S?: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there, it’s Toby. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. It’s great to be with you. I’m joined today by Josh Wintersgill, who has the same condition as me, actually, spinal muscular atrophy. So we know each other through those circles. But the reason why I wanted to catch up with Josh is because he’s got a background in technology, as do I. He’s also an entrepreneur and has set up his own business, so we’re gonna talk about that. We’re also gonna talk about how he’s developed a product where we… It’s gonna have… It has universal design built into it, so it’s a product that was designed initially for disabled users, but actually using universal design, it’s something that everybody could use. So Josh, it’s great to have you on the show today. Thank you for joining me.
Josh Wintersgill: Thank you. I mean, it’s naturally a pleasure to be here today. You’ve been popping up on my emails for God knows how long, and I’ve seen the development of this podcast growing and there was more and more listeners, so it’s great to be here, so I’m honored to be on.
Toby Mildon: The listenership just keeps increasing every month, which is brilliant. So yeah, great, great to have to you. Before we get started, can you just tell us a bit about your background? I alluded to the fact that you worked in technology, you worked for a massive technology brand earlier in your career. So yeah, start there.
Josh Wintersgill: Sure. So, hi everyone, I’m Josh Wintersgill, so I’m 27 now. I’ve got SMA Type Three, and I have been kind of around the blocks a little bit. I started my technology career at college, I studied software development for two years when I was 18. Sorry, 16 to 18, and I wanted to kind of pursue a career in tech because I knew with my disability, the long-term job prospects with our condition that technology was gonna be extremely accessible and probably keep me in employment for my entire life. It was one of those interesting decisions. Was I naturally drawn to tech? Not really, but I knew that the prospect of being good in tech was very, very powerful for me sort of later on in life. So I did software development when I left school, went on to university at University of Bristol, England, where I studied IT management and business. One of the things I found was I didn’t want to have this kind of deep tech focus, I kind of wanted to understand how tech can support business, and looking at these businesses in that kind of sense.
Josh Wintersgill: And it was it’s a very hybrid environment, it was… The degree that I did was led by some of the largest employers in the UK, and they wanted graduates to come out with a mix of IT and business experience. And oddly, I was, I think, the first powered-wheelchair person on the course. And all of a sudden you’ve got one person in a wheelchair that’s disabled in a whole of over 500 students and loads of employers, and you’re kind of, “Oh my God, where are all these other disabled folk at?” And it’s kind of… You get these hidden disabilities as well, so I appreciate that there’s probably people in that room that have disabilities also, but it’s kind of quite daunting when you go into this environment, and it’s not really… Employers are only starting to learn about disability now, and it kind of grew me the course actually in technology and gave me the foundation to where I am today.
Josh Wintersgill: And I graduated from university back in 2015. During that time, I did a year’s placement with Hewlett-Packard in Bracknell, which gave me that foundation to get some sort of work experience under my skin to help me find a graduate… Well, when I graduated, and fortunately for me, it wasn’t very long after I graduated that I got employed by Hewlett-Packard again to work inside the security, so I have also worked in Defence and been heavily involved in cybersecurity solutions as well. But again, that was more from a business point of view, so I’ve got quite a broad experience with tech. So that’s a bit of background to kind of how I got to where I am now.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, similar to how I started out, ’cause I went to university and I did marketing ’cause I thought I wanted to do a business degree and I just fell… I naturally fell into marketing. But then when I left the university for similar reasons, I just felt that there was more of a future working in technology, so I worked as an IT Consultant for Accenture, and then I went into healthcare technology, and then I was a Technical Project Manager at the BBC. So yeah, similar in that regard. But now you’ve gone on to become an entrepreneur, and part of that is working with a very high profile entrepreneur that pretty much everyone in the UK has probably heard of, certainly heard of this entrepreneur’s business, or businesses. And what’s your entrepreneurial journey been?
Josh Wintersgill: I mean, it’s totally separate from technology, right? It was very weird. So the condition Toby and I have, it deteriorates as you get older, and it makes doing physical activities basically impossible in certain examples. So for instance, getting in and out of your wheelchair without support is impossible. And I was very fortunate to travel quite a bit when I was younger. I loved flying. And as I’ve got older, the traveling has become very, very difficult, getting from the wheelchair, on and off the aircraft, and a lot of people have no understanding or appreciation of the sacrifices that people in wheelchairs have to make in order to fly. It’s a very fragile environment, it causes a lot of anxiety, and many… In fact, many people… In a recent survey, we just found that 50% of wheelchairs users have stopped flying because of the amount of issues that it causes, and so I kind of thought, “Well… “
Josh Wintersgill: Back in 2017, I went on holiday and thought, “I’m getting fed up with this.” I’ve just seen a 6′2″ gentleman that’s part of the… Pretty much paralysed from the waist down, being dragged onto an aircraft that isn’t suitable… The chair that they used to transfer him isn’t suitable. They’re having to pick him up under his arms and legs and put him into a window seat of over bulkhead seats. And bulkhead seats, for those that don’t know, are basically seats that don’t have a removable arm rest that comes up and down. So trying to lift a 6′2″ gentleman over those is almost impossible with no equipment. I thought that we’ve got to stop this. Flying is uncomfortable, it’s undignified, it’s embarrassing, there’s huge safety concerns with it.
