When will books become really inclusive?


One of the many joys that escaped my grasp when I was hits by GBS was that of reading books – at least the 3D variety. I have been a reader all my life and holding a book has been something I have delighted in. 

In the aftermath of GBS my ability to pick up, carry, hold, and read a book made from paper radically diminished. What was once a sensuous delight became a struggle, a chore, and finally a something to be avoided. I felt the sense of loss keenly. 

But as I was recovering, I bought one of the first iPhones. I had a Nokia 3310 which was a nice little phone, but with my now incompetent hands it was a struggle to use it. It took me a week of many hours of practice each day just to be able to pick it up and hold it to my ear. It took longer to dial numbers. 

The iPhone was not only far easier to use it introduced me to the world of podcasts and then audiobooks. I then bought an iPad as well and discovered ebooks. 

Now well over a decade later I have become a devotee of audiobooks in particular and ebooks to a lesser degree. If I can’t get an audio version of a book, there’s usually an ebook version available. Sadly though, few non-fiction books produced before ebooks and audiobooks became popular can be found in other than their legacy 3D format. 

These days there are still many books aren’t published in ebook or audiobook formats. They can be had only in paper between hard or soft covers. Often they are intended for academic libraries.

Below I will argue this is not only an out-of-date attitude, but also deeply non-inclusive. It isn’t just about people with disability. People who are time poor or whose lifestyles make lugging 3D books around problematic also benefit from higher degrees of inclusivity brought by ebook and audiobook formats. 

Inclusion and the evolution of technology

In the past 15 years or so technology has evolved in ways that make life far easier for people with disability.  AI has the potential to revolutionise accessibility in ways we can scarcely yet imagine. 

Books have been transformed into sources of information that can be accessed by people with disabilities using technologies of their own choice. They are no longer confined to the print format that has been standard since the invention of the printing press. 

I am ignoring braille here intentionally because it has limited utility and I want to focus on the wider utility of technologies beyond the needs of people with disability. 

My notion of inclusion here is wider than disability.  Reading has traditionally been an activity undertaken as a single focus while usually sitting down whilst in the possession of a substantial item resting on a table or held. 

Ebooks and audiobooks have transformed this picture. 

I have the Kindle app on my phone and my computer. I frequently go out with just my iPhone. Now I can read any of maybe 10 books at any time on my phone. I can adjust the font size to meet my needs. 

So, on a device smaller than any one book I can access multiple books to read with ease. 

The phone also is my primary source of audiobooks. Paired with a Bluetooth headset (I prefer Shokz) I can listen to audiobooks as I drive, walk, exercise or do chores, as well as sitting or lying down. 

Between ebooks and audiobooks the opportunity to ‘read’ has expanded massively. Whether the desire has matched the expanded potential I can’t say. But it is the opportunity I want to focus on, because it applies to people with disability as well as anybody who might benefit from greater opportunity. 

Reading has been transformed because now we can be read to as well as reading on our own account. This isn’t new. Our parents read to us, and public broadcasting services had daily book readings. What is new is that this experience can now be on demand and personalized.


I loved holding books. I loved collecting them. I have a wall in my home which, apart from a door into a room, has a large built-in bookshelf. It is still substantially full of books. But is more décor and memory than a resource.

The only books I have bought in the past decade are ebooks and audiobooks – and I mostly access them on my phone. Between my iPhone, my computer and my audiobook and ebook providers my new library takes up no additional space.  It has no additional weight. The books, a source of ideas and information, have become information. 

The old format of 3D books occupying space and having weight is actually legacy technology which has served the world wonderfully well for centuries. But we are in the digital age now with means of storing, distributing, and accessing the content of books in new ways that make books and the ideas they contain far more universally accessible. 

Publishers still put books out in 3D form as a first, habitual reflex. Sometimes, often in fact, that’s as far as things get. 

I think we must come to see 3D books as legacy technology that panders to nostalgic hankerings for how things used to be. I am sympathetic to that sentiment, but not supportive. 

There are questions about whether audio input sticks as well as print. I think this is a question of habit rather than anything essential to our nature or our brains. We, after all, developed an audio-based culture long before print. 

When writing was developed the sages of the day feared it would reduce the powers of memory, and they were right. Digital technology is doing the same thing. How many critical phone numbers do you now remember? Your partner’s? Your parents? 

Technological evolution creates and destroys. It mostly advances inclusion, but it helps if we are intentional about it and employ the principles of Inclusive Design from the outset.

There are economic factors that make human spoken word audiobooks not a viable option for every published book. But AI may change that in the coming years.

The ebook should be the automatic inclusive format for all published books, with the 3D variety an indulgent nostalgic non-inclusive legacy format.

Maybe not too far into the future we can instruct our personal versions of Siri to read to us from our chosen ebook when we don’t have the chance to sit down and read it ourselves.

