Disability, tech, and space

Disability, tech, and space

Welcome to this week’s LEAP:IN newsletter. Each week, we unpack leader’s powerful quotes and decipher the tech landscape. With exclusive content from some of the world’s leading experts in AI, robotics, space, edutech, climate tech and more, read on to discover this week’s insights and subscribe to receive weekly updates direct to your inbox.


This week we’re quoting…

Jennison Asuncion (Head of Accessibility at Linkedin)

What Asuncion said: 

“By all of you deciding to intentionally join this accessibility revolution…You’re making sure that all of us, the more than one billion of us who happen to have a disability or impairment, you’re making sure that we also have this opportunity that everyone else does to benefit from technology. From the perspective of thriving in society, finding employment, and being creators and co-creators of technology, and being able to take advantage of all the opportunities that are out there.” 

Assistive tech is a right, not a perk

In 2020 Forbes published this article which stated that assistive technology is a human right for those with disabilities. It should not just be an employment perk. Assistive tech can be totally life-changing, and yet the technology itself isn’t easily accessible because it’s often really expensive. 

Software like ZoomText and JAWS for visually impaired users, for example, is routinely priced upwards of USD $400, and free access is only available to those who need it for their job or education. 

A report by the Business Disability Forum detailed the results of in-depth interviews with assistive tech and IT specialists, individuals who use the tech, occupational psychologists, and inclusion leaders. And one unexpected outcome of those interviews was the reflection that assistive tech shouldn’t just be provided to support people in work and school — it should be provided regardless of employment or education status. 

Because everyone should have access to technology that improves their lives. 

So people with disabilities and impairments need to be involved in the conversation

We were glad to welcome Asuncion at #LEAP22 to share his perspective. But we know there’s much more to be done — it needs to become the norm for tech companies to connect with people who can make the development of accessibility tech more relevant to those who actually use it. 

Disabled people, and people with impairments, need to be involved in the conversation. But in order for that to happen, the tech industry needs to expand its inclusion of this segment across all job types and levels — so that the conversation is active and ongoing. Disabled people must be given access to (and encouraged to accept access to) more jobs in tech. 

Accessibility issues for people with disabilities when it comes to actually working in tech include the expectation of long hours and extended periods of concentrated work (because adequate physical and mental rest for many people with disabilities or impairments is not a nice-to-have, but a necessity). 

Words from a recruitment expert…

Susan Scheer (CEO of the Institute for Career Development) wrote in 2021: 

“We need to move away from the idea that people with disabilities are lacking something and recognize that they are adding something. As the pandemic has taught us, employees who have experience tackling great challenges without being daunted by them have much to teach us all. Even the greatest technology can benefit from that kind of drive and determination.” 

We couldn’t agree more. 

Watch the video: Jennison Asuncion on the digital accessibility revolution


Maryliz Bender (Founder of Cosmic Perspective) 

What Bender said:

“​​When astronauts see our planet hanging in the void of space for the first time, they come back incredibly changed by this experience. They return humanitarians, when they see the obvious fact that we share one planet together, and we share one same future and fate. They return conservationists when they see the fragility of our atmosphere. And they return artists, desperate to share their new perspective with the rest of us on the planet, because they feel so privileged to have seen it.”

What astronauts say

Astronauts returning from space have described the ‘overview effect’ in loads of different ways. 


  • Alan Shepard (first American in space): “When I first looked back at Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” 
  • Neil Armstrong (American astronaut, first person to walk on the Moon): “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth.” 
  • Aleksei Leonov (Soviet-Russian cosmonaut): “The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space. ”
  • Bill Anders (NASA astronaut): “When I looked up and saw the Earth coming up on this very stark, beat-up Moon horizon, I was immediately almost overcome with the thought, ‘Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth.” 
  • Mike Massimino (NASA astronaut): “I thought at one point, if you could be up in heaven, this is how you would see the planet. And then I dwelled on that and said, no, it’s more beautiful than that. This is what heaven must look like. I think of our planet as a paradise. We are very lucky to be here.”

And we have to include William Shatner

After the Star Trek actor took an 11 minute trip into space in the Blue Origin rocket last year, he said

“Everybody in the world needs to do this. Everybody in the world needs to see. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable. I mean, the little things, the weightlessness. But to see the blue color go whip by, and now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue is this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around. We think, “Oh, that’s just blue sky.” And there’s something you shoot through, and all of a sudden, as though you whip a sheet off you when you’re asleep, and you’re looking into blackness, into black ugliness. And you look down. There’s the blue down there and the black up there. And there is mother Earth and comfort. And up there… Is that death? I don’t know.” 

Does this feeling last?

It sounds amazing — but it brings up the question of whether or not the overview effect has a lasting impact on how astronauts choose to live their lives. And the answer is yes: astronauts really do become humanitarians, conservationists, and artists. 

Here are just a few examples: 

  • Nicole Stott retired from NASA in 2015 (after 104 days in space) and is now an artist. Her artwork is based on her interpretations of the Earth from space, and of space itself.
  • Ron Garan (former NASA astronaut who spent 178 days in space) runs humanitarian projects in developing countries, and has written a book called The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles.
  • Scott Parazynsky (former astronaut and practising physician) is developing telemedicine in underprivileged countries.
  • Leland Melvin (NASA astronaut who logged more than 565 hours of space time) has become a wildlife advocate, working with a non-profit called Defenders of Wildlife to influence conservation policy. 

In short, if we could bottle the overview effect so everyone could experience it, the world would probably be a better place. 



It’s real: A positive relationship between art and tech

LEAP 2024 speaker Otto Plesner (Creative Director at RenaiXance) has a background in theatre and performing arts – and he’s using that creative foundation to imagine new ways for artists to engage with emerging technologies.  In his multi-sensory show The Art of Memory, he blends AI-powered visuals with evocative scents,

The space industry is making room for startups

Like space exploration itself, launching a project in the space sector has conventionally been something that only major players could attempt to do. But the industry is changing – and it’s making room for startups and small businesses to add new dimensions to business beyond this world.  Francesco Bongiovanni (CEO

In an ideal world: AI in education

Before he arrived in Riyadh for LEAP 2024, we caught up with Dr. Lin Zhou (SVP and Chief Information Officer at The New School).  Zhou joined The New School in 2019, following 20 years at IBM – where he was program director and innovation leader for Watson Education, leading it from