuable 500 and the story of how this came about is the most extraordinary story but when I think about it I know everybody knew that we needed this, I mean the disability world, the business world, everybody said “we need to get business leadership engaged but there’s no way you’ll do it Caroline, you can’t do it, you’re too ahead of your time, can you just not continue to do what you’ve done really well and do that” and I was like “no because we need accelerated change” and everybody thought I was crazy and let’s be honest I am crazy but we did it and I have Paul Pearlman as my Chairperson, I mean everybody thought he was crazy about sustainability and I have Virgin Media and Geoff Dodds and we have Omnicom and One Young World, I’ve got some great partners, 85 partners around the world, we built this on nothing with nothing, I had to re-mortgage my home, like we built this and then we made history and then we got it but I didn’t think that we were going to have the responsibility that I think is going to fall on the shoulders of the Valuable 500, I think it’s going to be a global game changer and I don’t know how I feel about that yet, I’m so inviting of people telling or giving their advice on what they’ve learnt on building a global movement and what they think we should do, I’m scared you can hear it in my voice, I’m incredibly excited in some ways I’m overwhelmed but I know that somehow we’re are in the right place and the right time and I don’t have answers to all of the problems but I do believe and I think, the reason I’m so appreciative talking to you is I think we are at this moment in time it’s very painful and people with disabilities are really being overlooked and it’s very scary but in this time we have to take the good out of it and we have to find out what we can do to ensure this never happens again and I think we have the right tools, the right leaders and the right moment and I think my biggest call out now is for the greatest thinkers and the greatest designers to do design led thinking with us in what we can do to remove the barriers and to remove the excuses and to make it easy for people to make sure.


Perito:     (24.16)  Cos I think from my side having seen how the Coronavirus issues have panned out that it has caused that, and you mentioned about the working from home, the electronic communication, there’s no reason why there wouldn’t be a whole population who can operate effectively from home now because the framework is in place to do that so the barriers that may have been in people’s minds or shall we say the excuses or the justifications, the unconscious bias that led to those decisions have now been overruled, they’ve been proven to be incorrect and overcome.  I agree I think you guys are in a place to really punch through and see where it can go.  (24.49) With that in mind how can listeners help the Valuable 500 achieve its goal, what can the people who aren’t CEO’s and signature C suite and Board level in companies do to help you?


CC:            Well ever persons engages with business don’t we, it doesn’t, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to be able to make this change happen of course the Valuable 500 is finding 500 of the most influential leading brands and their CEO’s but who do those brands and CEO’s listen to, they listen to the consumers, they listen to the next generation talent that they want to employ or retain and they care about their brands so I think what I ask everybody to do, no matter where you are, if you’re working in an organisation see if your company is a Valuable 500 company, if not then ask the question, as a consumer you can do the same.  I mean the big thing is to get people saying, “yeah we want our company to be part of that”, catalytic group that will recess our business system that will equally include anyone and I want to be really clear that disability, I’m not asking for disability to be petted more than anybody else, not at all, I actually, I just, I want that all of those completing agendas to be evened out to a continue of inclusion, so that’s how everybody can help just get it out, ask your employer or ask the customer you do, you know the company you do business with or the brand that you do business with, “have you heard of the Valuable 500?  Are you going to join and if not why not?” and I think that’s what you can do for me.


Perito:     (26.15) Good book, I don’t know if you read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there’s one of the main characters is called Hank Rearden and in the book he talks about essentially the free economy because a lot of they’re called looters these companies that started to take from places then and overtime in the book, without spoiling for everybody, it’s a little like at the moment actually the seismic shift that people are waiting for happens towards the end of the book and essentially the world collapses and they can rebuild it, what’s interesting about the Hank Rearden that he’s got the mentality of, “if you don’t want to buy from me then I will suffer as a result of that and the free market, the free decision making that people have got you can decide collectively and I will be judged based on that” and that is why Hank Rearden is such a great guy in the novel because he has that approach and general message out there to everybody’s use your collective buying power get together and say “look actually we’re purchasing, we have to make the right decisions alongside you” is that fundamentally it?


CC:            Yeah, I think we’re all allies for each other aren’t we?  Isn’t that the one thing that we’ve learnt in this is that we are all interconnected and actually what we do affects other people so all I’m asking for is, you know isn’t there that old analogies like “treat people the way you wanted to be treated like yourself” because it will be you, you are future proofing your world and the business system, if you don’t yet experience disability to Cat Holmes you will at some point.  Your future proofing your world that you work in and that you buy from for yourself and I think that’s really important so just for allies for each other, not everybody’s passion is going to be disability inclusion not at all but I think all of us have the passion for human inclusion and I think that’s how we can do it, it’s just a question, can you ask the question, that’s a really good way because if you were a person who acquires a disability your world will change and because at the moment the world is not designed with significant difference to belong and what I will say right now as a visually impaired person, severely visually impaired person I am really, really, really feeling isolated because of the constant level of Zoom or different platforms that exist they are not fully accessible and I’m on a screen nearly 12 hours a day right now and I think, I feel like a digital introverse and I now understand I’m so sorry for anybody I never had the compassion or the empathy for but it must be like if you’re an introvert in a crowded room, I feel like that online now and I can’t see, so I think we’re all learning aren’t we, (laughter) just all leaning that we all don’t have the same experience but I need to hear, I think the business systems and the world that we to need design needs to try and make room for as many of our different lived experiences.  So I’m an ally for anybody who experiences a sense of isolation, you don’t have to have a disability for that, you don’t, but I will always ally for somebody who has a sense of isolation or a sense of being left out and that’s what I ask for the Valuable 500 too.


Perito:     (29.19) Did you feel that sort of experience when you went to Davos recently because there must have been a whole array of different people of lots of different agendas when you went to talk about the progress of the V500, how did it go and were you kind of just do your thing and then leave or were you kind of mingling and talking to lots of different people?


CC:            You know I live in this really strange world and the thing is unfortunately I had a really, really big cry about my eyesight over the weekend so this is very raw for me at the moment.  I have spoken about my vision quite maybe as much as I’m feeling how hard I’m struggling because of how the world is designed.

Perito:     Well Caroline, don’t feel like you have to if you don’t want to. We can cover other things.


CC:            No I mean don’t be silly it’s very important probably now, I mean gosh it’s important to talk about it I don’t feel it’s a bad thing to be honest about when you are feeling more vulnerable, I feel very vulnerable at the moment and I think that’s okay.  I’m 5’ 8”, I’m very pale, I’ve got blonde hair and I use a cane so I definitely use the cane but I use the cane in certain circumstances, a white cane for my sight but in Davos if my cane is not in my hands and I’m using a sighted guide or a colleague to be with which I do in Davos I have a colleague around me, you will have no idea that I can’t see, and then you will watch my personality because I learnt as a young child when I didn’t know I was visually impaired that I realised, because I could hear very well and I heard that when people were loud that seemed to make something, that sound was very important to me so I use my voice a lot or I reach out and touch you and I’m a big hugger, like I love hugging right, so I’ve learnt how to compensate for lack of sight by being more vocal or more verbal and very huggy.  So I went to this Davos situation and there’s so many people around I cannot see one person and their badge but I look like I can see.


Perito:     (laughter) Yeah.


CC:            And everybody is like going so I’m a complete disconnect, like I don’t make sense to myself or to anybody else but what I can definitely tell you I love people, I love hugging, I hope I hug the right person but I’m exhausted trying to see and trying to cope when I can’t and that’s the next phase of my sort of journey around vision and permit that I have to do because I don’t know how to let go of this sort of caricature of myself that I’ve built up but I definitely need to change the way I work and Davos was a really big trigger for this year cos I really struggled and this Covid situation it’s a really big trigger for me again and I know now I have to give in and I have to say I need help, I have to because it happens every few years and here we are again.


Perito:     (32.08)  But that’s part of growing isn’t it the experience adds up and then you can learn, improve, learn, improve and keep on going but you must have found in some degree with Davos that you didn’t have the same, so if I turned up there I would be mega nervous the whole time and then hopefully I wouldn’t say the wrong thing or something but this situation it sounds like you were almost freer to engage because you weren’t restricted by what I would bring, my own barriers that I would put up.  Was that the case or was it just…


CC:            Oh no not at all.  No oh my gosh no I over compensate, listen when I’m frightened and I’m nervous and I feel vulnerable and scared I over compensate, I try to deflect, I try to distract because it’s hard, you don’t want people to see that your nervous or your scared and from a very young age I’ve learnt how to be the world’s greatest deflector and that’s exhausting, it’s really tiring and I know I went to Davos probably just as nervous you have at a lot of weight sitting on my shoulders, can I also say I’m only one of a team of 7 people who I want to make sure that I do them proud for all the work that they’ve done and our partners and people who’ve believed in me, no I think the more nervous I get the more I nearly reach outside myself and for anybody who has done therapy or anything like that knows that that’s not very good and as I grow older I am learning how to be a little bit honest and I will say my life the way I live my life and the pace I live my life because I’m over compensating can’t really continue and I’m adjusting at the moment but I loved Davos I will say for one reason this year, can I just tell you I felt very proud coming back a year later after launching this, this iconic campaign that people behind closed doors were like who on earth does she think she is, so I went back with a very proud and happy heart, yeah so I think that probably was my.


Perito:     (34.10) With the successes that you’ve got?


CC:            Oh just so proud of the people I work with and for not giving up and every time that you come up against a barrier we’d find a way to remove it and then I think the sense of achievement I’ve very very rarely said in my life that I’m proud of myself and I think a lot of people might look at what I’ve done and go what do you mean, that you’re not proud of the things you’ve done, I think I was more proud and I am more proud of not giving up on the Valuable 500 of flexing constantly and always having to try and think on my feet and pivot and move with our team to try to make it happen it’s yeah, I was probably more proud and excited in Davos this year and that certainly compensated for the nerves that were real, they were real, they were real.  I’m still worried offending somebody like I can’t see your face James so if you walked past me.

                   I’ll give you laugh, I really, really want to meet Tim Cook of Apple like I really do cos Apple is the greatest justification for why I do what I do, I mean Apple is the company that first triggered a trillion, it’s the first brand in the world and based right in its DNA is universal design and inclusive thinking like I mean this is the company I want to meet, I am not joking you, I bumped shoulders with the person and I was like oh no I’ve just bumped into somebody and as I went on 2’ on my colleague turned around and said “that was Tim Cook why didn’t you say hello?”, and I’m going “because I can’t see if that’s Tim Cook”.


Perito:     (laughter) Yes, you’re not helping me here throw me a bone.


CC:            Yeah so there’s two things wrong with that I couldn’t see him and secondly my colleague is supposed to be my eyesight, he’s supposed to tell me that’s Tim Cook so I can go and talk to Tim Cook and the thing is I could have had that conversation because that’s whether you like Davos or not Davos is that kind of place, I met Sharon Sandberg for example, this is the kind of, their the meetings that you have, if there’s one place in the world you’re going to bump into somebody it’s there and the thing is I need people to tell me that I’ve just bumped into that person so I can go and talk to them, but I didn’t look like the girl who couldn’t see Tim Cook but I couldn’t see Time Cook.

Perito:     (36.19) But that’s a perfect example of a hidden disability and peoples, the biases that people, the ability bias that Cat Holmes talks about a lot and transferring…

CC:            Yeah.


Perito:     (36.28)…just because people see things you can’t allow that to mand?? out to the CEO’s out there are making these decisions, that’s a great example you just can’t assume and a great example.


CC:            No you can’t and 80% listen let’s, can we just call this to be true, first to all about that 1.3 billion people who have a lived experience of disability 80% of that is invisible and 80% of that is acquired between the ages of 18 and 64 so there’s so much statistics and data that we don’t know and understand around disability because we haven’t invested the resources that are required to know about this and because it’s disability has been seen, this constant the survival of the fitness, disability has been seen as not that and this narrative around inspiration or charity or weakness and damage, there’s so many confused ideas that are conjured up in our mind about disability and I think the biggest thing that we’re all relating to now is invisible disability that if you were to look at me or my sister who has exactly the same condition you’d go “what, what are you talking about those two girls are visually impaired and registered blind”, you wouldn’t believe us and so it’s take us a long time as young girls growing into young women and middle aged women now because we were so scared to ask for help because we would think that you would feel we were trying to get attention and so this limbo land of invisible disability is exhausting, exhausting and I get very upset.


Perito:     (37.58) Well just like Beethoven he was very exhausted by it he just went and lived in his own house and isolated himself.


CC:            Yes so can I tell you, you told that story in the beginning and I could feel my heart start to beating and going I understand that because some days walking outside our house when I look like I can see and the very simple thing of walking into a shop and not being able to see and having to say I can’t see and go through it all again, it’s like I have to come out of the closet every day several times a day and that becomes exhausting and so, so yes I understand Beethoven becoming incredibly tired that’s the tire and then on the other side of the hand is biker chick adventure personality who wants to do it all and fix it all for everybody else and make the world happier, I am a people pleaser, or disease to please in my nature so there’s a lot going on in that which makes me just very human but I can definitely tell you one thing I am not inspiring and I certainly haven’t inspiring because I have a visual impairment or a disability I’m just a stubborn old goat who wants to make sure that we remove barriers so that we can all belong in our unique and individual ways and it’s really possible and Covid has shown us that and often I believe if you get a handful, a handful of influential compassionate committed leaders, just need a handful man, just a handful, you can change it but if you don’t have those leaders you can’t.

Perito:     (39.18)  We need a handful who will suddenly start making good profits and then the profits will change for more changes and then everyone else will be going “why are they doing so well” and then all the good ideas pop up because there’s innovation diversity across the design board, you’re not just buying from the same pot and then all of a sudden they’re making even more money and so on and so forth and that’s how it really should have always been but it’s good and I don’t think you’re a stubborn old girl I would describe you as a social reformer, this is the words I would use, that what your trying to do.


CC:            (laughter) I don’t what I am but one of the things that I would say to you is, you know when we talk about disability inclusion we don’t talk about it simply as employment we talk about the consumer piece more than anything and I just want to refer to Netflix for a second, do you know that Netflix was one of the first online content platforms that was accessible and when they did, when it created, first of all it was accessible so in its captioning and the way it streamed its work but secondly it started to have disability programming and can I just tell you it didn’t do that cos it was being worthy right, it did that for a competitive edge because it copped on there’s 54% of a consumer base that would be interested in it, so I think that’s really interesting to me that they did that and then you look at because then everybody needs to know they needed competitive edge so you’re right, so when brands start realising that real full human inclusion in the way its designed its business, its services and the way employees gives it a competitive edge then it will follow, that’s when we’re going to see a mass change, is that those first earlier doctors, those really brave pioneers in this space which Apple was around the inclusive design piece that’s the trigger and then let’s watch the momentum of the disease to get to a critical mass.