Take the positive potential approach


A recent chat with an associate reinforced a message I got the day before when I was listening to a podcast that featured a chat with Ernesto Sirolli. We are inclined to look for deficits – failures to conform to our notions of the ideal. We should, instead, be seeking potential – and opportunities to activate it.

Sirolli inspired me to completely rethink how I worked. That was back in 1989. His genius was to develop an approach to enterprise facilitation based on deep psychological and philosophical precepts. I have applied his insights to every other aspect of my professional life.

If we understand that things aren’t broken, but that non-ideal states are revealed, we can act in more effective ways. These non-ideal states have always been that way. What has changed are our values. Now we want the way things are to conform to our evolving values. That’s progress. That’s evolution.

There’s also a tension between what is and how we want it to be. Understanding the nature of that tension is essential if we want to succeed at Disability Inclusion.

Against change

But one of our biases is to resist change. There’s a great deal of hype about how we live in a world of constant change. But that’s misleading and has led many of us to misunderstand the difference between things that change readily (like weather) and things that change slowly (like our behaviour).

As a result, we are inclined to see resistance to change as a deficit, especially when the change we want is good, and continued resistance has clearly adverse consequences. This includes causing harm. But our feelings don’t change reality, just our reaction to it. Resistance to change is natural, and its not a deficit. It is a potential, and that’s a positive thing.

Some of us have made radical lifestyle changes because we have become highly motivated by self-interest. We might imagine this allows us to believe behavioural change is easier than it really is. 

Some of us change our behaviours because we are moved by how another person experiences us. Respect and compassion can be great motivators when they are activated. But researchers tell us that people in leadership roles have a diminished capacity for empathy. And other folks are slow to be empathic for a variety of reasons related to their own life experiences and circumstances.

Our default setting is to resist behavioural change even when there might be what other people see as compelling reasons to make the change. This is our normal. Seeing this as a deficit misses the better option of seeing a positive potential.

When we misdiagnose the cause of resistance to change, we risk creating responses that do not work, and which waste time and effort, and generate a negative perspective on the challenge we have identified. This negative perspective captures the change advocate and the change resistant.

Another important insight is that while we might want to drive change in our area of focus and interest, we must also be alert to ways in which we resist change related to other people’s areas of focus and interest. Are we, as Disability Inclusion advocates, as passionate about inclusion demands from others?

If we are not, we risk failing to advance Disability Inclusion, despite our intent.

The flip

Our workplaces are evolving partly because our values have been evolving. We can look back to the 1960s when rights activists triggered changes to the way we engage with the people who we now classify as members of ‘diversity groups’. Over that 60-year period our values have continued to evolve faster than our behaviour. That’s why we still have diversity groups and Inclusion and Diversity teams today. What was obvious 60 years ago is still obvious today – and yet behavioural change still lags behind our acceptance of evolving values.

There’s always a lag between the adoption of a value and the expression of that value in behaviour. Some communities will adapt quickly, usually because they are motivated by self-interest and compassion. Other communities will adapt more slowly. 

Large organisations tend to adapt more slowly and unevenly because they are comprised of individuals who do not tend to have strong personal bonds to the organisation or the majority other staff members. We must remember to see an organisation’s workforce as a community with distinct attributes.

We can begin to understand that within the evolution of inclusive values there are opportunities to enhance the rate of adoption of those values as behaviours. We can look at an organisation to discover how to transform resistance into adaptation.

This is a positive action that seeks out potential, not a negative one that identifies failings. 

The assertive militancy of the 1960s and 1970s that kicked off powerful equity and social justice movements was necessary and may still be so today. But there’s a fundamental difference between triggering political change and nurturing organisational communities to adapt to now accepted ‘new’ values.

We must learn how to transform aspirations into consistent behaviours.

A challenge arises when we ask people to engage in intentional behavioural change at a personal level. This is about nurturing, not militancy – persuasion through example, not coercion. Its about activating potential, not fixing faults. There are no faults – just untapped potential.

How do we, as Inclusion Advocates, communicate the change we want when we are frustrated and perplexed? I have spent 3 years pondering this question. We must flip our perspective. We cannot be vexed by something that is not strange or in violation of good order. 

There’s always a temptation to project our ignorance upon others as violations of ideals we have assumed to be universal. I can look back on what I failed to achieve, among many successes, and now see it was because I didn’t understand the real challenge.

Resistance is normal. Change is necessary. If things change slowly, do we blame the resistors or the change agents? If we think in terms of moral values, we champion the change agents and blame the resistors. But if we think in terms of competence and ask who has the conscious intent to bring about change, we have a question. How competent are the change agents? Can they do better? They can.

