Making sure that ‘digital-first’ is also ‘accessible-first’

By Lucy Ruck

Delegates at the Accessibility in the Digital Space event

The Accessibility in the Digital Space event on 28 September

There’s no question that the main way that employees and customers alike will deal with most organisations today will be digitally.

But the question remains: what does this mean for accessibility? So this is what we asked at our Accessibility in the Digital Space event which I was lucky enough to lead on Wednesday 28 September.

These events are enormously rewarding in terms of the success stories and good practice we hear about from BDF’s Members and Partners and particularly the sheer passion many of them have for making their websites and IT systems fully accessible.

Indeed what emerged very quickly at Wednesday’s event was the importance of digital accessibility for organisations. Nigel Fletcher of Tesco, who kindly hosted the event, estimated that around 20 per cent of Tesco’s 500,000 employees have a disability.

The event gave us the first glimpse of the Click-Away Pound research which BDF have produced with Freeney Williams and which will show the costs to businesses of users leaving inaccessible websites.

What we know already is stark: that over 70 per cent of disabled people face significant barriers to accessing websites and apps and often give up.

Of course, there are many challenges involved with digital accessibility, not just in terms of working around existing systems but also entrenched ways of thinking. Rick Williams highlighted the need for a change of culture at organisations so that accessibility is approached as a matter of course, rather than being included as an afterthought as often happens at present.

Then there is the sheer scale of the work involved, with Alistair Duggin of the Government Digital Service noting that making the gov.uk site accessible entailed work on some 300,000 pages of web content.

But one of the key points from the discussion was that organisations are rising to the challenge in a big way.

Marianne Matthews and Clare Davidson from Sky highlighted a major shift in the organisation towards embedding accessibility in everything they do. They have built up a massive digital product development team of 650 people to help them do this, tested every digital product with live users and linked accessibility directly in to Sky’s three design principles of ‘brilliantly simple’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘intelligent’.

Meanwhile Will Houston of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, noted that accessibility for employees is being transformed by allowing employees to personalise the way they work on IT systems. Will also spoke extensively about the tools that the Technology Taskforce has developed, that are really helping him to embed accessibility with their organisation. Signing up to the Accessible Technology Charter and using the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM), have really helped them to assess where they are and the areas where they need to improve.

So the key theme here is changing the way we think – as we move more and more towards being ‘digital-first’, we should also become ‘accessible-first’.

And it’s great to be part of the discussions that drive that move.

For more information about BDF’s Technology Taskforce please visit www. technologytaskforce.org/

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