Perito:     (41.01) Well I was thinking about this cos I lot around the built environment as well and I was thinking about construction and construction like your designing a house is made up of lots of different products and those products have to be carefully designed, materials, the science behind it but construction of your house is not seen as a product and it’s seen as a unit or a result or just a Specification and end goal but if people in construction saw things as a product they would be better able to look at it and see how they can make money by designing for the most customers.


CC:            Yeah.


Perito:     (41.35) And I think it’s just that adjustment isn’t just the tweaking in mindset just to say what you’ve been thinking of all these years is wrong.


CC:            It’s tweaking, it’s so true listen it is something your listeners should do go and look at the Ikea ad that actually won the Canne Dor which is the Oscar of advertising, if anybody wants to go and watch something brilliant, well actually there’s two thing is want your listeners to watch, watch that there’s an Ikea ad which is talking about how they were democratising furniture and making tweaks to their furniture design that would include the disability market space, now they weren’t making new things just tweaking their furniture so democratising it’s so they could have more consumers I mean brilliant.  Look at what Lego did when they brought out the little Lego figurine in a wheelchair, look at democratising it, look at what the Barbie dolls, this is not rocket science it’s tweaking it and the other thing I would love your listeners to look at just, it’s a 2 minute film it’s #diverseish it’s on You Tube go and have a look at it and because we’re having conversations with people like, you are starting to have these broader conversations nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong we don’t have all the answers with this but it’s about expanding our mindset, it’s about enlarging our market spaces, it’s about not feeling threatened, it’s about making people feel comfortable to not know the answers, not shaming people, not shouting at people but trying to open a safe place for our businesses, our communities, our societies to kind of, how do we do this like how do we do it and that’s why I love the Ikea and the Lego and Barbie examples because it’s just building on expanding opening our minds to think about how can we include more people because business makes more money, more people are included, there’s a cost to exclusion within our societies, there’s a cost to inclusion in our exchequers and it’s just not morally right but it’s insane to leave a business on your doorstep why would you do that.


Perito:     (43.40) Well particularly under duress of the client that we’re in at the moment where every penny is a prisoner yeah that’s very interesting.


CC:            Yeah and I really wonder, I really wonder if I’m right or if I’m just being ridiculous that I do not believe diversity in an inclusion agendas are the future, I believe if we’re looking at making our business world inclusive inclusion, full human inclusion needs to be part of the sustainability index which is reported at the highest level of Boards and no lived experience can be left out, you’re not going to get it all right but you need to keep asking again and again and again, it is no longer acceptable.  If we come out of all of this excluding people, I really wonder what on earth have we learned, no human being is more important than the other.


Perito:     (44.34) Well following on from that I’ll skip ahead to a question further down then so I feel at the moment that the Coronavirus has given momentum for these changes to occur particularly in the workplace and our homes and we’ve kind of covered that off, what does that vision look like for you and to see what will come out of this current Covid-19 crisis?  We’ve touched on a couple of points.


CC:            Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, well the most important thing I need to tell you after this crisis I have got to hug somebody, I am hugging trees, so like I do hug my tree, so I think what we’ve learnt is, first of all human beings are communal and we’re social, we’re doing our very very best and we’re showing that systems adapt, we’re showing that systems change, so knowing that systems change then we need to fix our broken systems that exclude and there is no excuses, none, there are no excuses for that anymore, we know our systems can adapt, we know when we want to, they need to change.  The second thing is that we really need to understand, I believe, that we are as a race we co-exist as human beings, human beings we are not numbers, we’re not widgets we’re human and I hope that we have all leant a sense of collective exclusion so we have the empathy and compassion and I hope that we use that really well, and I think thirdly, more importantly, I wonder what will our leaders, what will we expect of our leaders, like lot will our CEO’s, I’m going to just talk about business leaders, what skills are those leaders going to have to have.  They’re certainly going to be very different skills then before and I’m just really interested in what leadership looks like post Covid because it’s going to have to be, I believe, a far more balance between the head and the heart, it definitely is going to have to have the human and the economic at either side we are going to have to rebalance that in play.  I’m really interested in what, how do we help our leaders, I’m really interested as I say about that inclusion means inclusion for all and everyone and I just wonder that it’s going to take time because I do want to be mindful that every year how many people die of Diabetes or Cancer or diseases in the global south that never stopped our global economy.


Perito:     Yes, very interesting point.


CC:            I’m very scared about that, I don’t know how anybody else feels but this crisis is around us okay, this is horrible, I’ve nearly lost a brother because of it, a 41 year old incredibly healthy young man he nearly died right and I have friends who are losing people but I also before Covid how many millions of people are dying without me knowing, without us knowing, that didn’t stop our economy, what does that mean for the world that I’ve been colluding in around inclusion.


Perito:     (47.24)  There’s another comment about it in the FT for Saturday at the weekend where some American General, this is back in a couple of years ago, I’ll have to refer to back to the author later but he was apparently speaking to a General and he said if we could prove that the Zika virus carrying mosquitos were actually Isis controlled mini-drones we could get as much funding as we wanted and that harps back nicely to what you were saying in terms of Malaria, in terms of all these other things how does that play it, why is this one particularly different?


CC:            Yes well why and I think what has blown my mind a bit through this time I can’t help thinking was I colluding that our world was trying to be equal because I’ve realised now actually did I do enough, was a lost in own inclusion bubble around disability inclusion when actually there were people dying under my nose, in my world, in the millions, in the millions and the millions and millions and they continue to do whether it’s through conflict or disease or poverty.  Why didn’t we just globally stop that so they’re questions are going on in my head at the moment which have I no answers for that make me feel not very proud of myself as well.  I’ve been going down this angle and people might say well you can only do your bit and your whatever and yes I know that but I just have lots of questions I think, lots of questions but I don’t have answers.


Perito:     (48.50) I think my conclusion drawn on it was that the mistake I’ve possibly made with this is to only to start looking at inclusive environments from a social distancing because of this particular issue but you need something to ignite that spark and what you’ve got with the Valuable 500 is a tool to go out there and effectively weaponise the inclusion diversity gender and to get it into these companies that need help to make the transitions so although you are right in the fact that it’s probably incorrect that we’ve only just started to have these discussions based on something that’s a Pandemic now but actually it almost doesn’t matter because the end result here is that the change has to happen and you mentioned about changed management at the beginning, change only really happens when people want it to and at the moment with the Covid-19 my belief is that this is an excellent opportunity because people are looking for change and the Valuable 500 can happen.


CC:            Well I hope so but I also think we need to be mindful and when you want change to happen and being a changed management consultant which essentially one of the things is you also need to take people, me included, where we are and acknowledging where people are and accepting where people are, human beings by our very nature are tribal and topologically we are tribal, we know we like the same so inclusion is going to be, I mean real inclusion is going to be, let’s not deny it, it’s going to be hard because it requires us to be less selfish and me absolutely included in that right and I think it’s hard and I think until we own it it’s really really hard and I think we have to be gentle with ourselves in knowing that and then also not gentle with ourselves, do you know what I mean, because I think we fear that if I give you I take away from myself, currently our world is based on a scarcely model and inclusion, real human inclusion cannot flourish with a scarcely mindset, we must be allies for each other and that is a lovely sentence to say but it’s really hard to do so every small whim we need to jump up and down and high 5 ourselves on cos we’ve gotta just build on success cos it’s hard.


Perito:     (51.01) Absolutely agree and the ?? focus is a great way of looking at it.  So thinking from an inclusive design point of view then so Ann as a partially person what do you feel has been the greatest challenges that we haven’t talked about so far just setting up your company that’s Binc and running the Valuable 500 as well?


CC:            My greatest challenge without a shadow of a doubt is myself, I think I can honestly tell you is we all are better when we are being ourselves, and that Oscar Wilde quote that my husband and my father constantly quoted at me, be yourself cos everybody else is taken, your greatest challenge in anything that you do is where you on this self-acceptance journey, the more you know and are aware of yourself and accept who you are that is to me, that’s the dew dew that’s the sweet spot for sure so I would say to you that as a leader and a founder of several organisations I definitely I think I get better (laughter) like why I get better as I get holder I hope so I think that’s the No. 1 thing.  The second thing is we were very much all of our work is being very pioneering, very green site, very ahead of its time and I think getting funding for our work has been very very difficult hence re-mortgaging the house and thirdly I think the other challenge but also the kind of cool part of it, you know when you’re doing something that nobody else has really done you kind of and if you really believe in it because I really, really, really believe in our works as with all of teamwork fantastic really believe in it, there’s something very very exciting about pushing through when nobody else really sees it, do you know what I mean.


Perito:     I do yes.


CC:            There is something, I’m the entrepreneur there, at times it’s desperately lonely, god almighty it’s so much nicer when everybody agrees with you (laughter) they think you’re great but actually I really, listen I know in my heart this is part of a solution so in a way I’ve nothing to lose really do I, I’ve nothing to lose because you’re only building on something that’s so unique and new and I’ve stopped taking everything as I’ve grown older so personally I take my work very very seriously, I just don’t take myself as maybe seriously as I would, like I would have thought every failure that I ever had before was cos I was shit or something do you know what I mean, I’ve now been able to detach my work from myself so my work and my, which I’m very passionate about as you can hear, it’s what I do it’s not who I am and that’s a very healthy place to be in now.


Perito:     (53.44) Well it is a special achievement the Valuable 500, Binc and everything that you have done in the past has been driven by your stubbornness, your blend of ambition and aim and your kind of your go get it attitude so it’s interesting as you say you’re getting older, your being able to kind of almost diversify your own skill set out there as well.


CC:            Yeah and I think if you were to say what’s in my secret bag of tricks I could definitely tell you I have lived a very difficult life, I’ve actually had quite a lot of trauma which I don’t speak about and I don’t make that my story it’s irrelevant but it is where I’ve learnt my greatest, my greatest secret weapon is the life I’ve gone through which has actually got nothing to do with my eyesight, they always it’s to do with my eyesight it’s not, so I have kind of flexed that grit muscle, I’m highly creative that it does help greatly and I do believe in magic, (laughter) I do believe in the phosphorus which is like this, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it but if you swim in certain seas around the world and my favourite is off the coast of Crete, you can swim at night in the sea and you shake the water and it lights up and that’s phosphor essence and I love that and that to me is the hope in the world.  So that’s my kind of ingredient for success.


Perito:     (55.06) So the tools that you’ve used and the barriers that you’ve come across how could they have been designed better to help meet your needs and I’m thinking more from maybe Caroline as probably a younger person perhaps now rather then where you are now and what were the worse ones and why were they bad?


CC:            Glass doors bad, can you put marks on glass doors, things that have become brilliant is when I go into certain shopping into supermarkets now I can have people who are sighted to help you shop, I have to say Google Maps as being the best thing of all time.


Perito:     (laughter) It’s handy.


CC:            Having a camera on my phone so I can take pictures of it so I can see things when I never could see things, it would be really nice when you into a takeaway or you know like when you’re trying to, you know the way that menus are often behind people and they don’t have a hold menu like seriously would you just not have a menu so that I can actually read I don’t understand, let’s be honest.


Perito:     Do you not want to sell this.


CC:            Yeah like really do you not want my customer space.  I also know learnt through doing the Valuable 500 that when I use to do videos, I’m really bad at social media by the way which is dreadful for a campaigner, why was I not captioning my videos, how horrendously exclusionary was I so I found this thing called Clipomatic. It’s brilliant. so I was actually doing captioning videos like why would I exclude somebody from a conservation so as far as I’m concerned every single piece of communication online needs to be captioned for people who have hearing impairments but more importantly if you’re in an environment where you can’t have your sound on anybody could read it and also for people who don’t have the same language like simple things like that’s amazing.  The other thing that I think that has really really helped is training when teams of people are trained, for example in airports, on aeroplanes or in gyms, another great one, if you go in and you say “listen I’m visually impaired” and the team have been trained to know what a visually impaired person is brilliant, they’re not scared of you and so they help you and we just get on with the business of training, do you know what I mean and the last thing most importantly is seeing visually impaired or people with disabilities in the media talking about who they are, what they are and anything but disability it’s amazing how much that can change things and so that means you need to have the accessible online technology, yeah.


Perito:     (57.26) Good list yeah thank you very much for that that’s great, so drawing to a close then so I’ve kind of left the last question a bit open so basically any final things you’d like to add on, any topic at all, any kind of observations, you can sing a song if you like or you can whatever you like, anything that springs to mind?


CC:            A few things I would suggest to anybody who is interested in inclusive design Cat Holmes, yeah I love her, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to, follow that lady she’s amazing.  I would also suggest anybody around the issue of vulnerability you’ve heard me speaking about vulnerability a bit today and I think we talk about inclusion, inclusion has to start with yourself alright, regardless whether you’re a designer, an architect, a business person, it doesn’t matter you have to be inclusive with yourself so I would say understanding who you are and what you are and vulnerability, Brené Brown I know she’s talked about a lot but please just, she’s incredible and I think that’s a place where I’ve got an awful lot of resource recently and a song (laughter) the song that just comes to mind when I think about, I wish I could sing to you, I love singing but I can’t but I wish I could is sometimes when you’re doing something and you’ve, when you’re trying to make something happen and you can’t, you can kind of feel a little lost and there’s this beautiful song that I’ve been listening to recently called “I say” and it breaks my heart.


Perito:     (50.00) Who is it by?


CC:            I’ll have to find out whose it by now for you.


Perito:     I’ll add it to the directory.


CC:            (59.10) I think it’s a lady called Lauren. That’s a typical Caroline Casey thing. This song makes me feel that I can fly and so I often think finding a song just to bring you back or reading a book or taking a walk outside, when you’re trying to make change happen it is hard and that’s okay because if it was so easy somebody would have done it before and so when you feel a bit lost and you feel like you’re going to give up go find your thing, find your song, find your run, find your ice cream, find your film, find your friend, hug a tree and for anybody right now whose feeling a little disconnected even though we’re supposed to feel all connected (laughter) I really do suggest you might hug a tree or lie on the grass if you can because it makes it all feel a little bit better and the last part I guess I want to say is for anybody whose losing or has lost somebody through this Pandemic I just want to say I’m really sorry having lost a father very recently and missing him deeply at the moment, take your time, be where you are and I’m very sorry that that’s and I have real compassion for what anybody’s going through right now.


Perito:     Thank you Caroline that’s great so I’ll draw the podcast to a close, so thank you for joining us today Caroline.