Josh Wintersgill: And so, on this holiday, I was reading a book called Simon Sinek, Start with the Why, and I encourage people to read it, and it just kind of got me thinking about, why am I doing what I’m doing in technology? And it kind of, at the time, that was when I was doing my cybersecurity role, and I thought, “Well, am I really passionate about what I do?” Yes, I enjoy it, I’m good at it, but is it really that… Do I really wanna be doing it for the rest of my life? Is it really giving me that motivation to kind of get excited? And yes, there’s certain areas of tech which are very exciting that I just kind of get bewildered every day by the amount of technology that’s being developed all the time, it’s frightening. But I just thought actually, well, if I can actually improve somebody’s life rather than doing an internal role within a big corporate company, actually there might be more value for me.
Josh Wintersgill: And so putting this idea of flying as a wheelchair user problem, with that in mind, I kind of came home and developed this sling that is designed to be used by wheelchair passengers to help them transfer on and off the aircraft without being physically lifted under the arms and legs. And to cut a very, very long story short, I met somebody at one of the UK airports and she put me… Basically told me to go and look for Leonard Cheshire, because they’re quite a large charitable organisation. And I followed them on Twitter, and it just so happened that a week later after that, the UK Disabled Entrepreneurs popped up on my… On my phone. And it said “Apply Now”, and I just… Over the year of coming back from the holiday in 2017-2018, I’d done a business plan, a marketing strategy, and I applied for the award, and it took me 15 minutes. And fortunately for me, I got short-listed for the top five of that year, and I fortunately went on to win it. And that, the UK Disabled Entrepreneurs award is run by the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation and Leonard Cheshire.
Josh Wintersgill: Now, the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation is created by the founder of EasyJet, which is Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, and every year he gives away £100,000 pounds to disabled entrepreneurs because he recognises there’s a significant potential in disabled entrepreneurs, and wants to give them a platform to better access funding that they wouldn’t necessarily typically be able to get elsewhere, to recognise the efforts and the work that they’re doing. And some of these disabled entrepreneurs are creating solutions, not for disabled people, but for people that don’t have disabilities, right? And it’s quite a very powerful platform. And after the awards that year when I I’d won it outright, he decided to invite me up to London and said, “Josh, I really like your business, I’d like to invest in your business, and if you’d be interested in taking a brand license deal and join our Easy family of brands.”
Josh Wintersgill: And the conversations just led from there, and he ended up investing in my company. We took a brand license deal out for five years, and we now trade as easyTravelseat. So it’s kind of just… It just spiraled from there. We ended up winning the Great British Entrepreneur Awards as well, out of, I think there was a couple of thousand applications, and I was voted the best young entrepreneur in Great Britain two years ago, which was incredible. I’ve gone on to receive an Honorary Masters as well from UWE. So, what I’m trying to get at is the platform of the Stelios awards and launching the business, and then being recognised for that, it’s just kind of spiralled my entrepreneurial journey, just leaps and bounds.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, and I suppose that investment in your business has allowed you to think about other things that you wanna do, because you’ve also started to develop the Disability Travel Passport, haven’t you? What’s all that about?
Josh Wintersgill: This is an interesting one. So, when you look at the travel space for people with disabilities, it is all very fragmented. You’ve got a registered typical train… So let’s say if you’re flying from Heathrow airport and you wanna go to somewhere in Europe. But in order to fly from Heathrow, you’ve got to get a train from, say, Reading, into Central London, and then you’ve got to get a train from Central London back to Heathrow, and that involves booking assistance, if, especially if you’re a powered wheelchair user in particular, if you need access with a route getting on and off. And not only that, you’ve then got to book your assistance when you go on to an aeroplane, and then you’ve got to make sure that your assistance is at the other end. And all these things start going through people’s heads about trying to not just plan their assistance to get to the airport and fly, but also looking at what is accessible to them when they travel in terms of hotels, locations and attractions, etcetera, they’re all things that we consider as to what we can and cannot do when we travel.
