Why a disability-smart supplier makes all the difference

By Sir Ian Cheshire, Honorary President of Business Disability Forum

Businesses who excel in every area of Disability-smart practice are often let down by their relationship with suppliers and partners. It tends to be the area of the Disability Standard where companies under-perform and isn’t always part of conversations about becoming more inclusive as a business.

But having a disability-smart supplier is crucial to good practice, as Business Disability Forum’s research paper ‘Disability-smart approaches to working with suppliers and partners’ revealed in 2016. The paper showed a majority of companies using outside suppliers for key functions like recruitment, facilities and training. The deals that underline these relationships need to build in disability and access, then, or businesses will find that their approaches to inclusion are left wanting.

This in turn leaves organisations limited in their ability to recruit, retain and do business with disabled people, putting them at risk of missing out on the £212 billion spending power of disabled people. Inaccessible websites alone could be costing businesses £11.75 billion a year in lost revenue.

Very often, when we’re talking about accessibility, we’re talking about good customer service and working practices full stop. It isn’t a ‘nice to have’ in this sense but a key ingredient of a successful, healthy organisation. And this applies with suppliers and partners as much as any other business area: due to their importance to service delivery.

Keeping these agreements healthy in this way is as much about how a business approaches suppliers as it is about the suppliers themselves. Yet in more than half of cases, access and inclusion outcomes don’t make it into service specifications. Procurement leads report a lack of know-how around managing supplier contracts to secure accessibility, and once contracts with outside suppliers are signed, disabled people are not involved in feeding back on whether the deal provides a good outcome for them.

This is why disability-smart approaches to working with suppliers and partners is the focus of our annual conference this year, on 11 April at the Royal College of Nursing.

We want the practical focus of the conference to encourage companies and suppliers alike to make disability a key topic of conversation when they arrange contracts and partnerships.

We’ll hear from speakers who excel in this field, both from businesses who procure services and from suppliers themselves. We will hear from Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays. We’re also welcoming Jane Hatton, Founder of Evenbreak, Dr Nasser Siabi OBE, CEO of Microlink, and Peter Holliday, Managing Director of Sopra Steria Recruitment. A series of sessions over the course of the day will drill down into the individual practices of organisations who lead the way on accessibility.

We will also be launching a definitive guide for businesses, ‘Achieving disability-smart outcomes with suppliers and partners – a step by step approach,’ prepared in collaboration with the generous assistance and insight of BDF Partners American Express and BT.

By the end, we hope every delegate will come away equipped with the tools and language to meet the challenge of putting accessibility at the centre of deals between businesses, suppliers and partners. As we’ve seen, there’s a very real and urgent incentive to do so. As George Selvanera, author of ‘Disability-smart approaches to working with suppliers and partners’ put it in a recent blog post, “the future is now.”

You can find out more about the event on the conference pages of our website, where you are also able to book a place.

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