It doesn’t seem possible, but it was almost five-and-a-half years ago, at the beginning of May 2013, when I wrote my first, short post on this blog. It was called “A New Chapter”.
Now I write to end this remarkable chapter, as we prepare to scale back Mosen Consulting, so I can take up what for me is a dream role with Aira’s leadership team on 15 October. You can read Aira’s announcement here. I end this chapter with immense gratitude to the blind community and our many other clients for their support of Mosen Consulting’s work and with pride in what we’ve achieved.
What will happen to Mosen Consulting?
Before I share some reflections, let me tell you some important things, just in case you don’t want to read this long post all the way through. As of now, Mosen Consulting is not accepting new clients in any service area.
Maintaining a good work/life balance is important to me, and the role I’m taking on is a significant one with many responsibilities. Therefore, I’ll stop producing The Blind Side Podcast, and I’ve already discontinued The Daily Fibre Premium podcast.
My current eBooks and audiobooks will continue to be available for the foreseeable future, and I may produce the occasional update or new title as time permits. But I’ll carefully keep watch for when a title becomes so out-of-date that it should be withdrawn.
Mushroom FM is a voluntary, hobby project, and I intend continuing it, along with The Mosen Explosion which has now been running so long that it’s a bit of an institution.
Onwards and upwards with Aira
You just never know when something’s going to happen that takes your life in a direction you weren’t anticipating. Little did I know that signing up for Aira Access at CSUN and taking that first game-changing walk through a San Diego hotel would change my life in so many ways.
I’m both thrilled and deeply honoured to accept a position on Aira’s leadership team as Vice President for Australasia and Explorer Communications. I’ll be responsible for the Australasia region as well as assuming responsibility for some global communications initiatives.
I always thought it would take a very special company to lure me away from the diverse portfolio of functions I’ve been carrying out at Mosen Consulting. Aira is that company. Recently, Aira featured in this Glassdoor article on the 15 coolest start-ups to work for right now. It’s a well-deserved accolade.
I won’t rehash what I’ve covered in my lengthy blog post about Aira, but there are some points I want to add in terms of why I’ve accepted the offer to join the Aira team.
First, I’ll be working with some remarkable people. I’ve had the opportunity to meet, interview and work with many of the influential players in the blindness technology industry. There is no doubt in my mind that Aira’s CEO, Suman Kanuganti, has already earned the right to have his name included in the list of blindness technology greats such as Ted Henter, Dean Blazie, Russell Smith, Ray Kurzweil, Glen Gordon, Doug Geoffray, Dan Weirich and others. Not only has he created a bold new convergence of technology and human skill, he’s done it successfully by taking the time to consult with and understand the community. He has then surrounded himself with some of the most dedicated and smart people I’ve had the pleasure to meet.
His motivations and affinity with the blind community are such that he has introduced programs with an advocacy and philanthropic focus, such as making all Aira sessions relating to job seeking free for Explorers.
The soon-to-be-available Small Business Access Initiative thanks to a ground-breaking partnership with Intuit for small business owners who are blind will make Aira available for any small business-related task. That’s a big deal.
I’m proud to be associated with such things, and there’s plenty more coming.
Aira has changed my life, it’s changed Bonnie’s life, and I see it changing lives every day. I can’t imagine anything more motivating, anything that would be more likely to get me bounding out of bed every day, than knowing I have the opportunity to make Aira even better and put it in the hands of more people, so they can experience the transformation I have.
In terms of personal fit, my role with Aira is a culmination of everything I’ve done to date in my professional life. I find I’m most driven when building new things. For example, with the aid of a great team, I enjoyed building ACB Radio’s infrastructure from scratch, and starting Mushroom FM. Aira is of course now providing a much-loved service, but it is just getting started in the markets for which I’ll be responsible. The technology will also evolve in spectacular ways. Artificial intelligence will continue to improve, and the synergies between AI and human assistance will make Aira even smarter and more useful. 5G is just around the corner, offering massive pipes for Aira to get high-resolution video without droppage, as well as other useful data. Aira has the team in place to make the most of what’s coming, and to create great new technology.
I’ll be making the most of my advocacy, podcasting, communications and leadership skills. It’s my dream role, and I can’t wait to get started.
12 great years of Freedom
In 2013 when I resigned my VP of Blindness Hardware position to start Mosen Consulting, the plan was that I would eventually transition completely out of Freedom Scientific. To help with the transition, I agreed to host six final months of its podcast, FSCast, which I started in 2006. As we neared the end of that six months, FS asked if I would continue to host the podcast, as well as ramp up communications and social media channels, while also fitting in Mosen Consulting projects. So it’s been a pleasure to have had a continuous, unbroken association with FS of over 12 years, I joined in September 2006. I’m grateful to them for their generous blog post surrounding my departure. Yes, it really is happening this time.
When you’re on the way out, as I now am, you can say things it’s hard to say while in the thick of things when people write off anything you say as just towing the party line.
I think everyone presently involved in key roles at Freedom would agree that in the past, it hasn’t always communicated with the frequency and transparency that customers have the right to expect. Any objective, vigilant observer would have to agree that that culture has changed for the better, and I’m proud of the role I’ve played in that. Recent initiatives like the blog and the new FSOpenLine continue the trend. While they’ll now be run by someone new, they’ll continue, and I look forward to being a reader and listener.
During my time with FS, I’ve often been asked what place a third-party screen reader has in a world where mainstream companies are embracing accessibility. I have always believed that every computer should be universally accessible. It’s great that we’ve reached the stage where a blind person can walk up to most of the world’s computers and get them talking right away. But the unemployment rate in the blind community remains high, and I remain passionate about the need for robust, powerful, well-maintained and supported solutions like JAWS. A third-party commercial solution developed independently and with deep roots in our community is essential for those of us whose needs are more complex than the basic access that is now so easily obtained. Sure, UI automation and other technologies make rudimentary screen reading functions a snap to roll out. But I urge our community to be mindful of two things. First, accessibility is a different thing from efficiency. When a user interface is accessible but inefficient, that negatively impacts productivity, and if we’re not as productive as possible, we’re less attractive to employers. Inefficient user experiences are stressful and waste our time, which is just as precious as anyone else’s. This is something many developers haven’t yet grasped, but which is in the very DNA of JAWS.
Second, it’s the tricky, proprietary apps that often make or break an employment opportunity. Nothing comes close to JAWS in that regard. So, we must be careful not to settle for limited access solutions just because they may do the job in simple use cases. We should be insisting that we be equipped to seize the widest possible selection of opportunities when they arise. And the best way in a technological sense to seize opportunity is to be proficient with the tool that allows us to function in as many contexts as possible.
Third-party assistive technology like JAWS isn’t cheap, that’s a sad economic reality. When you must pay talented engineers, technical support personnel, quality assurance staff and others, those costs must be spread across a smaller user base than a more widely-used product, so the price of each unit sold must be higher. I am a firm believer that Governments around the world should be funding good quality access solutions that facilitate employment. It’s not a government hand-out, it’s a hand-up. That investment will be returned handsomely when a blind person obtains work and pays it back in taxes. I hope the country-wide licenses we’ve seen in a few countries will become the norm in years to come.
It’s been a privilege to have worked with some of the legends in the blindness technology field. I’ll miss working with the team, but I know that as a customer of the product, JAWS will be an important part of my working life in my new role. Thanks FS for the memories and the opportunity to make a difference.
In the Arena
Understandably, I’ve been in a reflective mood during this time of transition, and I’d like to share some of those reflections.
When I first went online with my little 1200 baud dial-up modem in 1986, I discovered the CompuServe Information Service, which I suspect about 90% of my current readership haven’t even heard of. Through that, I first came across a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. It moved me incredibly the first time I read it, and it has guided me ever since. It goes like this.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
That quote still sends a shiver down my spine, and it is the reason why I called the first website I set up in 1995 The Arena. Through my work in radio here in New Zealand, government relations, various political and leadership roles and of course the public things I’ve done in the blind community, I’ve encountered my share of criticism, some of it deserved, some of it not, some of it stemming from a legitimate difference of opinion or philosophy, some of it stemming from less laudable motives. You can’t express strong opinions and have leadership roles without both annoying people sometimes and not being at your best at others. One of the most useful skills I’ve acquired over the years is becoming better at viewing the valid criticism as constructive even when it’s not intended to be so, and discarding the rest. When you truly internalise that people can only upset you if you let them, it makes for a much happier, less cluttered life, especially in this unfortunate era of social media trolling where anyone can publish what they like irrespective of its truthfulness.
