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Where neurodivergence, tech and a will to do good converge

31 March 2023 at 1:37 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Being diagnosed as neurodivergent helped Joshua Morley understand how he could work better. He’s now using his talent to advocate for others. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Danielle Kutchel | 31 March 2023 at 1:37 pm


Where neurodivergence, tech and a will to do good converge
31 March 2023 at 1:37 pm

Being diagnosed as neurodivergent helped Joshua Morley understand how he could work better. He’s now using his talent to advocate for others. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Rotary volunteer, tech developer and disability advocate Joshua Morley is finally comfortable in his own skin.

Ten years ago he received his final diagnosis of autism after also receiving a diagnosis for ADHD and mental health issues, and since then he has worked on accepting his disabilities and mental health conditions and working with them to become successful in his chosen career in technology, with the support of family and his employer.

He’s now keen to do more, and to advocate for others in his position.

Morley himself describes his career as “definitely not traditional”.

When he hit university at 17, he said some of his more severe disabilities were yet to be diagnosed.

“My first year [at university] was pretty shocking. I was struggling with several mental health issues as well as the undiagnosed disabilities. So, unsurprisingly, I got kicked out for poor grades,” he recalled.

After that, he sought help and was diagnosed with ADHD. He began medication, and then saw psychologists for mental health. From there, things began to turn around. He received some credits and distinctions in his next year at university.

He was then diagnosed with autism, and with that knowledge was able to adapt to his learning style.

This “made an enormous difference”, and Morley started tutoring undergraduate classes in his degree of study, less than four years after being kicked out of the same uni. He graduated top of his class, receiving first class honours after gaining an honours coursework average of 89 per cent.

He admits he doesn’t have a natural talent in communication or public speaking, which has meant his career “has looked a little bit funny”.

“I make the joke that I’ve only ever applied for two or three jobs in my life, and I didn’t get any of them,” he said.

One was at Kmart as a teenager; the others were at Google and Atlassian as a graduate.

But although he missed out at Atlassian, he managed to have a good chat with the company’s head of recruitment, who “knew that I was a little bit… ‘think outside the box’.”

Morley was advised to go into technology consulting where he could carve out his own path — so that’s what he did.

After winning a programming competition, he was offered a graduate role with a tech company, and since then he said he has been “poached” by other consultancies who have seen his work out in the real world.

“A large amount of my success is attributed to luck [and] the fact that I have a natural affinity for technology in particular, which is a very progressive field as a whole. If it had been something else where they’re not quite so open minded and I had been micromanaged earlier in my career, I definitely wouldn’t have excelled. The student that got kicked out of uni and would fail under micromanagement is the same student that graduated top of the class. The only thing that changed was my environment,” Morley said.

He carved out a niche for himself in emerging technologies and the Internet of Things early on in their development. Earlier this year, he was also named a recipient of the Australian Network on Disability/Australian Institute of Company Directors Disability Leadership Program scholarship.

Why did you apply for the scholarship and what are you hoping to get out of it?

It is a good question. A lot of people ask me that because I’m still very much a specialist in Internet of Things and Digital Twins. I love learning about everything that I can. I’d prefer to be able to branch out, but I lack the knowledge and ability and skills to do so. So I saw the company director course… I wanted to go for the more advanced one to challenge myself. And I saw it as the opportunity to learn a lot about topics I knew nothing about. Risk, governance, finance, legal are all things that I had no effective knowledge of. It was a really good opportunity, and the fact that they had this scholarship that was for people like me who had disabilities of any kind, not just the visible ones that a lot of people are very aware of. In my application I talked about the story of a hidden disability where you get judged based on your appearance. I wanted to share that story. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

I’ve been sharing my story more and more openly and more and more publicly over the past kind of year. A few weeks ago I thought about the word vulnerability and I was like, that comes from a place of defensiveness to me. Me sharing my story, is it really being vulnerable or is that just because I’m expecting to be torn down by someone because nobody can harm me by me sharing this knowledge, because I’m at peace with it? I don’t see it as vulnerability anymore, in my circumstances.

How do you go about becoming a specialist in a technology like Internet of Things so early in its life?