Josh Wintersgill: And I just thought, well, look, there’s lots of wonderful solutions out there and everything is fragmented, and let’s why not join it at the hip and create something that’s slightly more universal for disabled people. And then it… I was working with a company in London on this, and it kind of dawned on us very quickly that actually, if we designed the solution to enable people with disabilities to travel more seamlessly, how can we make it more easily available for adoption? So that people without disabilities can also benefit from the solution. And typically what we find within aviation, for instance, is that one of those… There’s a big problem with people that don’t actually book assistance, and all of a sudden they arrive at the airport and now they want assistance, and then it causes all sorts of operational challenges and time constraints and various other bits, and sometimes that can have a knock-on effect of the passengers that have actually booked their assistance.
Josh Wintersgill: And so what we want to be able to do is create a solution where not only is disabled people or people with disabilities considered at the bottom layer, ’cause once you’ve done that, you’ve basically got all the complexities done by catering for all people with disabilities, and then actually, when you then scale up to then support people that don’t have disabilities, it becomes a little bit more easier. What we then think was, okay, so how can we make the solution available for people to use, if at short notice they want assistance? Whether it be somebody that’s elderly, that all of a sudden wants assistance on the day because they feel fatigued, because they didn’t realise the walk from the car park to the check-in desk was so far, and now they want help getting through to departure lounge.
Josh Wintersgill: So it’s trying to think how can we make our solution available in terms of not just tech, not just using apps, but actually looking at cards. We’ve historically seen, the access card, for instance, that people with disabilities can use, that could be used for the elderly as a way of showing their card when they get to an airport. And on there, it has certain categories of assistance they might require, but obviously that’s less flexible than using an app. But the idea is that we start thinking about other people that may want assistance and how best we can facilitate them. And one of the other prime examples that we see is parents. So for example, single moms with two kids and you’ve got a pram, with two or three suitcases. That single mom, she is not disabled, she just needs that extra support. And she might need special assistance or assistance to help her to get her to check in so she can get rid of her luggage. And so how can we make this solution available to those types of people as well. So we just take… Once you design something for disability, you basically designed it for anybody.
Toby Mildon: Exactly, I mean this is the kind of thing I talk to my clients about how you can use human-centered design to make work places more inclusive. So think about the journeys that people go on and try and remove as many obstacles as you can from that journey. And I often explain to my clients that if you do this from a disability perspective, you’re of course making life easier for disabled people, but you’re probably gonna make life better for everybody in the your organisation. So it’s a great mindset to have when you’re trying to make a workplace more inclusive.
Josh Wintersgill: I think one of the other big things that I see in corporate offices, for instance, is you go to the main entrance and it’s an automatic door and you wheel straight in, no problems at all. And you go through the barriers, and then all of a sudden you’re hit with a door that you can’t open, and I’m thinking, well, what’s the point in having automatic door on the front and then not have them on the inside. It’s just totally pointless. And that’s just a classic example of something that design-wise just isn’t thought about. And I go back to aviation because it’s kind of my baby, and what we’ve realised is that when designing something, you need the whole supply chain to be aware of disability and all different types of disabilities, because say for an instance, an airline puts in an order for an aircraft, they might not know what needs to be within the aircraft for someone with disability, and maybe the manufacturer might not know. And also, how can an airline I know what they want if they haven’t consulted in the first place?
Josh Wintersgill: And it’s kind of like this knock-on effect, that when you look at, say, aviation for instance, from the very beginning of when something is needed to be ordered to the very end when something is being created and then into service, you need disability representation at every single stage, whether it’s planning, design, implementation, etcetera, etcetera. And also what you also need is to have companies with people with disabilities in their workforce that those companies can then leverage for experience, say, “Look, hey Josh, we’re looking at building something here for people with disabilities. Can we just utilise some of your experience as someone with a physical disability to give us your thoughts on what we’re doing here?” And all of a sudden, you then don’t need to outsource, you can use your internal workforce to help get ideas and be more adaptable and be more private in kind of what you’re trying to do. And my ethos is, is that if you include disability at every stage, then will you only ever get a world in where kind of the barriers for those types of people can kind of be eradicated because then it’s considered at every stage.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think that’s a perfect point to make actually, because when… I often get asked by clients, how do I go about creating a diversity inclusion strategy or action plan. And I say to them, “Start with your people, listen to your employees, their day-to-day experiences in the workplace, identify those barriers that are preventing people from entering your organisation or preventing people from thriving within your organisation, and then start to create solutions to start removing those obstacles.” So it’s a very kind of human-centered approach. ‘Cause a lot of organisations, they take kind of “let’s fix the individuals” approach rather than “let’s fix the organisation culture or infrastructure” approach.