CC:            Thank you so much.


Perito:     It’s been really good to hear about everything you’ve done with the Valuable 500 but also for the attention and the effort you put into the podcast as well, I’m definitely impressed by the progress you’ve made with it in such a short space of time and the fact that you can go to all these big events and really push it out there and you’re actually making change happen so it’s really impressive and I know everyone will want to see what they can do to help out, so if listeners want to find out more or perhaps they work for a business that could be a signatory then head over to Caroline’s website that’s I’ll add the details to the transcript and the podcast introduction information too along with the name of the artist for that song, so don’t worry if you missed that out as well.  You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone everywhere.


Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast Ep4 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Gavin Neate of Neatebox

In this episode of the Inclusive Designer Series we hear from Gavin Neate of Neatebox who talks about his experiences with as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, founder of Neatebox and why it is essential that we always think critically when it comes to problem solving in order to develop the best new products and innovation.

Perito: Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A Podcast all about creating inclusive environments and about helping us all become expert at identifying exclusion and creating an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Perito believes that we are all designers in some capacity even if we aren’t the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects.  This podcast is out there to help everyone become a community expert and recognise exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.

The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and challenges of our interviewees and the topics we cover so that we all have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world without boundaries.

Now in this episode we’re really pleased to be joined by Gavin Neate who will be talking to us today about a variety of subjects including mobility, technology and his company Neatebox.

(0.55) Welcome Gavin how are you?


GN: Truly awesome to be here I couldn’t be happier to be involved in the Perito Podcast, you guys are obviously covering an area which will become apparent as to how close that is to my heart and how important I feel the work that you’re doing is.


Perito: (1.14) Oh thanks for saying so I just had myself on mute there (laughter) which is a good start, let’s find out a little bit more about who you are, so tell us a little bit about who you and your background?


GN: Yeah so my name’s Gavin Neate I joined Military Police when I was 17½, I spent 10 years in the Royal Airforce as a Military Police Dog Handler, in 1996 I left the forces and joined Guide Dogs for the Blind where I trained for 3 years to become a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. A Guide Dog Mobility Instructor is the person who trains the person how to use the dog, so yeah everybody goes “oh wow you must love puppies then” I’m like “no not really” my real passion was for, and I liken it to Lewis Hamilton being pit crew, my real passion was preparing the dog, handing the dog over to the person, helping the person get the most from the dog and then watching them go off down the road and it was amazing job, I absolutely loved it, I did it for 18 years and I had never intended to leave, I had never intended to be a businessman, I didn’t want to have a business, it was not anything that I had aspired to doing but I’m just really, really lucky that I had the opportunity to do it so yeah that’s where I am as a businessman.


Perito: (2.26) One of the earlier podcasts I did was with a lady called Jill Allen-King and she’s been blind since the age of 24 I think it was, one of the early questions is she pointed that how her, she’s had 7 or 8 guide dogs over her lifetime and in the recent few they’re a lot more treat based training she was saying.  So essentially the dog gets a treat almost every 5 seconds.  It gets to the end of a pavement and we’ll have a treat and then it goes up here and have a treat whereas she felt some of the earlier guide dogs including maybe 5 of the 8, maybe 6 of the 8 had been much more, I don’t want to say professionally trained because I honestly don’t understand it enough but perhaps they had been trained in a different way which meant that more time had been spent, (3.10) do you recognise that or is it something perhaps that might just have been applicable to Jill’s dogs?


GN:  It’s a really interesting question this is very much the way that dog training is going just now which is food reward.  It’s all very much positive reinforcement but it does require the dog to have or the handler to have a pocket full of treats and the dog to constantly get rewarded whenever it achieves one of the small goals.  Now I was a dog trainer in total 28 years and I very seldom use treats as a reward, I used praise as a reward. So you get to a park and the dog gets a free run so there’s the reward in getting to the park or whatever it might be so I didn’t use it, that said it’s a little bit like that moment in Life of Brian where somebody says “follow the gourd” and somebody says “follow the sandal”, the truth is you can achieve different goals both routes, neither route is wrong it’s just that one route might be more difficult than the other to achieve now I think when it came to dog training the food reward is kind of push back against the idea that we used any kind of dominance theory or pack leadership theory and it kind of pushed back against that, a lot of people might say that it pushed too far and now you end up with dogs that are just focussed on treats all the time and if we liken that just for a second to children you could say to yourself well is it better having a child who knows where the boundaries are and knows that if they go over those boundaries then they might be in trouble or are you better off having the child that is constantly looking for a reward from you for achieving something that you wanted it to achieve and I always think to myself I kind of like the boundary thing. I always liked the way that my dogs worked for me because they wanted to work, or they wanted the praise not as it would be if I was a Mobility Instructor now, it would be my dogs are working for me because they want the treat.  So I totally understand it, I’m reluctant to ever say one is wrong and one is right because when you do that you start getting yourself into a position where you’ve become partisan and I think we already know without pointing any fingers in any directions just how becoming partisan is probably not a good idea, society is far too separate because of I’m right and you’re wrong type politics.


Perito: (5.25) Following on from that, one of the things Jill was pointing out is extra costs because the extra costs of having to feed these animals, I’m 6’ 5” and I always look at these big dogs and think I’m kind of like that version or this version of me cos they’re big dogs and strong and they must be going through an awful lot of treats and Jill’s there obviously struggling with the financial costs of having a disability anyway and then this treat based dog mobility thing comes in so while I agree with you about not going too far down this there are, straightaway, interesting nuances.


GN: I think it’s all about being positive, I don’t think I was ever that negative with my dogs I just created boundaries and bringing it back to children for a second you could say, “here’s a chocolate bar for you because you’ve been great today and you’ve cleaned your room “ or you can say, “come on let’s go to the park and play football” and I guess over a period of time humans, children, because I believe they are would actually be going “do you know what I wish I could go out and play football” that’s the bit I’ll remember, that’s the bit that I remember of the relationship I had with my parent it wasn’t the amount of times they gave me a chocolate bar.


Perito: (6.35) Yeah that’s a good observation.  So next question then is do you prefer The People’s Front Of Judea or the Judean People’s Front?


GN: (6.41) To be honest both of them what can I say.


Perito: (6.43) (laughter) So you’ve covered off a little bit a life and career before starting your company Neatebox so are there maybe a couple of comments or thoughts about that perhaps you haven’t covered in the last couple of ??segments??6.55 that you wanted to go over again?


GN: Oh yeah, definitely so if you look at the situation, I was a Guide Dog Mobility Officer from 1996 onwards. In 2003 I started getting involved in technology because people were turning up with GPS on their shoulders and their phone was starting to talk to them in different ways, the 2006 iPhone bought out voice control which meant phones were talking to you which was just, to all intents and purposes just a glass screen as we’ve got now but the phone was actually interacting through voice so that the blind person could interact with it and because I got really excited about technology and mobility and guide dogs. I started realising that this smart technology was going to be very much a part of people’s lives and then I started thinking about ways that the smart technology could address some of the issues that my clients were having on a day to day basis and the very first one, which I’ll talk about in a second, was a pedestrian crossing system operated by smartphones.


Perito: (7.50) We’ll come to the product side of things later because that will be interesting to chat through. What are the top things you learnt as a Mobility Instructor that you carried through to the design and development work with the Neatebox products.


GN: So interestingly when you are a Mobility Instructor, your job, initially, is to be on the person’s shoulder and to explain to them how they should interact with their dog but ultimately you need to be not there at all, you don’t go from being on their shoulder to not there what you do is, is you increase the distance between you and your client over a period of time as they become more comfortable and confident with giving the instructions to the dogs and reading the dog’s behaviours you are further away but that means that you get to see them from a distance, you get to see the world that they live in and the world that they have to interact with in order to be independently mobile and because you’re increasing the distance from them you’re actually seeing them interact and people interact with them and indeed their environment without those people seeing you, so you’re getting to see a snapshot of somebody’s life from a professional point of view and seeing how they’re going to be the day that you’re not there as much as the day that you are there and that’s where you start seeing the real challenges they have and will have on day one plus whatever because that’s the world they live in.


Perito: (9.03) That’s really interesting so you’re essentially being able to work as the inclusive designer, the fly on the wall inclusive designer. Watching how your training, essentially your products in action and then you can learn. You’ve got your analytical mind clearly so that then you can start applying those and looking at how to increase things.  That is, I guess in a mini way, what the podcast is about – sitting on the shoulder of other people’s experience and going through it.


GN: Yeah of course, people said to me later James “so tell me about your market research?” and I said, “I haven’t got any market research” and they would say, “well how did you come up with your idea?” and then you realise that you had 18 years of observational market research, I didn’t write it down on a spreadsheet, I didn’t have any information written down in any way whatsoever but I had 18 years of observing people and seeing first-hand the challenges that they were coming across.  If somebody was coming at it from an academic point of view say and somebody said, “right we’ve got a project for you go and find out about whatever” they would then have to try and put 18 years of research into, I don’t know 3 interviews or whatever they might do, 100 interviews or even 1000 interviews they’re not going to get 18 years of observational research and as you say there, analytically I was putting all of that into my brain and going that could be better, I wonder if, what if I was able to do that, because that would address this.  Initially it was, that’s a problem, that’s a problem, that’s a problem and I think the big problem we have right now in social media and indeed in society in general is that we’re all brilliant at pointing out problems but perhaps not excellent at finding solutions to those problems.


Perito: (10.40) Alongside the extra cost thing one of my major pet peeves is clearer pavements, the way people park on pavements obstruct it with rubbish and just generally growing bushes out as obstructions and barriers of pavements. With your Mobility Instructor work you must have come across this on almost every street. It engenders a sense of injustice in me so that must have been relatively difficult, and do you think we’ll ever achieve that even with all the clearer pavement schemes that we’ve got going on?


GN:  It’s a really a great point and I would follow along behind somebody and the obvious one was an overhanging branch which is very much the mistake or problem or fault of the owner of the garden where the tree is overhanging onto the road, and yes there is very much a person who is responsible for that and they are to blame but then I would look at other things in our environment and I would potentially get angry but then I took it to the next step I went why are they doing that? If we can understand why somebody does something, we can actually look at how we can help them not do that thing.  So why do people put sandwich boards out on the street?  Well they put sandwich boards out so that people know that they have a shop right there.  What is it that means that people are walking by without thinking there’s a shop there?  Well it’s because their window display is maybe not capturing people’s imagination, there’s not something there about it that makes people look at it.  So you look at that and you go right, what if they had an amazing window display would they even need a sandwich board?  Now we’re thinking those buggers they’ve got sandwich boards out but actually what I’ve done there is I’ve said why is the sandwich board there? If we transpose that into absolutely everything we come across we can find out that by solving the problem of the person whose actually put the problem in front of us we can have a society that doesn’t just fix/find where the problems are but actually comes together in the solution and that is a massive part of what I’ve done with my company, is understanding every single person’s problem and then making sure my solution directly addresses the problem that they have as well and that means that, and it’s like, I can even, we can through this a win, win, win, win, win, win situation and I number those for very good reason we’ve got an example we’ll be talking about where every single one of those 6 individuals wins.


Perito: (13.13) So it sounds like your thought process is based on the Five Whys used within the Lean Six Sigma system. It’s quite an interesting thing it’s the idea of you constantly ask why, it’s based around the example of the Washington Monument and the long and the short of it is that you start off with the Washington Monument it was getting damaged and the reason is it’s been getting damaged by cleaning chemicals and then the guy whose been sent in the mid 90’s to do the investigation starts trailing it back and he goes back past the birds, cos there’s lots of birds around and the birds dropping excrement on the Washington Monument and then he goes through to why are the birds there?, spiders, lots of spiders, so the spiders, and then he goes well why are the spiders there? and it turns out the reason the spiders there because there’s lots of insects there and they’re eating the insects.  Once he asks that final why he thinks well okay so actually why are the insects there? and then he suddenly realises the reason is because at dusk and dawn they have a lighting system which attracts the insects to the lighting which is then causing the ramifications of everything else.


GN:  (14.19 ) Yeah


Perito: So it’s a very good way of looking at it and structure your business around there makes good sense.


GN: Yeah I thought you were going to say the cleaning detergent attracted insects which would have.


Perito: Well it may well do by now I’m sure it’s probably come full circle again.


GN: (laughter) Yeah a really great example and I’m not the best reader in the entire world but we just go through generations of people rediscovering stuff and we have to constantly rediscover stuff because we can’t, we’re useless at taking, if we always took into consideration something that had happened before us and read books and did all those things, my word we’d be seriously in trouble for evolving as little as we have since the dawn of time because we just haven’t taken a lot, I mean wars, does it make much sense, not really.


Perito: (15.11) No, it certainly does not no.  But what does make sense is you setting up a company.  Why did you choose Neatebox as the name and what does the company name mean to you?


GN: (laughter) So Neatebox itself. I was working Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2011 when I came up with, well 2009 I came up with the idea of the first invention that I actually, well it was more of wanting to solve a problem and I went well, it’s a pedestrian crossing system where the phone presses the button at the pedestrian crossing and I thought well I don’t really know anything about business, I had no understanding of business, I knew about dogs, everything about dogs but I knew nothing about business but I’d heard that Business Gateway which is the Scottish Enterprise up here in Scotland, Scottish Government funded support to be able to get supported from Business Gateway you needed to have a business, so somebody said well you’re going to have to incorporate a business just to be able to get some grant funding and I was putting all my own money into this in my own spare time and stuff like that and somebody said, “well look if you get grant funding from Business Gateway then potentially you could 40% or 30% of your money back” and I thought well okay I’ll incorporate a business and they said to me “well what’s the business going to be called?” and I went “well call it the Customer Service Platform Business” and then somebody said “well no that’s not really going to really work” and I went “well it’s a pedestrian crossing box, my name’s Gavin Neate, Neatebox done” it doesn’t mean too much to me and in fact early days said, “you can’t have your own name in the company, investors don’t like that for some reason” who knew but the name just kind of stuck so it was a working title to start with but now the company’s called Neatebox it’s the name of the products that really is the key here, Button is the name of the pedestrian crossing box.


Perito: (16.49) Well that leads us very nicely onto the next question. So you’ve got these two products, I am familiar with these to a degree now but I know a lot of people won’t be so maybe if you could take each in turn give us the overview of what they do in association with the comments you’ve made before but I’m particularly interested in going back over those creative drivers so we understand why the buttons come around there but what’s going on in your mind that’s saying these are the problems that I’m addressing and you’re asking these analytical questions, the five whys and challenging people.