I was fortunate that my dad was very similar. He’s in mining and he went into mine reconciliation very early on. So I’d kind of seen his career play out and watched him grow with the industry and I thought, that’s a really good idea. I like the idea of being, ‘T-shaped’, where you have a very broad foundation, a very broad top, and then you drill down and you become a specialist in a niche. It was really inspiring but tough because I saw all these specialists and experts around me who had been doing it for decades, and I was like, no matter how good I am, I can never really compare with that so I need to choose something that hasn’t been around for decades, something that’s new. For me it was Internet of Things. 

Do you consider yourself an advocate?

Absolutely. Akkodis [where Morley works] has a fantastic new leadership structure, We’ve brought in a responsible business framework and I’m one of the diversity and inclusion leads in Australia for that. I very much plan on driving that within the organisation. So it is something that I really do want to want to advocate for and I think that’s another reflection that I had, is sharing my story was a lot more impactful than some of my work has been professionally. So I think that’s another avenue that I can kind of spread goodwill, through my story, not just building tech that can help people.

How do you think that your neurodivergence helps you in your role?

I always have to preface this [by saying] I’m not a psychologist. I’ve learned from my own experience, but it’s all anecdotal. It’s not clinical. I absolutely think that I have an advantage and I think my results show that if my environment supports me working in a way that I can be comfortable and I can embrace my differences. I’ve witnessed firsthand discrimination. I’ve witnessed it through my partner who is also neurodiverse. It’s as simple as giving me space to work a little bit differently. Over the past year, it’s become increasingly easy as I move towards senior roles, but I spend a lot less energy masking now, something that I had compulsively done throughout my career because people don’t like things that are different. I’m just a bit different and it means that I have a lot more energy to spend thinking about things and responding. For me, it’s been a huge thing to start trying to dispel neuro-normative biases. 

What else do employers need to think about? How do we make things more accessible for people with hidden disabilities not just when they’re at work, but during the recruitment phase too?

There’s a really cool program that that Akkodis is just starting where they’re reimagining how recruitment looks. Instead of recruiting a person, placing them into a role and then bidding them farewell, they’re going to keep in contact with them and actively give them development for their career and personal development over a 12 month period. But they’re specifically targeting veterans and first responders, people with disabilities, first nations people and women in tech — highly disadvantaged groups that reasonable adjustments could make a world of difference for. And we’re partnering with organisations such as Crosslinks, which is a disability provider that I’m now on the board of to evaluate and look at what an accessible interview would look like

There’s so much pressure [in an interview]. Maybe if we could evaluate a portfolio or if we can see [the candidate] do work in another means, it takes a lot of pressure off. It’s definitely something that I think we should be thinking about more. 

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

For me it’s just such a cool feeling that I can give my time… and in exchange I’m directly influencing the quality of life of another person. That’s just such a cool concept to me. I am pretty time poor and that’s because I take on so much and I’m very reasonably criticised by my friends for doing that. But I can give two hours and I’ve just put somebody in a better position… [that] it would have taken them weeks to achieve without it. I’m involved in financial volunteering as well. I tried to start very early. I think I was about 22 and I started sponsoring two kids in Indonesia. I’ve kept that up this whole time, even when I was between jobs. It was just a small amount for me [but] it will make such a significant change in their lives. I think there’s a responsibility there.

Where does your passion come from?

For a long time, I think trauma. The first two decades of my life was a continuous cycle of reaffirming that I was not intelligent, that I was not capable. And these aren’t things that were necessarily always said, but they were things that as a highly perceptive person I would pick up on. I definitely think for probably the first seven years of the last ten years, it was to prove a point to myself and to others that I was capable and that I was able to achieve things at other people’s levels or above ideally. It’s only really the last couple of years through ongoing psychological help and a really healthy relationship with my partner that I’m now able to start deciding to do things because I want to, and I think my biggest drive is I want to change the world in a really positive way. I think technology will enable that.

If I can get into a position of influence, then I can use that influence. One of my role models was Steve Irwin — his famous interview where he said, ‘oh, I’ll take all the money anyone gives me. I’ll take every cent and I’ll use it for wildlife conservation’. I thought that’s such a good approach. I’m going to take every advancement I can get, every bit of influence I get through my career, through Rotary, and I’m going to use it to make other people’s lives better. That’s a big part of my drive; I think I’ve proved the point. I’m pretty comfortable that I’ve demonstrated that I have value. So now it’s more about how I can maximise my positive impact on the world.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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