Toby Mildon: But going back to your point earlier around the automatic doors, it reminded me of a time when I went to Canada and I had a meeting with CBC. And as I was approaching the building, in the main entrance is this post, and it’s about a meter high off of the ground. And it’s basically like a one-meter long button, and I looked at this, and I thought this is really odd. And then I thought, actually, it’s really cool because I don’t know about you, but I can’t lift my hands up, so even if there’s a button to open the door, I can’t push the button because I can’t lift my hands up, and I’m certainly not strong enough to push the button. But this post, I could basically push it with my footrest on my wheelchair. But before I got to the door, this FedEx guy was carrying loads of boxes, and he basically just lifted his knee up, and lay open the door with his knee, and I thought that is such a cool idea. That is universal design. It’s a door-opener that works for a FedEx guy carrying really heavy boxes, and it works for me, and I can just tap it, tap it with my wheelchair, and it… Sorry, I went off on a tangent then, but it just reminded me about how a solution that presumably was designed for disabled people can actually help so many other people.
Josh Wintersgill: But I think it’s interesting as well though, because people can think they’ve designed something for disability to only find out they’ve got it completely wrong. For instance, you put a… For instance, we find… Like in toilets, you can go into a toilet and you can find that the layout of the toilets been done in a certain way, or there might be a pulley cord or a button to flush the toilet, and yes, it might be in reach for some wheelchair users but completely impossible for somebody that’s visually impaired to find. And you just think, well, what you need is you need to get a group of people with different backgrounds and disabilities, whatever it is, and get them together and say, look how this solution or product or service we’re creating, give us all of your inputs into what we’re doing and how can we make it accessible to you? And I think only then once you’ve consulted those people can you then say that you’ve actually designed something that is fully universal really.
Toby Mildon: It’s funny how it often might these conversations always go back to toilets, unfortunately, because I remember when I was working for this large organisation, we were building a brand-new head office. My job, part of my job was to look after the different diversity networks that we had. And I was having these meetings, I met the disabled staff network about accessible toilets, I met with the LGBT network around gender-neutral toilets, and then I met the disabled staff network again about providing provision, toileting provisions for guide dogs. Then I met with the parents network talking about parent-friendly toilets for people that wanted to express milk, for example, and then I met with the Muslim network about providing washing facilities for prayer and things like that. And I was having all these meetings and I thought, actually, there’s so many synergies around this, like why are we not having one meeting with various people coming from various different backgrounds with different perspectives to talk about our needs in this department.
Josh Wintersgill: The bit that always gets me though, is it’s always a difficult one to answer, isn’t it? Because you’ve got some… I think one of the biggest challenges that I find is that if you take, for instance, our disability for instance, Toby, we all get classified as spinal muscular atrophy, and you can educate somebody on what spinal muscular atrophy is, but when you then go and talk to someone like me and then go and talk to somebody else with the same condition, we could have completely different needs. Yes, we’re in a wheelchair, but one of us might have far more acute medical needs than someone else. And for instance, I might be more mobile in terms of going to the toilet independently, whereas somebody else might need more support getting in and out of a toilet. And so you could go and consult with somebody, a group of a… Or a charity for like SMA, but then if you’re delivering a service, that person might need it done in a completely different way, but yet they’ve got the same disability. So educating people is actually a real challenge because you can educate generally about disabilities, but then individual people are specific, so you’ve also got that challenge in terms of how do you address that problem as well, and I don’t think there is a straightforward answer to it.
Toby Mildon: I think part of it is for people in workplaces not to make assumptions or presumptions about what people can or can’t do based on meeting one person who could be disabled, for instance. I did some work with an autism trainer, and she said… She said, “You know, you’ve met one person with autism, which means you’ve met one person with autism,” because everybody with autism is very different and unique. But quite often, people make all sorts of really unhelpful assumptions or stereotypes about people with autism, for instance.
Josh Wintersgill: Okay, and how… And I suppose it’s an educational part from my side, but in terms of trying to get these employers to understand this sort of stuff, what’s kind of the right approach to try and educate these employers to stop making those types of assumptions. Because we all do it, right? Even us guys, I’m probably guilty of making assumptions of some people sometimes, and it’s not necessarily… That doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person, it just basically means that we need a bit more awareness about how we deal with that.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think it starts with awareness and education about… About… It’s natural human behavior to make assumptions and to stereotype, it’s our way of making sense of the world and being able to create some order in our minds. And it’s really about understanding the impact of that on the inclusivity of an organization, that’s where I begin. I do lots of training with people about, if you are making assumptions or presumptions in your decision-making, what is the ultimate impact on people around you?
