Missing Perspectives Founder Hannah Diviney talks about why the tech sector needs more diversity and inclusivity and she shares her message to able bodied CEOs about why they should be employing more disabled people.
Robyn: Hello, today I’m with Hannah Diviney from Missing Perspectives. Welcome, Hannah.
Hannah: Hi, thanks for having me.
Robyn: So, we’re here to talk about the issue of you can’t be what you can’t see. You campaign very strongly for diversity and inclusion. What are your thoughts on whether we can actually change the tech industry?
Hannah: Well, I have to believe we can, because if I didn’t, I think the world would be a very desperate and dark place for me, and I choose to live my life with more hope and faith in humanity and in our ability to correct when we are presented with a problem. Some people think that’s probably a super optimistic or fantastical view of the world to have, but I think in all the work I’ve done, I’ve seen some really powerful examples of people actually listening and adjusting their behaviour and making progress and taking steps towards encouraging diversity. We still have a long way to go. We are by no means near where we need to be. And I think, unfortunately, the tech industry, for all the ways it moves so quickly in terms of product innovation and stuff like that, is kind of leagues behind when it comes to diversity and representation. So, we do have a lot of work to do, but I don’t think it’s hopeless to try and do that work.
Robyn: Give us examples of those powerful role models that you’ve seen or things where you’ve been able to help move the meter or you’ve seen progress.
Hannah: Yeah, so I think the biggest examples for me would probably be the reactions of both Lizzo and Beyonce when I called them out online for their use of an ableist slur in their lyrics. I did so not expecting that they would ever see it, but hoping to start a conversation about why the language we use and how we use it is super important and why people should be conscious of how certain words might make people feel.
In this particular case, it was the word ‘spaz’, short for spastic, which is obviously used kind of as a cultural shorthand for someone losing control or having a meltdown or being kind of fairly intense and erratic. But for me, as someone with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, spastic refers to spasticity, which is basically a constant and never-ending untriggered tightness that exists in my body at all times. Even now while I’m talking to you and not doing anything particularly strenuous, I can feel my body reacting to that and tensing in certain ways.
And I would also say, when I sent out that tweet, or those tweets, and talked about them online, the version of events that I thought would play out, if they saw it at all, would be that we would get kind of one of those celebrity apologies that isn’t really an apology, and basically exists around the idea that, “what I meant was taken out of context, that’s not what I meant, I refuse to apologise”.
Both of them did exactly the opposite of that and changed the lyrics without fuss. Both of them apologised for any harm they had caused, and particularly Lizzo was quite gracious in her statement that she uploaded to Instagram where she said, look, as a marginalised person myself, as a black and plus-sized person, I have had people hurl all sorts of insults at me and it would never be my intention to do that to anyone else, so thank you for telling me, I didn’t know, I’m taking this opportunity to learn, to reflect, and the lyrics are just going to be changed, it’s as simple as that.
And it struck me that both of those reactions come from women who know what it is to not be seen. This is me generalising, but I can’t necessarily say with confidence that if this had happened with a white male artist, the reaction would have been the same.
Robyn: That’s fascinating. And you have recently written a book called ‘Let Myself In’, and that is very exciting. So congratulations.
Hannah: Thank you very much.
Robyn: Tell us about the book. And was that too, actually, the whole mission that you have at Missing Perspectives?
Hannah: Yeah, so the book I wrote was called ‘I’ll Let Myself In’. You can buy it anywhere you buy good books. Please go and do it. It’s basically a series of personal essays chronicling my experiences as a disabled person, coming of age in this really weird and unstable world because not only have I always dealt with not seeing myself and a lack of representation or poorly informed representation, but I’ve also come of age at a time when we’ve gone through a pandemic and we’re thinking about climate change and there are all sorts of movements for racial justice and reproductive rights and there’s a lot going on and a lot at stake and I think it would be difficult to come of age and not be influenced by those events, at least in some part, which is probably why I’ve ended up doing the things that I have in terms of being a public figure and an advocate and running Missing Perspectives.