GN:  So you’re walking along the street, your guide dog client is 15 foot ahead of you, they come to a kerb edge, they get to the kerb edge their dog sits, they reach out with their right hand to press the button at the pedestrian crossing and they can’t find it, in fact as they reach out they may hit a little old lady or gent or they may crack their wrist against the pole or a barrier or whatever, bit of fencing and you suddenly think well wait a second why is the pole so far away from where they are when they arrive at the kerb edge, why does it have to be on the far periphery of the crossing and you think to yourself well I kind of know why it has to be there because it can’t really be in the middle otherwise they’d walk into it.  So you think well if it is that far out would it not be better if they had a long stick to press the button with and then you think, well I’d say a long stick’s kind of stupid in that respect but you think well they’ve got a mobile phone which is in their pocket and that is totally accessible because we’ve already seen that and mentioned that, well why could the phone not press the button for them, well that would make perfect sense and then if the phone pressed the button for them could it increase the crossing time or could it turn on an audible system where the audible signal be turned off, an audible signal might get turned off after half past 10 at night because it’s in a built-up area and a person at 2 o’clock doesn’t want to be woken up just because a drunk person presses a pedestrian crossing box, beep, beep, beep at 2 o’clock in the morning would be quite annoying so there you go following somebody’s whose having a problem you think to yourself, I wonder if, and before you know it you’re going right a bit of software, bit of hardware, software communicates with hardware, mobile phone communicates with crossing, problem solved.  Sadly what actually happens at that point is that’s the beginning of your problems because having a brilliant idea is only part of having the solution is selling the solution, having a company, talking to lawyers and business people and trying to get out there with something and when it comes to disruption, oh my god, it’s like no turkey votes for Christmas and the hotel industry did not vote to have Airbnb, the taxi industry did not vote to have Uber so when you are coming into something like a transport industry and you’re saying “guy’s what you’ve been up to now isn’t actually working, here’s a solution” they’re kind of like “well, yeah it’s we’ve got, we don’t, sorry what’s this you’re talking about, no you couldn’t possibly a phone pressing the button for you surely that’s going to be really dangerous “or even before they ask that question “yeah but how does a blind person use a phone?” so they don’t even know that this is possible let alone required.


Perito: (19.45) So how does the Welcome App fit into this and where did that come from in the deep recess of your training and analysis?


GN: So you walk into a shop with your client, your 10 foot to 15 foot behind, they go up to the customer service desk, the person behind customer service desk interacts with them and the level of service they get is based on so many factors, the training of the person behind the counter, the confidence of the person behind the counter, the understanding, the empathy, the physical positioning of the person behind the counter, the confidence of the person whose going into the shop and you see that and you think oh this is just, there’s inconsistency here, okay so we park that for a second now let’s go back to pedestrian crossing, I’m walking towards a pedestrian crossing and my phone has pressed the button and this was my thought process, my phone has pressed the button at the pedestrian crossing, oh wow if my phone could press the button at a pedestrian crossing well my phone could press the button a door and disability access doors are an absolute nightmare if you can’t find that button you’re supposed to press and if you’re in a wheelchair it’s really difficult to press that button, in fact it’s really difficult to press the button at the pedestrian crossing if you’re in a wheelchair, oh my god this is a pan-disability solution.

Right okay, if I’ve pressed the button at the door then the door knows I’ve arrived, if the door knows I’ve arrived the building knows I’ve arrived, if the building knows I’ve arrived the people inside the building could know I’ve arrived, if the people in the building know I’ve arrived I could actually train them before I walk through the door, purely that is the process my brain went through over a period of 6 months, it just went wait a second I could actually solve the other problem which is how do we deliver staff training to a level where the person in the shop knows whose is going to  come through the door and actually treats them in a way that is not just specific to their needs but also empathetic to their condition and disability and understanding of that but led by the disabled person, so empowering the disabled person to be the master of their own destiny rather than the one who is given or done stuff to and if we look at charity as an actual definition it’s the provision of service or financial support for those in need and the key word there is need, when we look at disabled people as being in need the balance of power is off kilter they are lesser because they need something, if you take away the need, if you have a ramp instead of stairs the wheelchair user can get in their not disabled by the building, if you have a low counter the wheelchair can actually have exactly the same experience as the persons whose standing at a taller counter, but that universal design has been sadly lacking and of course it’s sadly lacking, people didn’t allow for lifts in castles, when people designed buildings in the 1920s and 30s they didn’t design in the kind of accessibility that we have and of course we’ve got Listed building so we can’t just instantly change everything around but what we can do is we can change human interactions because you can have the most accessible building in the entire world and the least accessible person or you could have the lease accessible building in the entire world and a member of staff that understands your needs and that’s where we came up with Welcome, Welcome changes human interactions based on proximity and I’ll just mention very quickly we didn’t open the door with the button although we’re going to we actually just put in a beacon, an eye beacon which just triggered the phone to say I’ve arrived but then we put a geofence around the building so that when the person was 300m from the building they got a message in advance and the best way to describe that is in these old things where you would open up the door and it would ring a bell, in a hardware store, probably in a Two Ronnies’ sketch and the person in the back room would come through and say “hello sir how can I help you” whereas what we’ve done is added that bell 300m away from the building and put it so that you already know who I am and what more needs are before I walk through the door.


Perito: It’s like a physical manifestation of the social model of disability isn’t it, you’re effectively saying we could create a position where no one is disabled unless society thinks that’s the case and puts the barriers in place so you’re enabling that to actually happen so we can eliminate that disability, in short.


GN:  Yeah but so much more than that if we go back to that what I was talking about the win, win, win, win, win situation well Scope had a campaign a couple of years ago called “end the awkward” which was the recognition that between 18 and 35 year olds I think its 75% of them would rather not actually make a first approach to a disabled person because they felt awkward so in that moment they are disabled right at that moment they are disabled by their lack of confidence or lack of knowledge or lack of positivity in actually going to meet that disabled person, so if I can actually make them feel more comfortable so 5 minutes before I walk through the door or somebody walks through the door they go “right Gavin’s coming through the door, Gavin has a guide dog do not talk to the guide dog”, “Gavin’s coming through the door Gavin is blind make sure you introduce yourself to Gavin”, “Gavin is coming through the door, Gavin is blind make sure you offer your arm rather than taking Gavin’s arm” and if I do all of that the first time I might be quite nervous cos I’m in conscious incompetence or conscious competence at that point, I might be really nervous but the second and third time I am buzzing because I know what I did was right because I’m following the route that the person wanted me to follow and then the relationship we have is absolutely brilliant.  Now if we look at that that’s a win, win then we add the business, the business has more people coming through the door happier with the service and more loyal to that business, you then have other members of staff who see that interaction and they win because they can then take away that information yourself, you get the company winning, so my company wins because although we don’t, this is a software as a service model, we get to pay my staff and indeed my shareholders so we have a sustainable business model and society wins because that member of staff goes home that night and helps other people cross the road or collect their shopping or whatever it might be so society wins so we’ve got this win, win, win, win, win, win situation which oh my goodness me it’s like socialist capitalism where we’re changing society with something where everything is positive and nothing is negative.


Perito: (25.31) I was thinking after we first spoke about the Welcome App one of the things that stuck me straightaway was this idea of change management which I’m from a change management background and nudging is an approach that’s used, a constant suggestion and what I quite liked with the Welcome App in particular is the idea that even limited take up has a viral capability to spread this kind of nudging change management constantly within a fixed environment so my immediate thought then once I rolled on from that was in 10 years’ time if tools like yours and other people develop things that are similar maybe in different fields there is 100% possibly I feel to possibly eliminate inclusion, diversity and certainly accessibility as a field in itself because they will simply become no longer needed because the constant change management, the constant behavioural latitudinal change has happened do you agree with a that or do you think I’m being a bit optimistic?


GN: Well I think what you’re talking there is a human evolution beyond our current ability so a pair of people have a child, they want that child to learn French, they have to teach it French so you’re not just born knowing French because your parents want you to learn, they have to teach French it has to learn it, it might learn English purely from communicating with its parents but then they have to make an effort to learn that so the 19 year in old in their first job whose never come into contact with any kind of disability throughout their entire life needs to learn how to do stuff, but we’re in a situation now where that learning can be constant and should be constant, it’s not something that we just take for granted that because a company or a business or a customer service team did an input on Autism last year that every single member of their staff is already going to be trained up on Autism it’s a constant learning and training and that comes from an actual, an empathy for people and belief that other people’s you need to understand other people’s point of view in order to actually understand how you can help them or deliver service or how they can help you but it also has to come from an understanding that you need to put tools in place that make sure that that learning is possible, now I’ve mentioned it to people before right now we’re in a situation where if the seal on the washing goes you go on Amazon, you buy a new seal, the seal comes through, you go on You Tube, you watch a video on changing the seal, you change the seal, for £27.00 you’ve fixed your washing machine.  Whereas in the past what we did was we phoned up a plumber, the plumber came round, tutted a few times, looked at your seal, went “yep your seal’s gone”, ordered a seal, 3 weeks later came back again charging you more for coming out again then fixed it, had a cup of tea, you took the afternoon work and you ended up having spent £150.00 on your new seal.  If we go back to the former well because of the information, because of the ability to have information in the moment we need it is now so possible we no longer need to call out that plumber, it also means that that plumber can specialise in things that are much more complex that other people can’t learn and that’s really important, that’s really important stuff.


Perito: (28.30) Lovely thanks Gavin that’s great. Tell us about what you’re up to at the moment? How has Coronavirus impacted on your current work because at the beginning of the conversation you mentioned you were quite busy?


GN: Yeah we are crazy busy right now. I’m fairly certain that some of the visionaries on your Podcast will be going “oh wait a second that could be used for this and this and this and this, so we have, I’ll go slowly and those who haven’t got it will definitely get it. We’ve got a button press at a pedestrian crossing and indeed a button press at a door where as you approach a door, the door opens without you needing to actually touch the door, that one’s fairly obvious.  You can walk through a disability access door as an able person using a Smartphone that just opens the door for you or indeed I say Smartphone it could be a wearable like a watch or something like that and the door just opens because it recognises you walk through the door.  We’ve also got a system whereby which a customer service team in let’s say a supermarket or a hospital will know whose just about to arrive and what their needs are and may have even been able to ask them questions before they arrived so with a hospital I’m turning up to the hospital because I feel I might have Covid-19 and I’m say I’m going using the Welcome App and in the Welcome App I’m asked questions, are you, has this happened, has this happened, has this happened?, do you have these symptoms? and I go “yes, yes, yes” and they say right “okay brilliant please come to this entrance, or please go to that entrance or please do this or please do that” or indeed if you’re going to a supermarket and you are living with a mental health challenge or your visually impaired or your somebody who is using a walking stick or a walking frame and you need a seat and you’re having to queue outside for 25 minutes well how about knowing that person’s needs before they turn up so that you can identify them, not necessarily to get them to the front of the queue but definitely to actually have empathy for the fact that while they’re in the queue they might be suffering so that they when get to the front of the queue if they then have a bit of a breakdown you’re not then going straight back with what the heck are you doing and it being some kind of fight, and that must be so difficult because the person whose managing that queue at a supermarket right now is somebody who probably hasn’t been trained highly in customer service, it might be but there’s a very good chance they haven’t they’re just managing the queue so Welcome is a customer service system which helps people when they go to hospitals well in fact it’s installed with Edinburgh Airport, Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish Parliament and House of Frazer and Doubletree Hilton and Deloitte and Diageo and hopefully more and more Councils across the country so that’s already installed and was being used before Covid-19 but now it can be used to directly help and support customer service teams and people who are going to supermarkets to buy food and also hopefully in the future medical centres when they open up again and somebody needs to go how brilliant to triage somebody before they actually get to the door.


Perito: (31.17)  Where is, and I think we’ve kind of touched on this, you can see the message about visionaries and looking ahead but I’m interested to see where you think Neatebox and what it could look like in maybe the next 5-10 years, where are we headed?


GN: Where does Neatebox go, I’ve always been, I’ve got this vision of fixing problems every day you get closer to the day rather than that vision but if I look ahead 10 years and I think to myself where’s Neatebox, if you take Neatebox out of that picture and you think where is the kind of technology that you are delivering with Neatebox and just bear in mind that nobody’s ever done this stuff before, this is new stuff so we could quite easily be that company but where will this technology be, quite obviously we’re going to be able to deliver something in the future that is based on proximity, we’re already doing it, when you order a taxi and the taxi’s five minutes from the house, you’ll get a message saying your taxi’s 5 minutes away, so the future for Neatebox is absolutely massive however there is so much to that you need to scale, you need to get investment, you need to get interest, you need to build and just because you’ve got a great idea doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be the person that delivers that, I want to make sure that I am because my integrity and my heart tell me that I’m in it for the right reasons so that when this company is successful in the future and I’m involved with it and hopefully my legacy will be giving it to other people who have integrity as well then they are going to deliver a service that is based on quality of the service not on the amount of money that you get in, we can make money out of this and that’s obviously the intention in fact we’re hopefully going to be doing a crowd fund in the future and anybody listening to this, hopefully, hopefully if we manage to do that then everybody that’s out there and that wants to be involved, can be involved and I would just say watch press for details, follow me or, well that’s my email address but follow me on Twitter @Neatebox or @GavinNeate and yeah keep in touch because who knows we can make a big community.


Perito: (33.10) Well you give me all those details that you want added on I’ll put it onto the transcript that people can access as well as the introductory information that will go onto Spotify or Podcast and all the other sort of sites so that will be available for people to track down.


GN: Cool I’m use to trying to squeezing things in so you can put them in when you can.  So one of the big things for me, I mentioned social capitalism before but was the empowerment of the disabled person and the redressing of the balance or at least balancing it, getting equilibrium within that balance and within all of our systems their all free, we haven’t talked about cost and business models but the business with Welcome pays a monthly subscription and the disabled person gets the App for free, they just download it for free.  The pedestrian crossing, the pedestrian gets the App for free, the Council pay for it to go inside the pedestrian crossing box but within the Apps the disabled person can ask where they want it next, so they can request where they want the Welcome venue and we’ve got an entire country and increasingly a world where people or saying to us, I just had somebody this morning, “when’s it coming to Texas” somebody was saying to me this morning, somebody else last week “when’s it coming to Seattle”, “when’s it coming to Canada” “when’s it coming” and somebody would say to us “when’s it coming to Bristol” and I say “you tell me, got to the App and request it and we’ll come to Bristol”.  Don’t sit there waiting for things to happen to you be the master of your own destiny, if you’ve got skills, if you’ve got an idea go out there and actually make it happen, it’s tough don’t get me wrong this is not an easy choice but you have to ask yourself are you going to look back one day and say “should I have done that” or heaven forbid somebody does it and you go “I had that idea why didn’t I do it”.  I’m a practitioner at heart, I’m a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor who wanted to change something but couldn’t sit down and let it just not be changed, I had to get involved and I had no business acumen, I had very few qualifications when I left school, it is so important for us as practitioners and experts to go “I can do something about this” and not just leave it to academics or to the person whose got cojones that goes “I’m going to be a businessman, I don’t care what I do, I just want to make money” so be the person you want to be.