Our emerging values are about Inclusion. Disability is just a particular element on the spectrum of attributes embraced by our growing passion for Inclusion. We must embrace change resistors and understand their needs. In essence we must model the inclusivity we are seeking as a universal attribute of our own behaviour.

There is a critical distinction to be made. Organisations have legal obligations to be inclusive. But meeting that obligation involves people who are responding to inclusion demands on a personal level. They are not purely rational agents dispassionately complying with policies and laws. This is personal whether we like it or not. There are no exemptions or free passes.

Change is slow

When we see the 60-year time scale we can appreciate how much has changed, but also how much more is needed to enable our behaviours to reflect our ideals/values. We are getting there, slowly.

Part of the reason change has been so slow may be that the change advocates have not been as skilled as they imagine. Often the possession of a moral right has been assumed to be sufficient. Once people are made aware that their attitudes/actions are harming others they will change. Right? Wrong.

To the extent to which change has been supported by crude efforts at persuasion those efforts at persuasion have been substantially ineffectual. To figure out why, we have usually identified the problem to be associated with recalcitrant attitudes. We have often missed the chance to question how effective or even appropriate those efforts at persuasion have been.


Advocates for Disability Inclusion, and Inclusion generally, must be clear on the cause of the problem they are addressing. Interpreting it in deficit terms – imputing wilful failure by other people to act or change – requires a coherent response. This is tricky because it is hard to work effectively with people you fundamentally blame for not behaving as you want.

Well-trained social workers employ a ‘strength-based approach’. This looks at a person’s growth potential rather than their problems. In my terms it looks at a person’s adaptive capacity by assuming that they do want to behave in ways more conducive to their (and other people’s) wellbeing.

Organisation’s workplace cultures are generally sources of abundant goodwill. Manifestations of change resistance are not evidence of the absence of goodwill. Change resistance is the norm. Sadly, so too is weak empathy. That abundant goodwill is potential for steady, if slow, positive change. If we are more skilled as advocates then the rate of change may be higher.

Translating good intent into changed behaviour requires intentional conscious action until the behaviour is changed. That means we must devote considerable cognitive effort to bring about that change. While some may have no desire to expend that effort most folks are happy to devote some effort – depending on what other demands are being made on them.

Because of this reality, change in organisational cultures can be slow and patchy. Inclusion advocates must not only model the behaviours they want to spread across the culture but remain focused on positive potential and be patient. That is hard work – there’s no escaping that.

Each organisation’s workforce culture has subtle nuances that only insiders will know well. If the focus is on positive potential, strategies for stimulating change can be developed and successfully applied if those nuances are accurately identified, respected, and embraced.

Our success depends on how we interpret, and respond to, the resistance we meet. A ‘positive potential’ interpretation works best. Disability Inclusion advocates are working at the leading edge of positive evolutionary cultural change. It’s a novel place to be and we are still discovering how to do our work well.

This is new stuff. There are no established methods to follow. We are still developing them. We can be innovators and continue to build upon earlier successes, or we can bumble along with inept good intent. 

Inclusion is a 60-year-old social justice theme, but our communities are expressions of constantly evolving realities. Inclusion is still the ideal, still the goal, but how it is communicated and how it is realised must continue to evolve.

The truth about bias


The Neuroleadership Institute (NLI) is blunt. If you have a brain, you have a bias. Bias isn’t an eradicable fault in our minds. It’s a feature, but not one we manage well in all circumstances.

Below are a few quotes from a NLI article by Komai Gulati from 2020. I’ll come back to this article later.

Evolutionarily, biases act as adaptive processes that allow us to use prior knowledge and experiences to inform our decisions and actions in the present.”

Unfortunately, in our modern world, not all biases serve to benefit us and those around us. In fact, when left untethered, biases can seep into hiring, promotion, feedback, and management and lead to poor decision-making and sub-optimal working environments.”

For leaders, it’s important to learn to mitigate that bias before it negatively impacts decision-making and work environments.” 

Let’s adapt that last quote:

For decision-makersit’s important to learn to mitigate that bias before it negatively impacts decision-making and work environments.” 

What a difference a meaning makes

Mitigate – Verb – make (something bad) less severe, serious, or painful (Oxford English Dictionary – OED). 

It is unfortunate that a well-intended use of a word can undo a positive line of thought. What is to be mitigated is not bias per se but inappropriately applied bias.

How do we know when a bias is inappropriately applied? When we have an obligation to be fair and impartial we are at risk. Unfortunately, one of our inherent survival-oriented biases leads us to over-estimate any of our abilities, and this includes our assessment of our ability to be fair and impartial. We can, and will, sincerely believe we are being unbiased when, in fact, we are not.

This doesn’t mean we have to live in fear and loathing of biases. They are our friends in many situations – mostly when our personal interests are legitimately being served. In fact, without these functional biases, we might be incapable of timely and effective action.

When we accept that bias is our default mode, we can employ reflective assessments to determine when our employer’s interests might be impeded by our biases. Our employer’s interests and our interests do not naturally intersect at all times.

One interest is a prohibition against discrimination that affects both public and private sector organisations.

Discrimination has two important meanings. Many years ago, it meant only “recognition and understanding the difference between one thing and another.” (OED) Now we mostly understand it to mean “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people” (OED).

What has happened in this evolution of meaning is that we have condensed our expression to remove the word ‘inappropriate’ as a qualifier of the original idea of discrimination. Being discriminating used to be a good thing, because it meant discerning or selective in a positive way.

We can be biased in ways that serve our personal needs in what we think is a good way, but which violate our employer’s anti-discrimination obligations. The easiest way to understand this is to look at our natural tendency to prefer people who are like us. That is perfectly fine in our private lives, and out of line when we are acting as employees making decisions as a representative of the organisation we work for.

Don’t choose alone

Recruitment is rife with bias. Selection panels are often assembled by the hiring manager who might have activated their preference for people like themselves, and so have ended up with 3-4 people with a similar bias potential on their selection panel.

The solution is to intentionally ensure that decisions (recruitment or otherwise) are not made in isolation (as one person or a group thinking alike), but in company that can bring diverse perspectives to bear on the decision-making process.

This will not eliminate bias leading to inappropriate factors being considered in discriminating (choosing) between options (like which candidate to hire), but it dilutes the risk.

On a personal level, self-reflective awareness of the risk of a bias being misapplied in certain settings is essential. But if decision-making is shared among a diverse group of equally self-aware colleagues the quality of decision making is elevated.

Understanding bias better.

NLI’s has done great research on unconscious bias and has condensed 150+ biases into five key bias groups that are reflected in NLI’s SEEDS Model®: 

  1. Similarity: The tendency to view people who look or think like us more favorably than people who are different 
  2. Expedience: The tendency to rush to conclusions in an effort to minimize cognitive effort 
  3. Experience: The tendency to believe that how we see the world is inherently truer than someone else’s perspective 
  4. Distance: The tendency to assign greater value to those things that we perceive to be closer to us, rather than further away 
  5. Safety: The tendency to over-account for negative outcomes instead of positive ones 

These bias groups are the foundation of our personal unconscious processes for dealing with our lived reality. They are not objective, but we can use them effectively when we are acting on behalf of people who share our worldview. The problem comes when the people impacted by our decision-making don’t share our worldview, and they expect us to embrace their worldviews in our deliberations. This is an obligation to be inclusive.

Complexity, diversity and pluralism

Our culture, and the communities within it, has been evolving rapidly over the last 60 years. Anti-discrimination legislation places obligations upon organisations to make fairer choices in workplaces that continue to grow more and more diverse.

This means that an obligation to be less biased is now more urgent than it was in the 1960s. Under the pressure of such a level of change we can feel under threat. Biases are survival strategies that must adapt as the environment changes. When we feel under threat we are more likely to rely on our biases.

If we understand biases as cognitive shortcuts, we can understand that what is important is not that we exercise biases but whether our biases are adapted to our current environment and in service of our goals and values.

If we do not agree with the broader tend toward greater diversity, we will activate our present biases against that trend. This must be a conscious choice – to adapt or not. If we choose to adapt, we must accept that there is a cognitive burden we must bear as we intentionally change our goals and values to align with the larger cultural trend.

Biases are a legacy of earlier evolutionary responses – choices became unconscious and automatic because they proved to be beneficial (to individuals, to families, to tribes, to communities, to cultures). For an adaptive response to the current evolution of our culture to eventually become equally unconscious we must do intentional work on our self-awareness. We must change how we behave intentionally.


The NLI article sums up the situation neatly:

“As today’s (organisations) are making a genuine effort to address the biases prevalent in their workplaces, research shows that simply acknowledging the existence of bias is not enough to prevent its negative effects. To that end, NLI offers a three-step process for reducing the effects of bias: Accept, Label, Mitigate.” 

“Biases form the invisible lens through which we all subconsciously see the world. Accepting your own biases, as well as others’, involves understanding that bias is a natural, inevitable part of human cognition — not unique to you, your (organisation), or your employees. Labelling bias using the SEEDS Model® makes it easy to adopt a shared language to call out bias in respectful and meaningful ways.” 

Bias is perhaps the greatest barrier to disability inclusion, and it is often mistaken as a fault to be eliminated rather than a reflex to be evolved. It is therefore critically important that people with disability have a clear understanding of what they are trying to change.

I encourage the reader to visit The Neuroleadership Institute’s website to explore the array of ideas on bias and diversity, equity and inclusion. I have no connection with NLI. Their content on bias is just the best I have seen.