But I think the purpose of writing the book was for me to own my own story and to kind of accept it, but also to pull back the curtain on a lot of things that I think society would prefer to remain silent or small, because it’s easier. When someone is making a lot of noise about something unpleasant, it becomes harder to look away. But I think there is a great deal of benefit in letting all the skeletons or difficult bits of your life be seen, and I’m hoping that it creates an opening for a lot of really important conversations across a range of different things, really.
Robyn: And if you had a message for all those able-bodied CEOs in the tech industry, what would it be, Hannah?
Hannah: It would be hire disabled people, please. Because we are among the most adaptive, organised, creative thinking, problem solver kind of people that you could have in this world, because our lives necessitate it. The world isn’t built for people like us, so if we’ve succeeded at all in life, we’ve had to do so by figuring out our own way. The other thing I would say is, if there aren’t disabled people in your organisation already, you need to sit down and investigate why that is, because disabled people are 20% of the world population. So if they’re not represented in your organisation, that’s probably not a great reflection on your business’s inclusion strategy.
And it’s also not just letting disabled people in the door for the sake of ticking a box or letting them in at the lowest level and thinking that that’s the job done. It’s making sure that if disabled people are a part of your organisation, they have as much access to the boardroom as everyone else.
Robyn: So be proactive in mentoring disabled people.
Hannah: And also don’t be afraid to be wrong. We have a whole thing in the world at the moment where if someone points out that we’re wrong or if we have a difference of opinion, the immediate response is attack. And I think the only way that we’re going to get better and create a more equitable and sustainable world is if we allow people to be wrong with grace and we also are willing to acknowledge where systems of power and systems of privilege may have aided us in the past. It’s no accident that most tech company CEOs are white men. That’s how the world’s set up.
Robyn: And we need to change that.
Hannah: Yeah, we definitely do. I think in any other scenario, if you had one group of people trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives or what they could have access to, we’d be very clearly able to see it. But it’s a bit more subtle when it’s in organisations and when it’s something we’re so used to.
Robyn: So given that 20% of the population is disabled, you would imagine that you would be able to think of a number of different people who are disabled that are running tech businesses or any businesses. Have you got anyone that you can actually immediately think of in the tech industry or any industries that are CEOs who are disabled?
Hannah: You know what? I should be able to think of some, but no one is coming to mind. And I think, unfortunately, that’s because a lot of the time, the people who get the funding and the people who get the support are not disabled because it’s hard. You have to make adjustments and you have to make accommodations. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t brilliant people out there doing great stuff. There’s organisations like Remarkable Tech, which isn’t necessarily run by disabled people, but is all about creating adaptive and accessible technology for disabled people to use so they can live their lives independently. And I think the idea that because you can’t see anyone means they’re not there, I think it just means we have to look harder and we have to confront why people with disabilities or people in other marginalised groups aren’t given the same access to resources, the same access to opportunities, the same access to networking, all of that kind of stuff.
Robyn: And Hannah, since you’ve become a big advocate for people with a disability, you must now be a great role model to a lot of people. What sort of responses are you getting from other people about your mission and what you’ve been doing?
Hannah: Well, thank you, first of all. That’s very kind and generous, and I take the fact that I am a role model and I have that responsibility very seriously. It’s not something that I for granted at all. The responses I get a lot of the time are ones of quiet kind of joy or gratitude, especially from other disabled young people and their parents. I get messages from parents all the time actually saying, I’m so glad that my five-year-old will have you to look up to and will have you to change the world in ways that you didn’t have back when you were five. The other kind of version of that message that I get is from a lot of young people asking how they can be advocates like me. That is a way to remind them that advocacy is a job, advocacy is a choice, and it takes a lot of effort and a lot of stamina and the ability to get back up kind of relentlessly after setbacks or negative criticism or something not going the way you planned it, or the world making a different decision than the one you wanted them to, or whatever it might be.