All-in-all, I’m glad to be in the arena, making a difference.
Not long after opening Mosen Consulting on 1 May 2013, I received a message via the contact form from someone telling me I was crazy to be setting the company up, that it would never work. I knew it was a risky move, but one thing I’ve learned about life is that nothing truly worth having is achieved without risk. I’d rather try and fail than not try and spend the rest of my life wondering, “what if”.
Mosen Consulting has been an outlet that has facilitated much personal and professional growth. I have so many things I love to do. I’ve been able to pursue my interest in writing, recording, advocating, teaching and designing. No one day has been quite like any other. I’ve worked with big corporates and one-person businesses just getting started.
I’ve trained individuals in assistive technology, and I believe that has made me a better person, more sympathetic to the struggles experienced by many for whom this technology, especially technology that is touch screen-based, isn’t intuitive.
I’ve written in the blog. Even when I’ve written blog posts with which you’ve disagreed, I hope at least they’ve been written with enough clarity to get you thinking. It would be a boring world if we all felt and thought the same.
Mosen Consulting has also allowed me to pursue some projects with a community service emphasis. I’d have made more money putting the hours I spent each week on The Blind Side Podcast into some lucrative consultancy contract, but I love giving back to the community, and helping people stay engaged and informed. It’s been a rewarding five-and-a-half years.
May I once again thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support of Mosen Consulting over the years. If we’ve designed a website for you, I hope it’s helped you realise your dreams.
You’ve probably used an app we’ve had a hand in improving, even if you didn’t realise we’d been working behind the scenes. Thanks to all the app developers who’ve trusted our judgment and made the world a more accessible, inclusive place.
Thank you if you’ve ever bought an eBook or audiobook from us. I always tried to keep the prices low, because I know many of us are stretched financially. I also want to thank our content creators who’ve worked with us.
Heidi Taylor, her last name was Mosen before marrying Henry the wonder son-in-law, has done some amazing work on some of our web design projects, as has Nadia Jenner, my son Richard’s talented partner, in the field of graphic design. Doing this family business thing has been so rewarding.
And finally, how can I possibly find the words to thank my wonderful Bonnie? Bonnie had listened to The Mosen Explosion for several years. When I was living the single life and we eventually became more than friends, Bonnie agreed to move to New Zealand even though I hadn’t long started Mosen Consulting and there were times in those early days when I wondered if I’d be able to pay the mortgage. She gave up a stable job she loved in Boston and took a risk leaving family and friends behind to start a new life in New Zealand with a man running what was then a precarious company. It’s hard to think of a greater act of love, and it still chokes me up when I think about it. We’ve been both partners in life and in work, as Bonnie has become part of Mosen consulting, adding value in areas such as vocational advice.
Bonnie deserves the best version of me I can be. I learned to meditate, I now keep a gratitude journal, I’m rocking the low carb lifestyle and am 30 KG (66 lbs) lighter with incredible energy, and while I consider myself still in beta at this point, I think the code is genuinely much improved. Thank you, my darling.
In some ways it seems like only yesterday, in others it seems so long ago and far away, that I was a teenager waiting impatiently for my next cassette of the Raised Dot Computing newsletter, News Bits, Technical Innovations Bulletin or the Sensory Aids Foundation update. The voices on those tapes were like heroes to me, and the technology they talked about enthralled me. For a kid growing up in a working-class family in New Zealand to have become a part of all this is still something I pinch myself about. It’s been an amazing ride, and now, I feel like I’ve been catapulted into the stratosphere.
And so, at least in the context of Mosen Consulting, it’s goodbye from me. Perhaps I may write in a personal capacity in this blog from time-to-time, I don’t know.
But feeling immense gratitude for the journey, and excitement about the future, let me sign off for now by saying this. Contemplate and identify what drives you, your life’s purpose. Even if it’s a crawl, do something every day that gets you closer to your goal. Do what Teddy Roosevelt suggested and dare greatly. Spend yourself in a worthy cause. No matter what cards life deals you, try to play them in a way that leaves the world, even in some small way, a better place. Do what you love, and love what you do. Cherish the people who are special to you, and when it’s all about to be over, you’ll not be one of those people who wistfully wonders, “what if”. That’s a life well-lived.