Perito: (35.14) What advice have you got on what can be done by designers to overcome the biggest problems you have seen caused by disabilities in society?  Now I understand we’ve covered a load of those so maybe just kind of the first things that crop up or the ones that really bug you the most or the observations that you’ve made and you’ve seen repeatedly that people who listen to the Podcast who will then take away so I’m thinking people who will listen might be designing houses, might be designing new keyboards, might be designing new aircraft and they will be looking to have their kind of through processes plugged into and kind of help to change?


GN:  So let’s imagine NASA in the 1950’s. Let’s look around that room in their control centre and let’s see who’s sitting around in that control centre and I’m guessing if you’re like me you’re looking around a room at 30/40/50 something white guys and yes, they didn’t a brilliant job but that’s not the modern world we live in and if we were asking ourselves if we wanted to make a modern solution would that be enough, and no it wouldn’t because we’d be wanting to be more diverse.  Now you can go out there and you can go and ask people but I would say, and I kind I wholeheartedly follow Caroline Casey’s example here which is you make sure that when you look around you at the company that you are in you feel that you don’t necessarily have to go elsewhere to ask people what their opinion is because your opinions are within your company so there’s diversity of thought within the make-up of your company, so make sure that when you’re designing something for somebody that’s disabled you look around yourself and go do you know what we’ve got a job coming up why haven’t we ever actually gone out there and tried to find people who were disabled to actually work in that role because their going give us so much more than just the ability to be a designer or developer or whatever, their actually going to say, “yeah I know how did you get here this morning?”  “Well I took the wheelchair obviously and I had to use a taxi and it was difficult because I had this and that” and you “wow you bring an entirely new perspective to our company, your diversity of thought which is the most important thing here, diversity of thought is what actually builds our company” and I say diversity of thought because if you look back at the NASA guys they were made up of lots of different people with different experiences and that’s why they were successful.  It’s not just about yeah we’ve got 50% black guys and 50% black women now or whatever it might be therefore we’ve just all the boxes, no it has to be diversity of thought and that’s the next level, yes tick your boxes to say that you actually made sure that you’re an equal opportunities employer and a diversity employer but make sure when you employ those people that the diversity of thought also has a chance to shine through.


Perito: (37.46) Thinking from a less designer, more from an everybody point of view. What can anyone, no matter how they are, do to help others in their community and beyond?  My first thought is clearer pavements because I really hate the fact that they put stuff on pavements and above being 6’ 5” I constantly hit my heads on these little, the awnings that come out and there’s a lot of problems like that but what do you, even if they’re the tiniest things like that people can change, what would you say to everybody?

GN: So if you want to help society yes we can go and fix the things that we see are broken but my biggest bit of advice is when you meet somebody whose angry, rather than meeting them with anger take a step back for a minute and think “why are they angry? why have they taken that point of view?” and this goes across the whole of society because if you just take it for a moment, yes they might be wrong, yes they might be a complete idiot, however it might be because they have a whole host of different things that their dealing with or have dealt with or they’ve been angry about because somebody else has made them angry, so if you take that moment to just go “why” it might, might give you that opportunity to say “now I know what their problem is, now I can actually come up with a solution that’s going to diffuse their anger and their actually going to see me as an actual champion for their cause as well as mine” and I think that’s just the greatest thing we can do especially in a world where when you go on social media it’s just anger, anger, anger, anger, look for the solutions, look for the people who are coming up with those solutions but also make sure that you do your best, not to join in with the vitriol of an anger protest but actually to try and find a reason why there is anger and then try and find a reason why in the future that anger cannot be as great as it was the first time.


Perito: (39.35)  Did you pick up on the anger in my voice when gave out that, was it that obvious?


GN:  I totally understand it, I live there my whole time, why the hell have they put that pedestrian crossing box there and then you go well they did it because if they did it there then a wheelchair user wouldn’t have been able to get by or it would have created an accident when a car came around the corner cos they would have lost sight of some of their vision of who was standing at the pole as it might have been a small child.  So you then start realising that the reason it’s been designed in a certain way might be a reason that you don’t understand at the time you get angry but yeah, no if you hit your head off things then I would get angry (laughter), get them to raise it, but understand why they put it that level because it was higher for whatever I don’t know, always think about the other persons point of view I think first before you make a rash decision and then just create anger.


Perito: (40.19) Yep and make that assumption as well isn’t it, that’s the other point you’re trying to make here too, don’t just assume that something’s the way it is because that’s it and that’s where the unconscious bias can come into which is interesting.  So any final things you’d like to add on literally any topic at all, bit of an opportunity to say what you think?


GN: (laughter) That’s a good one, yeah okay I’ve got one.


Perito: Go for it.


GN: I guess if I was going add anything onto this is that as much as I had the energy to get where I am now I couldn’t have done it without the most amazing people who either just dipped in and dipped out or have been there from the start who gave me support and belief and actually believed in what I was doing and supporting me financially or through Scottish Enterprise or whatever it might be, every single partner that’s every joined us, every single person who said “I’m not sure I understand exactly what Gavin’s saying but my god he’s really passionate and he has integrity around it, do you know what I’m going go with it, so I think every person like me needs to have other people and I think it was Steve Jobs, was it, yeah Steve Jobs had Mike Wozniak and I think this is the Simon Sinek book you need every why which is my sort of role, you need to have a how person and I’ve got that person and Alan Hutching whose my Operations Director he is a very much a Woody in our relationship, I’m very much a Buzz Lightyear type character but unless you have that other person who is able to compliment you and actually be better than you at so many other things then you don’t get anywhere, so don’t think you have to do it all yourself also when other people help you bear in mind they have helped you and thank them for it as well.


Perito: Nicely done. Thanks for joining us to today Gavin.


GN: Pleasure.


Perito: It’s been good to hear about your work with Neatebox and the progress you’ve made with the various products in such a short space of time as well. Something I can see that can make a positive impact and I’m pretty sure people will be sitting here listening and thinking the same. Now if listeners do want to find out more then I put on the details to Gavin’s website and contact details as well that Gavin provides and that’ll go on the transcript and the Podcast introduction information too so don’t worry if you miss anything.

You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.


Live/Work – Is This The Future Of Our Inclusive And Adaptable Habitats?

Who would have thought that within the trendy badlands of Islington, Hoxton and Shoreditch, the realm of the never ridden Triumph motorcycle, push bikes with no brakes, hopped ales and bespoke fashion lies a solution to the biggest question of 2020 – how to work and survive in the modern office environment post Covid-19.

The modern skyscrapers just down the road in Canary Wharf are being forced to change. The HSBCs and (their little neighbours) Barclays of this world are now waking up to find that their strategy of large office buildings, gaudy corporate foyers and empty business continuity offices dotted around the country could now be nothing more than a Victorian folly – something evocative of a past age but never designed to be able to serve its purpose in the current one.

Yet even as far back as the late nineties the more forward thinking amongst us were placing their trust in a type building which was able to serve dual purposes, true mixed use. Much like the butcher or shop owner who used to live above their high street business or the farmer or stable hands, in the Middle Ages who would live in the rafters of their barns with their animals safely stowed beneath them.

But where this style of domestic life might once have been seen as old fashioned, even as long ago as early January 2020, needs must and it should be embraced once again because the density of population coupled with the  urgent need to veer away from vast shared office floors and the daily morning elevator overcrowding (and its accompanying combative culture) which force right thinking individuals to the stair wells.

Welcome to the world of Live/Work. A choice embraced by small numbers of people across the globe. But is it truly a solution?


Unconscious Bias

I am writing this article from a bedroom built into the loft space of my house. I’ve been working from within its plasterboard walls for some time now and the space has everything I need and a ton of fun things I don’t need like my classroom sized whiteboard. It is easy to start thinking, with unconscious biases fully intact, that everyone is in the same boat…or rather room… well maybe some people are in boats but a lot aren’t.

The ability bias kicks in and means it is too easy to forget the thousands of workers, younger and older, still crammed around a dining table or self-isolating in tiny studio flats with a fold down bed acting sofa, table and workspace. It could be that some of these people love being at home despite its restrictions – but that takes a certain type of person.

Whereas the majority are desperate to get back to the office. They may have shaped their lives around never being at home or perhaps like Janan Ganesh, columnist of the FT, pride themselves on their ability to never own cutlery, so easy was it to access restaurants and food 24/7.


Add to the recipe a spoonful of the people struggling to maintain the balance between childcare and work it’s clear there are definitely people out there who would want, or are forced by their circumstances, to work away from home and these workers have to work somewhere. The lesson here is not to presume that everyone is cosied up in their lovely thatched cottage in the Cotswolds. We are all unique and therefore have unique circumstances. Designers and decision makers need to consider everyone in their plans.


Live, Work, Repeat…

So, the vision of staying at home doesn’t fit everyone’s idea of paradise but the urgent need to reduce the number of people heading to the office is critical and will remain for a long time.

After all, if one of us, any where in the world, has Covid-19 then we all do – until we have a vaccine or until the next emerging zoonotic disease arrives and dwarfs Coronaviruses. Which ever comes first.

A lot of housing built today is of substandard quality and design. The argument that they comply to Building Regs is utter rubbish and cannot cut it in the modern world. Cost is still king when it comes to building decision making and thoughtful decision is costed out after planning stages or the by the client during design. Humans directly suffer from these decisions.

But it need not be like that.

Designers have a critical role to play in our life and we will have to work hard on getting design right, until good design simply becomes design. At the moment, design is bad design and good design is still a thing… As buildings are renovated and ‘new builds’ completed we need to reconsider how people use the building – to treat it more like a product and a service not just a number and a unit specification.

Let’s go back to Canary Wharf and the tall HSBC Headquarters building. Now imagine that most of HSBC staff are either redundant, working from home or on site somewhere else and this monolith is standing mostly empty. Its cramped floors and low ceilings remain a constant thorn in the side of the desk planners who need to decide how many people can work in the building – with some staff still rebelling against having to take their mountain of shoes stuffed under their desk home. Thereby losing the permanent desk arrangement in the process. Canary Wharf has lots of facilities, in fact people live in residential towers about as tall as the HSBC building across the canal in South Quay.

But they can only live there, and they have to cross the canals to get to work.

Now imagine that they can also work in their accommodation too, in a purpose built, well designed space with protection from the distractions of family life and as the business or work expands so can the space.

Now imagine a high street made up of terraces of Live/Work spaces. Soundproofed and well-designed but with the artisan or the brewer, the potter’s wheel, the furniture maker’s tools or the agile meeting room for the remote team all located on the ground level floor. Either open to the street, glazed off for light or perhaps closed off to the world. All done adaptably by the click of a button or the add-on bought at purchase.

Welcome to the ancient world of Live/Work.




Shell Suit

This isn’t going to work for everyone though. Even I can’t see myself moving back into a flat, surrounded by people but all within my own space. But it will suit lots of people and by making the spaces inclusive, accessible and easily adaptable we can make these empty voids roar with our industry and then close the door on it all at the end of the day.

Harking back again to the innovation around the Islington area, there is an interesting example situated in the Canal Building. Essential a big open space with lots of partitions which was originally designed to be flexible in its use of space. The building was designed to flex around the occupant.

Need a bigger workspace for your desk? Open it up a bit.

Have a kid? Make a bedroom larger.

Have twins? Cut out the squabbles with two tiny box rooms! Expandable on good behaviour and GCSE results… Ok a bit harsh but you get the picture. There are a lot of obvious pluses to having an adaptable space.

So, if we are looking to build from scratch then it makes sense for people to be able to adapt their spaces to suit their needs. This means that the concept of ‘shell and core’ should be explored a lot more than it is. Dwellings still need to have water and be habitable otherwise they won’t pass building regs no matter how hard developers try but once that is installed it creates the core and then putting the roof, walls and floors up produces the shell. In an instant we have created a flexible space for people to start getting creative with. Space to bring their unique living and working requirements into along with that box of random phone and computer cables you never throw away and the kitchen draw of random stuff that you might yet, just, maybe, possibly, need so never put out for recycling.


Inclusive & Adaptable

A positive result of the Covid-19 crisis is that it has rapidly proved that working remotely does actually work for a lot or roles. All the disabled workers who have been refused this over the years have had their point well and truly proven. Live/Workspaces can accelerate workplace equality by providing quality and efficient work spaces for everyone to design in the way they need. Low desk? Easy. Fully accessible toilet facilities? Done!

By changing the way we think about our work and housing requirements we can actually start to solve a huge amount of exclusion, access, usability and mobility issues for most of the population.

Perhaps we can practise on Live/Work spaces and then transfer the learning and evidence into homes across the world by providing the proof that making homes adaptable and fit for life is possible and cheap at the same time.






Brave New Office World

We can’t avoid the fact that we are living in a new world. Yes, this Covid thing did happen to us and the quicker we accept that the quicker we can make sustainable decisions we need to make.

One of those decisions should reflect that there are a lot of people who might be able to live and work in the same space but don’t have the capability and if we are to encourage flexible working within our inclusive environments, then building Live/Work spaces represents an amazing use of space and materials which could be the game changer we need to reduce the density of workers within our offices and thereby restrict transmission and save lives.




  • Not every one is happy working from home. Try to design, plan and incorporate as many people as possible and manage your unconscious bias as well as possible.
  • Live/Work Spaces should be on the table for every new dwelling, refurb or refitting of commercial space into mixed use.
  • We need to make sustainable decisions now; we have the information to put a range of options on the table. Urgent situations are often used as a smokescreen for further inaction.
  • Live/Work spaces could be formed by selling new builds as ‘shell & core’ which means people can make them how they need them. No more poor design making all the decisions on how people live and work!
  • Inclusive and adaptable – live and work spaces need to be a fit for everyone. We can mitigate a vast amount of social exclusion with this concept.

Read our latest article on Medium – all about how mobilisation of ‘Generation Pan’ helps build our post Covid-19 world


Generation Pan – The Case For Putting Aside Multi-Generational labelling

Identity is important, after all we are all unique individuals and we can shape ourselves in many different ways over our lifetimes but amongst the many labels we can’t shed is the generation we are defined by simply because of the year of our birth.


You might be defined as belonging to:

  • The Lost Generation of 1890-1915
  • The Interbellum Generation of 1901-1913
  • The Greatest Generation of 1910 – 1924
  • The Silent Generation of 1925 – 1945
  • The Baby Boomer Generation of 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X of 1965 – 1979
  • Xennials for those that cross between 1975 & 1985
  • Millennials or Gen Y of 1980 – 1994
  • Gen Z of 1995 – 2012
  • And finally Gen Alpha of 2013-2025


That’s a lot of generations and an awful lot of negative stereotyping.  Perito argues that it’s time to consign these date/event defined categories to the historians and social sciences academics. Its time to bring us all together in the adoption of an all-encompassing term that makes sense in the new post-Covid 19 era.

That definition?

How does ‘Generation Pan’ sound to you?



The Case For Globally Networked Inclusive Environments

Kevin Burger’s interesting article for Nautilus by (found here) features a review of the work of a scientist called Dennis Carroll. Carroll has been operating at the forefront of the defence against the dark arts of zoonotic disease for most of his career and his scariest observation is that zoonotic diseases, or viruses like Coronavirus which came from bats is just a small part of the threat posed by viruses already prevalent in the animal kingdom. As humans push against the boundaries of the natural environment, we only increase the risk of new threats emerging. In short, Covid-19 is just one of many viruses which will challenge us on an increasingly regular basis.

The way we live our lives and the way we work have now irrevocably changed.

Two new features of this new, after Covid-19, world are socially distancing and self-isolation. Both extensions of social exclusion and which, based on Dennis Carroll’s work, are highly probable to be the new normal. Even when we have succeeded with destroying or disrupting COVID-19 and the virus itself, the problem of emerging threats which will force our communities back into the socially excluding activities is very real. Imagine for a moment a world where every two to three years we are all forced to ‘hibernate’ in order to stay alive and prevent the spread of disease. Some might suggest that this has been done for centuries, what’s the big deal? Well, big is the right word because the population has boomed, urban environments will accommodate 90% of the population within the next 5 years and things are not being designed properly already let alone for people who are going to be forced to stay inside.

Accessibility, visitability, usability and inclusive design are all core concepts that Perito work with every day in everything it does as a company. Creating inclusive environments is something that is very important, even if people don’t necessarily have it that high on the priority list. However, change is something people choose to do or are forced to do. Covid-19 has made the decision for us and what is needed is an expanded definition of what an inclusive environment can do to help answer one important question: –

‘How do we all successfully engage, participate and contribute even though we live in a dense, complex, often poorly designed world that no longer places the human being at the centre of everything it does but now expects us to safely and comfortably live, work and play six feet apart when we are well but isolate effectively when we are not?’

Perito feels that inclusive environments are the answer.

Inclusive Environments are places in which all, unique and diverse, humankind can access participate and contribute equally because they put the human being back at the centre of everything they do. We might traditionally see our environments across the following categories:

– The Geographic Environment

– The Man-Made Environment (Inner & Outer Environments)

There are lots of academic interpretations, but here are more explicit examples that suit the purposes of inclusive environments than those high-level categories:

– The Built Environment: our towns, cities and industry.

– The Natural Environment: Our countryside, marine and recreational spaces.

– The Social-Cultural Environment: The environments in which we live and work.

– The Space Environment: The human environment in space i.e. spacecraft and planetary exploration.

Whilst social-distancing is now a feature concept of all those environments there is a new addition to the list and that is ‘Isolation Environments’.

These are specific inclusive environments which have been designed to support human beings undergoing periods of isolation. They make provision for core needs like water, food and care, communication and commercial activity. They innovate and design for all requires via universal and inclusive design, but they are fundamentally about equality. A core concept of an inclusive environment is to create an environment where anyone can participate on equal terms — social isolation cannot achieve that and thus the individual, community or country will suffer as a direct result. If we are going to be isolated for much of our lives then we need to consider permanent environments, inclusive environments, which are designed to support this new way of live.

What has been demonstrated by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic is that the world and its leadership were not prepared. Worst of all it has opened clear gaps in both the European Union and the United States. Whilst the liberal democracy has been proven now to be more robust than previously thought it is not through our government’s clairvoyance, openness and deft international relations.

A spirit of global cooperation and solidarity is now more important than ever. Just as the alien invasion in 1995’s Independence Day brought the world together, this virus and other emerging threats can do the same now. The paradigm shift has happened, and the virus makes clear that no person or community is safe and that there is nowhere to hide. If you are lucky enough to own a Scottish Highlands plot with a natural spring that is all well and good but the chances are high that one morning you’ll wake up, open your log cabin door to be faced with a hoard of wealthy pensioners in luxury motorhomes parked on your veg patch.

We can’t hide and don’t let anyone tell you we can. It’s not possible anymore. That’s why the best option is to plug ourselves directly into this global solidarity and make that contribution. This doesn’t have to be about technology or the internet it can take many forms, but it has to be global and about being openness, sharing information and exposing our culture and community to the rest of the world. To achieve this, we simply need to ensure that our new inclusive environments are designed with this goal in mind. We need to ensure that when our new Isolation Environments protect us and our community but also allow us to project ourselves new and open-source ways, so that we can have inbuilt capabilities to share our experiences and allow others to learn just as we learn from the rest of the world. Covid-19 has shown that sharing our experiences will save lives, places our heads in the sand won’t do much but offer a small delay.

In addition, we must always be quick to adapt. The concept at play here is Adaptive Inclusivity which operates much like a business might. It keeps us learning and it accepts that we don’t know everything so we must remain agile enough to respond to changing situations. By making sure inclusive environments are linked by global solidarity and global cooperation we can ensure that our environments, Isolation or otherwise, stay in the best shape to meet the user and the community’s need.

The task is simple then. As we construct, design and innovate our agile inclusive built, natural, social and space environments we need to ensure that they maintain a sustainable link to the rest of our World. Whether that is shared learning, mechanisms for communication, twinning organisations for inclusive environments across the globe or even a simple webpage or Instagram demonstrating the humans and the community that access, participate and contribute.



– The way we view inclusive environments must change. They are not local or regional monoliths. They play one part in a global nexus of inclusive environments which are part of a single global entity.

– Inclusive Environments must find ways to connect to the rest of the world are a new core aim.

– Social distancing and self-isolation are forms of social exclusion.

– Isolation Environments are now a new normal. Innovation, design, architecture and social and cultural activity should make the change to as early as possible.

– Agility through the concept of Adaptive Inclusion is critical. Global Cooperation can ensure that our inclusive environments remain fit for purpose.


A Definition of Inclusive Environments

An Inclusive Environment is an environment in which all, unique and diverse, humankind can access, participate and contribute equally by placing the unified and holistic human being at the centre of everything it does. Inclusive Environments should always involve the creation and sustainability of wellbeing as the primary ultimate aim.

They are environments which not only support and directly contribute to both local and national communities but also openly, demonstrably and sustainably support global solidarity and global co-operation.





Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast: Ep3 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Sarah Wills

In this episode we hear from Sarah Wills who talks about her experiences with a broken foot and how it has made her more understanding of how mobility issues and disability impact on people around her. It clearly shows how designing for excluded communities like disabled users can benefit us all.

Perito:      Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A Podcast all about creating inclusive environments, to create an accessible world for everyone, everywhere.  Perito believes that we’re all designers in some capacity even if we aren’t the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects.  This podcast is out there to help everybody become a community expert in recognising exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.  The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and the challenges of our interviewees so we will all have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world, without boundaries.

In this episode we are pleased to be joined by Sarah Wills who will be talking about her experiences moving around two of the nicest and touristy cities in the UK, Edinburgh and London, (0.52) but Sarah there’s a bit of a twist isn’t there, there’s a leg injury involved here?

SW:           Hi James and thanks very much for inviting me to contribute to this podcast.  There’s not really much to say about myself just an ordinary person with an ordinary lifestyle but I was used to being able to go anywhere without thinking about how I would get there or how I would get around when I was there.

Perito:      (1.12)  Can you tell us about the injury and how it’s impacted on your life before your trip that we’re going to focus on today?

SW:           I injured my foot and as a consequence I find myself experiencing what it was like to be disabled both where I was on holiday in Edinburgh and also during my day to day life in London.  The injury wasn’t serious it was a broken foot but it certainly made things very different for me, so I broke a fifth metatarsal which, as I was frequently told was what David Beckham had done.

Perito:      (1.38) Principally in good company then?

SW:           Well yes supposedly but I’m sure he had better treatment then I did, but never mind.

Perito:      (laughter)

SW:           It wasn’t that important but as a consequence of that break I had to wear one of those moon boot things, I don’t know if he did, but also use a crutch, where I found that wearing a moon boot and using a crutch at the same time took quite a bit of coordination and as moon boots are designed to prevent your foot from moving they are obviously completely rigid.

Perito:      (2.02) That’s really useful to set the scene.  Perito believes that we’re all designers as I mentioned at the beginning, what would be good to go into is really knuckle down into your day to day experiences so maybe we could speak about Edinburgh first or London first. The listeners will really want to understand the challenges that you had to go through, to get a better understanding of how to design for your situation.  I think the most important thing is to focus on the idea that this was a temporary situation for you as well.  Do you want to start with Edinburgh or London?

SW:           No Edinburgh’s good because I went there very shortly after the accident.  I went there for a holiday and I was there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Perito:      Oh that was nice.

SW:           Very nice, well could have been nicer (laughter).

Perito:      (2.40) But you go there every year don’t you?

SW:           Yes, I do. So I’m very familiar with what it’s like to get around, how easy it is normally to get around and how difficult it was on this occasion.  Edinburgh is a very touristy city and it’s also very busy because of the festival. A very popular time to go there and I found that the pavements were very crowded with people, not surprisingly, but having enough space to walk was an issue.  People were oblivious to my difficulty, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was.  They got very close on the pavements and it was really quite unnerving to think that they might trip my boot, or my crutch and I might end up on the pavement and become extremely vulnerable. Not something that I was used to even thinking about so that was an issue, probably what was even more problematic, although this was nobody’s fault why Edinburgh’s so touristy was that the streets are mainly cobbled.

Perito:      They are, yes.

SW:           And a very attractive feature normally of Edinburgh but not really one that was really attractive this time but not much can be done about that. I did find that there were often no alternatives, no alternative routes, you couldn’t really avoid the cobbles and that kind of made me think about how people should consider what if you can’t manage something. You can’t manage the staircase or you can’t manage a deep kerb that there should be alternatives provided for people, obviously my injury was temporary but for people who are permanently disabled it’s really, it leaves you with no options, the only options really are to try and get someone to help you. But that’s not always possible and it’s sometimes rather demeaning.  So walking was hard, buses were difficult, it’s hard to get on a bus when you’ve got a crutch and a moon boot and you don’t really get enough time, if you can find a seat you don’t really have enough time to sit down or if it’s standing room only then you definitely have to find somebody to hang on to.  The buses always seem to move off faster than I could do anything.

Perito:      Yeah (laughter) I can relate to that.

SW:           As a consequence of the pavements and the buses I decided that the only sensible thing to do really was to use Uber unless I was gonna stay at home all day and see nothing and that was interesting too because you’re paying for a taxi, though you know you’re the client, but some of the drivers clearly were not at all happy about having a disabled person in their car. I mean I was relatively able, I could get in the car relatively easily but maybe they were worried about the car getting bashed with my crutch or something like that, some of them are fine, some of them were a bit sort of unhappy and it was interesting that my rating, my Uber rating as a passenger, actually went down, which is a bit galling I had a very good rating up until that time.

Perito:      (5.03) (laughter) So Uber actually downgraded, potentially downgraded, you essentially because of that reason.

SW:           Yeah, yeah.

Perito:      That’s just unbelievable. Okay.

SW:           Well I mean you don’t get a chance, well you get a chance to tip them afterwards so I don’t think it was because of that, it was, you know, because, I suppose because it sometimes took more time to get in the car than they would have liked, that might have been an issue as well but from my point of view the biggest issue really was that it was extraordinary expensive so it was.

Perito:      (5.29) And I guess that the roads are jammed as well aren’t they so it must have been very difficult to be able to drive to all the different locations that you were trying to head to?

SW:           Yes quite stressful, you’re quite right.  The only upside to all of this really was that the venues where I went were really good. Obviously, it’s very tourist focussed and therefore tourist friendly festival, largely cheery students who are having fun, but I always found at the venues that they were very happy for me to go to the front of the queue which meant I always got into the venue first which meant I always got a front row seat, so it wasn’t all bad. I was able to take a bunch of my friends along with me so I was very popular, and I had people asking whether they could borrow the moon boot next year (laughter).

Perito:      (laughter)

SW:           So they too share the experience of being first in the line.  So that was Edinburgh, that was a mixed holiday really. I did enjoy it but I probably didn’t do as much as I would have done just simply because it was really tiring trying to find alternatives and having to think is it going to be difficult to get there, will there be too many people, will I just be stressed out by it but I wouldn’t say it was a complete disaster.

Perito:      (6.29)  What was the most difficult to manage was it the moon boot on the cobbles in the, say shock impact or was it the way the crutch would not sit on the level ground, or was it something else?

SW:           You know I think, yeah, it’s difficult to say really I mean the moon boot on the cobbles was a complete nightmare because the cobbles were obviously lumpy and the moon boots completely rigid at the bottom.  I don’t think it was either of those two things physically I think it was just, just the difficulty really, like I said earlier that coordinating the moon boot and the crutch is actually quite an art or maybe even a skill but whichever it was I didn’t really develop it terribly well, cos you have to think about what you’re doing which means you can’t think about what’s going on around you as much as you need to and that was consistent throughout the whole of the time that I was temporarily disabled. You’re very much focussed on your disability and you realise that other people are completely oblivious to it.

Perito:      (7.17) That’s an interesting note, lack of awareness isn’t it seems to have impacted on you and obviously everybody else who’s suffering the same within Edinburgh.

SW:           Yes. Moving onto London where I spend most of my time. London was a bit different, the bus issues were the same but also added to that were the issues to do with stations and they were a bit of a nightmare because again there’s a large pressure of people, but in some tube stations you get sloping ramps, when you’re, you know, you can walk normal the sloping ramps seem fine but some of them are quite steep, quite surprising steep and whilst there are lifts at many tube stations the signage isn’t good so you’re left thinking there must be a lift here somewhere but I can’t see where it is and obviously…

Perito:      (8.03) Yeah but then you get more tired looking for the lift because you’re having to struggle to get there aren’t you?

SW:           Absolutely, so a huge amount of your time is taken up by trying to find ways to compensate the disability that you’re suffering. There are stations, not so much tube stations but other stations which are actually only accessible by stairs and I was really surprised to find that because you don’t take any notice normally but that was very excluding when you thought I can’t go to that station because I can’t up or down the stairs and also at stations which normally would have lifts wasn’t uncommon to find that the lifts weren’t working so you find yourself getting off at a station which you knew had a lift to discover that you would have to try and find some way to get up the stairs anyway, not so good.  And very excluding. It makes you feel very unwanted really, I think, that’s probably how I’d put it.  So the pavement issues that were again the same as in Edinburgh and again there’s no awareness of other people of what, of how hard you’re finding it to get around and although, because obviously there are regulations, there are disabled entrances to buildings but it’s actually often quite difficult to find them and that makes you feel even more isolated and I guess that’s one of the things that came out of this altogether was that it was a very isolating experience. It made me feel very alone and very lonely and rather, sort of, an inconvenience to other people.  Fortunately it was only temporary but it has made me think a lot about how I behave around disabled people which isn’t sensitive enough I realise I don’t give them enough room to move in front of me or take account of the fact that they’ll be moving more slowly then I will be, so it’s been quite a learning experience for me too.

Perito:      (9.44) So how long did you have your leg in the boot for?

SW:           Oh, only six weeks, as well as everybody telling me that it was the David Beckham injury they all seemed to know, but I didn’t, that it would take six weeks so not really that long but long enough from my point of view to be very, very pleased on all sorts of levels to be able to get back to a more normal lifestyle.

Perito:      (10.05)  I think you’ve shed a little bit of light on the impact it’s had on you but how was this temporary experience with mobility issues and lack of access in Edinburgh and London impacted on you since the boot’s come off.  I guess it’s demonstrated quite clearly that inclusion and access benefits everybody regardless who they are. Has it changed or perhaps enhanced your understanding of people with more long term and permanent impairments?

SW:           Disability is seen as something that is to be ignored. it’s something that exists in this world and I think if there was more signage and better access to those things that help disabled people then people who don’t suffer from any disability of any sort, it would maybe make them more aware the fact that other people do and maybe they would then be more understanding and more accommodating of those who are, and I’m thinking of, you know, giving people who are disabled a bit more room to move around, not making them feel that they’re unusual or abnormal but just being a little bit more sensible in the way that they approach people.

Perito:      (11.04)  So it’s an interesting point you make with the signage so it wouldn’t just be signage to help with directions but it would also be alerting people to be like a visual remainder that there are lots of different diverse population using this facility or the train station or the roadway, don’t just assume that it’s okay for you to go about your business without taking into consideration and due courtesy.

SW:           Yes I think that’s a good way of putting it, I mean it’s not to identify disabled people particularly as a special group but just make it obvious that they are a group within the whole population. You know, just like there are able bodied people and young people and children and pregnant ladies, you know, disabled people around. I think disabled in itself is rather a negative word, but it would just become more normalised.

Perito:      (11.55)  Thanks for joining us today Sarah so I found the conversation enlightening and so important because you shed such articulate and well informed light on a subject of inclusion at access by demonstrating that it’s not just people with permanent disabilities that are impacted on. So thanks for sharing your six weeks of experience and I think what struck me about it is that it’s obviously it had quite a deep impact on you just from being in the boot for six weeks and to see how the world isn’t really ready for people to go about with a crutch and a boot on.  Thanks again for coming along.

SW:           Thank you.

Perito:      You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World. Without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.


Our World. Without Boundaries Podcast Ep2 In The ‘Inclusive Designer Series’ With Chris Nicholson of MH Stainton.

In this episode we feature an interesting interview with Chris Nicholson. A trainee Quantity Surveyor & wheelchair user who brings with him rare insight and analysis into the construction industry and accessibility for new build homes. As well as with the use of space within our built environment.


Perito:      Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries.  A podcast all about creating inclusive environments and about helping us all to become experts in identifying exclusion so together we can make better design decisions in our everyday life, work, play. Which in turn will help us create an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere.

Now in this episode we are pleased to be joined by Chris Nicholson.  Hiya Chris.


CN:           Hiya James how you doing?

Perito:      Very good thank you very much, how are you?

CN:           Yeah well thank you, thanks for having me on.

Perito:     (0.28) It’s a pleasure, I was going to do a quick fire round with you but I thought maybe that would be a bit harsh so we’re just going to kick off straight in with the interview questions.  Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

CN:           As you’ve already said James my names Chris Nicholson, a 26 year Apprentice Quantity Surveyor with a company called MH Stainton in Lancaster. I’m currently learning my trade at the University of Central Lancashire where on the course that I’m doing I will become a Chartered Surveyor by and for me, being a disabled person, after an accident playing rugby, it plays a part in my healing and trying to create a future that’s accessible for everybody and it’s totally inclusive.

Perito:     (1.10)  I think that’s a really good aim and it’s something to definitely strive for and very achievable but you mentioned that you were a wheelchair user since you had an accident playing rugby, what has that transition been like and how did the accident impact on your career?

CN:           The change has been very dramatic myself personally because I feel before my accident I was very blinkered and very selfish towards people who had disabilities where I wasn’t opening my mind to what other people has to go through day in and day out, the transitions been very difficult from both a personal and professional perspective because I don’t understand professionally why everything cannot be made inclusive, why accessibility cannot be just the norm, why a building cannot be totally inclusive, so if you build something for one person specifically somebody with a disability then it potentially can be accessed by every person so it’s been a transition that’s been very difficult. It’s opened my eyes a lot and I feel like it’s a very strange thing that I actually feel better in my mindset, after my accident I feel a lot more open minded to people who have disabilities because of the learning process that I’ve had to go through.

Perito:      (2.16)  Was your accident instantaneous or was it something that happened, you needed surgery and therefore you had time to adjust your situation?

CN:           My accident just happened, I was on the rugby pitch for five minutes and I had an accident that I was tipped on my head and my right side of my face touched my shoulder and it was very instant and something that I’ll never forget.

Perito:      (2.40)  You mentioned briefly about how you were almost blinkered, to inclusive environments or other disabled users or people with hidden disabilities.

CN:           Yes.

Perito:      (2.50)  Can you talk a little about why that might have been. Was it just an indication issue or did you just feel, because  you must have been super fit, you must have been young, almost a little bit invincible.

CN:           Yeah I was young. I was 21 at the time of my accident and almost very selfish with my own views and how I thought I was invincible and that nothing would stop me but there’s a massive education flaw with regards to people with disabilities. It’s not really a word and description of what people have to go through day in day out who have a disability whether it be mental health, visual impairment, physical impairment or something their born with, the education system isn’t there at the moment to actually give people that knowledge that they need to help understand these situations a bit more which I think the accessible and inclusive world is so far away from being potential because the learning and education isn’t there yet.

Perito:     (3.44)  So I think that’s a good lead into the next question then, so you’re a trainee Quantity Surveyor and will be soon a full, fully trained Chartered QS. Tell us about your employer and why being a QS is an accessible career and has less barriers then other options you were considering when you were younger?

CN:           Being a QS is something I sort of fell into and my employer I previously, I’ve only been M H Stainton now for nine months but my previous employers could see the potential that I had as a QS due to my ability before my accident where I was very good with numbers and I had an eye for detail and now since working with MH Stainton my eye for detail and working to surpass Building Regulations and general environments making a living environment perfect. Not just the one type of person who’s on their feet but for everybody, and I think the company where I’m at, MH Stainton, they really champion the independent kind of living that everybody deserves no matter what kind of disability they have and it’s really refreshing to go into a company and actually see that somebody’s willing to actually take a risk on somebody with a disability even though the boundaries that they have to do the work are quite limiting.

Michael, whose the Managing Director and Gail, who’s the Company Secretary are very supportive, the site team are very supportive and I think in order to get people into sort of these professions that aren’t well know for being disabled friendly, because in the construction industry you just think yep it’s just for guys, and it’s just full of rough and tough people but it’s not. It’s an inclusive environment that I think the company that I’m working for, MH Stainton, really pushed the boundaries on making it an inclusive and socially acceptable environment to work and I’ve never come across a company that’s been like that before.

Perito:      (5.43)  I think it’s really interesting that they wanted to build that out from scratch, do you think that’s come from the top down, as in from the management team or do you think that’s from someone saying let’s look at the commercial benefits of doing this or look at the social benefits of well being and maybe we should adopt this?

CN:           I don’t necessary think it’s on that the social benefits or the commercial benefits and I’ve asked this question once or twice to Gail and Michael and I’ve said to them “you know, why did you, take the risk with me, I’m in a wheelchair I come with these host of challenges” he said “it’s not the wheelchair that we hired, we hired the person” and for me it was a relief because I thought well am I just another tick box. But I’m not, they’ve hired because they want me on their team and they think that I can succeed in their team and it’s just a really refreshing outlook and something that I think major blue chip corporations should actually take on board that a wheelchair person or a person with a disability isn’t just a tick box, it’s somebody that can actually succeed, and do a job exactly like someone else.

Perito:      (6.49) What opportunities do you think being a QS does give and will give and why do you like it?

CN:           I like it because it brings me back to my rugby days a little bit when I go on site. It’s difficult, I’ve got to make adaptions on site, I get a bit muddy and it’s a challenge. I really, really thrive on a challenge but what I think I can, once I’ve got my chartership, I can bring it to the table I really think that with myself and working I would love to push governing bodies to actually look at people who on paper shouldn’t be working in construction but to get people included to make a difference and make a difference in their regulations that will allow somebody to be better in their own environment because it’s already been catered for because people who have these disabilities have a first person advantage to anybody who tries to cater for somebody with disabilities, they have the experience, they have the knowledge and can make a difference and can make adaptions or suggestions that somebody who isn’t disabled can’t.

Perito:      (7.57) You’re becoming expert at identifying what the exclusions are by your own day to day experiences?

CN:           Yes.

Perito:      (8.04) So talk about kind of exclusions and social exclusion. What is the most difficult to overcome, do you think it’s attitude on all issues from people around you or the physical barriers that you come across and why do you think this?

CN:           I think it’s more people’s perception and the judgement that comes from people who don’t know me and don’t understand my ability to be Quantity Surveyor and the drive that I have to be a QS. I think they judge me way too quickly before they actually know me and understand me and I think it’s a massive flaw in today’s society ‘judging a book by its cover’ and the amount of times that I go onto a building site and people go “oh, you’re in a wheelchair”, “how can you be in a wheelchair and on a building site and working construction”. That’s perception is totally flawed and wrong.

I think it just excludes people from actually wanting to be in the industry, because there’s this whole mentality that the construction industry is just for a set kind of person and not really for somebody that’s like me or somebody with a different kind of disability. It’s totally flawed in my opinion.

Perito:      (9.11)  It’s classic ability bias isn’t it. The idea of designing something for people with two hands or assuming that everybody has two hands and then you going on site, you’re in a position but their automatically looking at it through their own eyes and their own perception, instead of looking at what they can do to make the difference.

CN:           Yeah, exactly and people see a problem before they see me as a person which is wrong. I think it is wrong for people who have different types of disabilities because people view their disabilities before they actually view that person and view what that person can bring to the table and in some cases somebody might be able to bring something more than a fully abled bodied person and they judge a person by their image and not by what quality they have.

Perito:      (9.51)  Yep agreed, I think it’s very consistent even with Board level in corporations with the idea of diversity in gender.

CN:           Oh 100% yeah.

Perito:      (10.02)  When people talk about oh we need more women in Board rooms, actually that’s just the tip of the iceberg because the more people you have coming from more different backgrounds the more things you can understand because people aren’t looking at things in exactly the same way as everybody else.

CN:           Massively.

Perito:      And that’s really useful.

CN:           That’s a very big gripe of mine is when you see Members of Parliament who are head of the EWP and head of, you know, people with disabilities. The thing for me is what do those people know about somebody with a disability and after doing quite a bit of research into it Canada actually are trying to champion this process of getting people who are aware of these situations to make people with disabilities be more a viable option in the workplace and for people totally feel like they are wanted and I think it starts from the top of Government and major Blue Chip Corporations and it’s got to work it’s way down, it just takes the one company to make a difference.

Perito:     (11.08)  Agreed, so moving away from companies then onto the policy that you mentioned about Government and the role that they had to play, a lot of listeners will feel that Part M Building Regs doesn’t go far enough to support concepts like visit-ability and choose-ability.  What are your thoughts on the approved Doc M as guidance to meet the Part M obligations and does it go far enough?

CN:           I don’t even think it scratches the surface if I’m honest. I don’t like to go on about this point but it’s made by somebody who doesn’t understand what the problems are that somebody with a disability faces every day. I think it’s a totally flawed document that needs to be completely overhauled, re-written, so it makes people’s lives easier not in some respects harder. I’d push for that to be amended.

Perito:     (11.57)  Do you think that BS8300:2018 has a role to fit into the construction of new dwellings and buildings cos in place of the Approved Doc M (ADM) and does someone like MH Stainton use BS8300 as a standard?

CN:           MH Stainton are already working to a really high standard where we like to think that we don’t just think of the norm. We think of surpassing what the benchmark standards are.

Perito:      Yep.

CN:           And you know we champion ourselves on pushing the boundaries of any type of construction that we set our sights on that we make it totally accessible for everybody. We make any amendments possible that can make someone’s life easier, within reason, and there’s got to be a commercial aspect that we’ve got to think of but we like to really push the boundaries on making sure somebody’s home is built for a lifetime no matter the situation and it can be amended to their situation not just, this is your house, live in it and be done.  We like to think that we, and we do, care for our customers and we care for how they want to live their lives and how they want to live in our houses. Many housing companies and developers just see housing construction as just an accountancy, just numbers, it’s not somebody’s life, it’s what’s at the back end for it and how they can make as much money out of it as possible with as little going into it and not caring about that end user.  MH Stainton are a company that go that extra mile for its customers and really surpass the current benchmark that is outlined by Government.

Perito:     (13.36) When you think about the future of a barrier free built environment what do you think are the most important policy regs, standards, changes that would need to happen to get us there. You mentioned ageing in place, and I think ageing in place would be really vital going forward when you think about the cost of care for the elderly.  You don’t just simply want one house; you’re building a house for 100 years. So the number of people who are gonna live in there will be 3 or 4, 5, 10 families and someone may want to be there from the day zero to the day 100 and by being able to facilitate that adaption is essential. What do you think about the future of the barrier free environment?

CN:           I think we need to take a page out of Europe’s book. I’ve been to Italy, I’ve been to France and they have this generational living where grandparents live with their sons and daughters and then the sons and daughters of theirs then live with them and I think it, making sure that elements of buildings can be adapted with minimal uplift and upheaval that can affect somebody’s life.