So I think for me, the number one priority is always making sure that they know that advocating for themselves, if that’s all they have the energy and the resources for, is plenty good enough. And that goes for anybody, disabled or not. But yeah, I think something I’m really excited about with Missing Perspectives moving forward is we are developing this brand new app that is going to hopefully connect newsrooms and other organisations that want to use it with diverse talent because we have been seeing since we started in 2021, we’ve gotten messages from all kinds of places asking us where we found the young women that we platform.
We realised that there was an opportunity here to create a database and to make it so that organisations like newsrooms or universities or whoever wants to use it really have no excuse. They can sign up to the database, look for who they’re looking for, who meets their criteria and find diverse voices and diverse perspectives. So we’re really excited about that.
Robyn: That is exciting. In the same way, jobs boards for people who are disabled could go on Missing Perspectives. I’m looking at doing something similar for Women Love Tech is having a jobs board for women in tech because I hear the same thing: “We don’t know where to find the women”. It’s not like we’re not 50% of the population.
Hannah: We’re not hiding from you guys, we’re right here.
Robyn: We’re here. Yes. Finally, just wrapping up, you’ve got a very big mission ahead with campaigning for Disney to have a disabled princess. We really believe you will get there. How close are you now?
Hannah: Look I think that campaign is going to be one that takes a lot of time and effort, and I’m so grateful to the 65,000 people, the 65,000 plus people actually, who have signed my petition on change.org advocating for that to happen. I think in recent months with the writer’s strike and the actor’s strike and all of the complicated bits of that and watching how Disney as a corporation has responded to that.
They weren’t particularly open to meeting their demands or to acknowledging that their writers and creatives actually put in a lot of effort. That makes things moving forward a little bit more complicated because obviously as an artist and a creator myself, I always want to make sure that people are being compensated fairly and equitably for their work. And it would also be my intention to make this film entirely with the consultation of disabled people in the community.
My disability is not reflective of everyone’s experience and I think it’s really important to disassemble the notion that any marginalised group is a hive mind or a monolith. We are allowed to have differing perspectives and differing opinions and different triggers for things or different hopes and ambitions. And I think that’s something that the world at large needs to sort of catch up to. I think we have a tendency sometimes to see a homogenous, like one person is representative of people of colour, one person is representative of people with disabilities, and anyone within those communities knows that that’s not true, but I just think it will definitely need to be something that is handled with care and nuance.
I’m still confident it will happen, but I’m less attached to the idea that it would need to be Disney behind it, if that makes sense. While I will always want that as my first preference, and I will always appreciate the might of the Disney machine behind a story like that, because obviously they have the most visibility and all of those things, I am lucky enough to have found my way into that sort of industry, both acting and screenwriting, and I feel confident that if it came to it, we could do it with or without Disney’s backing. I mean, obviously, it would be preferable to have their backing in terms of the level of change we could make, but it would still definitely be a valid project either way, so we’ll see what happens.
Robyn: Absolutely, and just wrapping up. You can’t be what you can’t see: What would it actually mean to you to have a princess in a wheelchair?
I mean, I think it would have quite frankly changed my life, and there will be people who hear that think I’m exaggerating. How could an animated character possibly have that much impact on a person, like they need to be studied and treated for being mentally unwell or something, and that’s just not true.
I can’t overemphasise the crater that gets left behind in a person when you aren’t represented or when you struggle to be seen by the TV shows, the books, the movies, the games, the tech around you. Like I think what we do, especially as children, is we use what we can see as examples of what our future could look like.
And when you have no real examples, the future’s blank page becomes not one of possibility, where it could be filled with anything, but it instead becomes a blank page that very likely could be filled with nothing and you kind of go, well, does something go here? Am I supposed to just run off the edge of the cliff? What’s the plan here? And I think representation will always have a role to play in changing that. So that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
Robyn: Thank you, Hannah. You keep up the good work.
Hannah: Thank you so much.
You can buy Hannah’s book here: