Universal accessibility needs a universal approach

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

A group of employees at their workstations

By Diane Lightfoot, CEO, BDF

Speaking at an event hosted by our Partner Atos today to mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I couldn’t help but be impressed when hearing from people who have led change and championed accessibility at their organisations. Very often, they have identified a way of doing something not only because it is the right thing to do – ensuring a business treats all people fairly – but also something that makes real business sense.

Equally striking, though, was how the event showed that organisations like Atos, Microsoft, Barclays and Channel 4 had worked together to put accessibility at the heart of their work – and this is the key thing that businesses should have in mind when approaching accessibility.

Our hosts Atos are a brilliant case in point. Atos took a whole-organisation approach to the way they made IT accessible, standardizing the way IT was delivered across their many offices to ensure it worked well for all staff. Atos have since gone even further, bringing digital accessibility to their training in the form of accessible online courses called MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). Making their approach to IT universal has ensured that their systems are accessible on an international scale, too, with single processes and designs in all of their offices.

However, Atos’ approach goes far beyond good practice in IT – it’s about making accessibility business-as-usual, and Atos are even going as far as training apprentices in accessibility, meaning it is part of working from day one.

This kind of working was the topic of a webinar we ran on the same day, again to coincide with Global Accessibility Awareness Day. It served to show yet more examples of organisations getting it right on a global scale by taking this whole-organisation approach, like Shell, as well as showing how our own methods like the Disability Standard can be applied on a global level, as they already have been in Spain and Saudi Arabia.

As Business Disability Forum one of the key messages we have to give to businesses is that being disability-smart always takes more than just one team or one function. A good approach in one department will be cancelled out by poor practice in another unless the whole organisation is committed to being disability-smart. Likewise the people leading change know that they will need key people from across the organisation to work with them if they are to make progress.

This is the drive behind our Disability Standard. This is about pushing accessibility by assessing and improving everything within and around an organisation that affects disabled people, from communications, to adjustments, right down to the way offices and public areas are administered.

It is this whole-organisation, universal way of looking at accessibility that ensure it works. This is more important to accessibility, in many ways, than resources – on the contrary, such an approach works regardless of how large or small an organisation is. A key illustration of this is the range of different organisations that excel under the standard, ranging from large multi-nationals, to SMEs, to government departments, to universities and more. Often the first step organisations take is simply to get a few key people around a table to discuss what needs to be done – each person can then drive progress in their own areas.

Coming back to the event at Atos – it was great to see such a wide range of organisations coming together to share their successes, and to see examples where committed individuals or teams had driven change across organisations by getting that buy-in and securing that collaboration.

This is about more than just doing the right thing. There is a real business case behind making accessibility happen. After all, we know the financial stakes involved: a Purple Pound worth £212 billion, a Click-away Pound worth £11.75 billion, and employee turnover, often linked to a lack of workplace accessibility, worth £4 billion. All of these potential challenges can be turned into great opportunities if whole organisations approach them together.

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