Like making sure that doors are wide enough, like making sure there’s a correct turning circle that if somebody has sensory issues that a building can be adjusted, with minimal impact on that person’s life, to actually be altered in the way that suits them and I think current Building Regs and current standards don’t consider everybody. They consider something that somebody can see and not what can’t be seen and somebody with a visual impairment, you know, it’s all well and good adjusting the height of sockets and light switches but let’s think about people who have these mental disabilities, that have partial sight and that there’s more to it and that I think there has to be a total overhaul in the construction industry both on the housing sector and the commercial sector to completely make a building inclusive. Like I’ve said before, if we make building for one person who has got a severe disability it makes that building accessible for everybody, where we cater to the masses not just that single person.

Perito:      (15.38)  Yes so you could move somebody with a pram and a young family into it exactly the same way couldn’t you.

CN:           100%

Perito:      Because they need step free access with prams.

CN:           Yes but it goes past step free access. I recently moved into a, I won’t share the name but a very well-known developer, I moved into one of their houses and I go in, there’s…

Perito:      (16.01)  Was it a new build Chris?

CN:           …yes it was it was a new build and there’s steps in and out of the house to the front and to the rear, there’s elements of the property that I can’t reach such as the fuseboard, you know, so what happens if my stairlift goes down and I’m stuck downstairs I can’t actually flip the switch and turn it back on.

It‘s completely wrong and for somebody then to tell me that I have to pay them an obscene amount of money for classing it as a variation charge to make my life easier when these thoughts should actually be implemented and thought of sooner. It’s completely wrong and it needs to change, the whole system needs to be overhauled and people’s lives need to be thought of not just how to sell a house really quickly and make as much profit on it as you can.

Perito:      (16.54)  There’s a new flat development that’s gone up around the corner from me and I happen to run into the construction manager on a presentation thing and I explained to him, “well if you want help looking through the plans just to make sure that’s it all good and it’s going to be accessible for you just let me know, I’m quite happy, you know what I’ll do it for you for free”.   He kind of chuckled and said “no, no, no, no it’s fine” and well they’ve now finished them and there’s a nice set of steps, which I’m not even sure actually are going to pass Building Control having had a basic look at them, in terms of nosings and size but you’re thinking you’ve just built four steps running from this new build that you’ve just put in onto the street. How many people are going to go up those? It’s just bewildering as you say, from a developer point of view why that has been decided to happen and it could have easily been, and I’m not saying a ramp would have had to go in there but looking at step free access or level access would have been easy enough just with a slight tweak. Alas not, so now the 75 years or however long those flats last, we’re going to have those steps on the outside, an easily avoidable barrier and a permanent reminder of that Construction Manager’s ignorance and lack of care.

CN:           Yeah.

Perito:     (17.57)  Well as you know Chris, Perito believes that we’re all designers in some capacity even if we aren’t the principal designers like planners or architects and this Podcast is out there to help everyone become a community of exclusion experts who can then contribute to a design process and make better inclusive design decisions.  Can you tell us about your day to day experiences, I know you’ve touched on your house, so that’s probably a good place to start and challenges so that people will have a greater understanding of what can exclude you from participating and what can be done to create a world without boundaries for you?

CN:           Well initially it’s very difficult to create a world without total boundaries but for somebody like myself it can things as simple as level access into a property, it can be creating the correct turning circles because some may be as big as 1.2m2 but that’s for an electric chair but with me I’m in a manual wheelchair where 900mm2 is my turning circle. Level access to bathrooms is important because initially when I first moved into my property which was a new build, now a couple of years old, the issues that I had and that I found straightaway was the general access to the property was poor and that was despite Building Regs actually supposed to direct house builders to put in access that was suitable for people with disabilities. Now for me having steps at the front of my house doesn’t help me at all, it actually, it hinders me and it got to the point where I was requesting for the builder to come and take it out but the cost for variations spiral which isn’t fair when these builders should be creating houses that are suitable.

Perito:      (19.34) Yeah it doesn’t sound like they’ve gone with Part M there does it at all?

CN:           …No.

Perito:      (19.37)  And to charge you for that seems a bit dodge.

CN:           It’s not correct and they need to be held responsible for this where and I don’t understand how Building Control can let that off because having freedom to use my house as I please is a massive thing, it’s my independence, it’s my life.

I’m expecting a child soon and not to be able to take my child out would have been catastrophic for me. I’d have felt more isolated and excluded from actually using my property with being able to get in and out because I have to rely on other people.  My current employer, and before I started with them, gave me plans, I reviewed the plans and the first thing that I went back to them with was “why are your bathrooms so big?” and “why are you making them so big like you can clearly fit anybody in there that requires the space to get in there even to a larger chair”. They were like “well a home should be able to be lived in by everybody not excluding the demographic that has difficulties with living in properties, nobody should be excluded from a house or wanting to live a life that gives them, you know, a lot less boundaries”.

For me that’s a refreshing outlook because many of these major developers just think about that profit. They don’t think about who’s living in their houses, who is gonna give feedback to somebody else who’s got a disability and try and sell them a house, it’s just all profit, it’s not about their reputation of being a builder for everybody, it’s about being a builder that can make a good amount of money and can make the most revenue and turnover.

Perito:      (21.16) You’re kind of in a unique position being a Quantity Surveyor because part of your job is to cost the build isn’t it?

CN:           Yes.

Perito:      (21.23)  You work out how much has got to be removed, how much has got to be put in.

CN:           Yes.

Perito:      (21.26)  Are you sitting there with MH Stainton saying, you know what Michael this is gonna cost you an extra so and so percent or are you sitting there and going actually this doesn’t really cost anymore than doing it in the right way. Doing it first time, not only saves costs further down the line for people like yourself but also makes the building better for ageing in place.

CN:           Yes.

Perito:      (21.47) Is there a definite line there or is it just a fallacy that these bigger developers, or any developers frankly, like the one down the road from me, are using as an excuse?

CN:           In my personal opinion, and after reviewing costs of looking at for example different shower trays, different types of bathrooms, types of spaces and having level access, you know, it’s here nor there the cost difference in fact in some cases it’s actually less putting in say a fully ramp up to the house that looks amazing, that doesn’t look like it’s specified for somebody that’s disabled with a nice big concrete ramp and steel handles on it…

Perito:      Yeah, exactly.

CN:           …and steel rails, it doesn’t have to look like that. That’s just the Government being ‘right well what’s the most cost-effective way’ but as a Quantity Surveyor looking at the percentages of cost against somebody for having a disability and somebody without a disability. We can’t cater to everybody, it’s not going to be fully boundless, there’s always going to be one or two boundaries that maybe can’t be considered for somebody with more severe disabilities but the cost that these developers are saying they will have to incur is so extreme that it would actually put them out of business is wrong and I don’t know how they can stand by that statement and suggest that when the data that I review daily with my Managing Director and the PQS who overlooks the work that I do and take data suggesting there doesn’t really cost that much more, if not a little bit less.  These builders get away with murder and in my opinion it’s not correct.

Perito:      (23.29) What did you do to overcome those barriers with your particular home, You’ve been there a couple of years now, do you have level access now?

CN:           I’ve had to bear the cost myself and with the support that I’ve received from charities, but I’ve taken out the step. I’ve made sure that my turning circles are enough, made sure that I can get in and out of my shower correctly, obviously I still have the limitations of getting out to my back garden and the width of the paths that they put round the side of your house with those fetching concrete slabs that they put down, you know, there’s obviously  still limitations that I have in my property. I don’t expect to be there forever but for me as the customer having to amend my property because it doesn’t meet the current regulations and current standards and it has to come out of my pocket when I’m already paying a small fortune for a house, it’s wrong, and again its criminal, in some respects, what developers can get away with.

Perito:      (24.25)  Well I guess Building Control have a part to play in this as well don’t they?

CN:           Yes 100% yes.

Perito:      (24.29) In terms of, they really should have been coming up and placing a bit of emphasis here that hasn’t met visit-ability. It certainly doesn’t sound like it’s met Part M 4 at all which is bizarre but how do you find moving away from your house then, how do you find just your day to day experiences on the street, like the way people look after pavements that you use or ways to the office, is the disabled parking at work is that usually being abused by, cos I know that’s a regular problem for many people?

CN:           I have a big problem when I go out. Especially when I go to supermarkets, I get told that I’m not disabled enough to park in Blue Badge bays even though I’m getting my wheelchair out and trying to access just local amenities like everybody else and when other people who are sat in their cars, in a disabled bay with no Blue Badge up it’s very frustrating. At work there’s access for me to access the building, there’s access for me to park safely enough that I can get my chair out safely and not affect anybody else or, you know, other people who work close by us, you know.  So work generally is fantastic I think if we go outside of work and my home life the paths, pavements, dropped kerbs, they’re a massive issue. I think Councils should be made to rectify all these issues because it’s not just potentially an issue for me, it’s potentially an issue for somebody who’s on their feet and then trips up over un-level ground which then is an insurance claim against the Council, so the money that they could have spent to rectify a path, they’re now being sued for.

Perito:      Yep, they’ve lost.

CN:           That doesn’t benefit anybody that just unfortunately benefits the person who’s unfortunately damaged their ankle due to the Council’s negligence and I think that’s all the way around the country, there’s issues for access, there’s issues for just general amenities and access in those amenities to which is disabled people aren’t thought of and people with certain limitations aren’t thought of.  Now everybody can’t be catered for but there should be things in place to try and cater for everybody to be able to go out and access their day to day lives and explore the world because you miss out on so much because people don’t think.

Perito:      (26.46)  It’s a really relevant point there I think the opportunities that you’re denied, essentially you should be able to have equal opportunity to go out and do these things, there’s very little change that needs to happen but people just don’t tend to think.

CN:           No.

Perito:      (26.58)  Do you ever sit there sometimes and think I can relate to their ignorance and their lack of courtesy because when I was younger I kind of felt the same and I didn’t care. Or would you even at 21/20 never done these things like park in a disabled bay?

CN:           I’d have never have done them. Sometimes if there’s a large car park I’ll try not to park in a disabled bay because I know somebody that could be more disabled then me and I’ll try and find a space that allows me to get access to these amenities but, and save a space for somebody else, but there’s certain things that I was very short sighted with, I was very tunnel visioned on what I wanted to achieve in my life and, you know, I don’t regret that but I regret how I couldn’t see how other people could struggle from the simple things of me being able to access a shop, and how people are disadvantaged because someone can’t think about putting a level access in to allow somebody with a disability to access something, and it’s being disabled has been a massive learning curve for me. I’d challenge anybody to actually live a weak in the life of somebody that’s disabled and not say that they’re not moved by the struggles that, that person has to go through day in and day out because being disabled’s hard.

Perito:      (28.12)  Well it’s exhausting isn’t it and then extra costs associated with it that people don’t think about.

CN:           It is, yes, yes.

Perito:     (28.17)  Are there any final thoughts in terms of top 5 things if you could talk to a designer of the street or a house what top 5 things would you say, you can have top 20 if you like that should always be included for you as a wheelchair user and what would you like them to do that they should already be doing but obviously aren’t or at least if there are designers out there wondering what they should be doing, how you can help them to design better?

CN:           Yes I’ll give you my top 5 because it’s not actually that bigger thing that these designers need to do. They need to think of the space and how the space is used. Pinching from one room to another and making door frames smaller just to make one room slightly bigger, okay you know, people might like a bigger lounge but it limits somebody’s access to these rooms.  Let’s create rooms that people can access that can be accessed by everybody not just by the majority.  Now my next point sort of moves onto like bathrooms and how we pinch the sizes in our larger rooms, our bedrooms, our kitchens, why can’t we make downstairs bathrooms a little bit bigger, you know, or main bathrooms bigger and have that space so somebody can turn in those areas if they’re in a wheelchair or, you know, have disabilities that affects their mobility, let’s give people space, let’s give people, let’s already think ahead rather than thinking of what’s the best way to profit from this.

Perito:      (29.42)  Or the minimum that can lead to the maximum profit.

CN:           Yes exactly. Let’s look at trying to maximise the consumer’s ability to use their property whilst trying to maximise profits at the same time. It can go hand in hand, it then increases your customer satisfaction rating, then increases the general perception of the company and your homeowner wants to live there. And doesn’t have to rip their house apart down to the simplest thing here James of making sure that it’s got level access. What’s so hard about putting a ramp in?

There’s nothing hard about it, people have paving in their back gardens. They have steps in their back gardens that’s been provided by these developers so what’s wrong with putting a level access through this house or to any building in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that.  MH Stainton have just completed an apartment building, they’ve made sure that if they don’t know something they’ll go out of their way to find it out and make sure that buildings can be used by everybody and that it’s for everybody not just for a single market and I’d massively implore these designers on my fifth point to go out there and find the knowledge. If they’re unsure about something find somebody with a disability and say right well what could make your life easier? What’s the bane of your life in this moment in time that causes you to feel restricted in your own home and the honesty and the knowledge that you’ll get from that will be second to none and it will give you so much knowledge and clarity on what you need to do as a designer, or as a director to increase these buildings sort of access and diversity and inclusion and just listen and learn.  Knowledge is a very powerful tool that these designers could use just by going out and asking people who are disabled what can be done to make your life easier that we can include in our properties, it’s just something as simple as that.

Perito:      (31.40)  Some excellent points there Chris thank you, so any final thoughts from you before we start to think about closing the Podcast?

CN:           James I’m just really grateful for you allowing me to voice my opinion and put across my knowledge to others so they can then look at trying to improve their construction process but also to not only think about if you’re able bodied, think about somebody who’s disabled and, if somebody needs a hand, give them a hand. Don’t just sit there and watch. Encourage people who are disabled to get out there, see the world and if there’s limitations help them to overcome their limitations, if those boundaries are broken down you’re making a massive change to somebody’s life that’s really important.

Perito:      That’s a good summary. It’s been excellent to find out more about you and your future Quantity Surveying career, Chris thanks for joining us today and best of luck going forward.

CN:           Cheers James.

Perito:      Perhaps we could do a catch up in a year. We could do another Podcast to see how things have changed for you in that period and whether you’ve got more interesting stories to tell your listeners.


You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. Thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.


Changing – The Perito Prize Anthology 2019’s Chosen Charity – Find Out More Here!

The Perito team are pleased to announce that the proceeds from the 2019 Perito Prize Anthology will be donated to Changing Places. An organisation all about spreading the word on fully accessible toilets.

For more information on Changing Places please check out their website on and their twitter feed on You can also discover more information about the UK Toilet map here too.

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