Josh Wintersgill: Okay, and the other thing I have for you, Toby, quick question, are you finding now that we’re seeing more and more organisations, maybe medium to large organizations, are we starting to see more of them adopting, kind of, accessibility policies or sustainability policies and having accessibility under that? Are we seeing a rapid increase and growth of those types of policies or… Where’s the focus at the moment?
Toby Mildon: So unfortunately not in terms of accessibility and disability inclusion. There’s still a very hierarchical or siloed nature when it comes to diversity inclusion. So there’s a lot of talk around gender balance, and I think reporting on gender pay gap probably stimulates that conversation. We’ve seen an increase in talk around ethnicity, particularly in the last year because of George Floyd’s murder in the States. And then we’ve seen an increase in the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately, and it’s what I talk to my clients a lot about, is that there’s still a very kind of siloed way of thinking about diversity inclusion, and people not really thinking about intersectionality. And what I mean by that is that as human beings, we can have multiple identities. So I talk quite openly about being disabled and gay, for example. I can tick those two boxes, that we don’t just belong to one box. And unfortunately, disability is still at the bottom of the hierarchy, it’s something that The Valuable 500 Campaign talk very open about. I think where we do see some conversation around disabilities within tech firms who are interested in accessibility, making sure that their digital products are accessible for as many end users as possible and make sure that they apply with accessibility guidelines.
Josh Wintersgill: Do you know? I think this bit is very interesting and it might be a good way of bringing it to an end, because we are tech-focused. There is a direct correlation here, isn’t there? If we look at disability 20, 30 years ago, it wasn’t in the best of places. We saw the ADA Act come in in America, and then we saw the Equalities Act come in. And kind of things started to change a little bit, there was a bit more optimism. And all of a sudden since the 2000s, we’ve seen this massive boom of technology, right? You know, the idea of having phones, technology in wheelchairs, devices that you can have in your home to help you navigate, there’s just so much. And what we found is actually technology is now making people with disabilities more integrated, let’s say, in society, because it’s easier for us to interact.
Josh Wintersgill: And now what we’re seeing is, we start seeing this rise of people with disabilities being influencers or being able to get into the workplace. And all of it, in my personal opinion, has been driven by the advancement of technology. And what we see is, with tech companies, because their margins are so vast, they’re one of the best industries that actually promote a very good positive cultural workforce, and they invest a lot of money in their culture. And naturally, I think because they’ve been able to do that and include disabled people more because of technology, it’s really allowed us to kick forward in progress with trying to put disability on the map even more. And I think technology has got to thank for that.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, definitely. I mean, technology plays a huge part in my life. So I think like, technology really does empower disabled people. It could be assistive technology, like I use speech-to-text software on my laptop, Dragon NaturallySpeaking. But technology has become so much more affordable and accessible. So technology to control your home environment, like turning lights on and off, and opening and closing doors, has been around for a very long time, but it was very clunky and it was very expensive, but now you can get an Amazon Echo for like what? 50 quid now, I think. And you can turn the heating up and down, you can turn lights on and off, you can open and close curtains, and that technology is mainstreams now, so everybody’s benefitting from it.
Josh Wintersgill: And I think, just finally, the last thing I’m really excited about is the Internet of Things, right, and how the whole society is all connected together, and how we can use our smartphones, etcetera, all these devices to enable us to kind of navigate in society out and about, and I just think there’s so much potential in that space as well.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So I think we’ve been talking for a while now, and I think that actually we could go on for hours geeking out about technology so…
Josh Wintersgill: Oh yes.
Toby Mildon: I think, definitely get you back on the show. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you for having a chat and sharing all of your wisdom and insights. Before you go, if somebody is interested in learning more about the travel seat for getting on and off airplanes, where’s… How do they learn about that?
Josh Wintersgill: They can simply just go on to Google, type in “easyTravelseat”, or you can come and join us on social media, just type in “easyTravelseat” into Facebook or Twitter, and we shall come up and one of us will be… May just come and join your community and we’ll be available to help.
Toby Mildon: Cool. Brilliant, Josh. Well, thank you very much for joining me today, Josh. It’s been great to… Great to chat with you. And thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth. So, with Josh and myself, I hope you enjoyed our conversation, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode, which will be coming up very shortly. Until then, take care. Thank you very much.
S?: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.