Why is web accessibility important?

(This guest blog originally appeared on texthelp.com as part of their Accessibility Leaders series)

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

So much has changed in the last two decades. In fact so much has changed in the last two years. As a blind person I’m just one example of how tech has helped improve the life choices for people with disabilities.

With the power of computers all around us wherever we go it can be incredibly empowering when one or more of your own senses don’t work. In the past, I used to need a talking GPS device (£750), a talking notetaker (£1,500), a talking barcode scanner (£150) and many more specialist devices. Whereas now, I have all that functionality and lots more on one device, which is also almost infinitely expandable with each new app or service that comes along.

However, this powerful new tech can only enable access to the digital world for people with disabilities if that world makes certain allowances. That’s where the need – no, the imperative – for digital accessibility comes in.

The low-down on accessibility

Digital accessibility has two main aspects; the accessibility, affordability and functionality of physical devices (specialist or mainstream) and the accessibility of services (websites and apps etc) that we access using those gadgets.

The accessibility of devices has transformed in recent years, driven in large part by Apple. The accessible Mac and I-devices have ‘mainstreamed’ inclusion and, because of its influence on other manufacturers, has meant that inclusion is now more affordable than ever before. Disabled people are using their smartphones to aid mobility, manage their health, interact with colleagues, friends and society, play an active part in commerce and also have a lot of fun.

The accessibility of these devices has also impacted that second area of web and app accessibility. Apple’s developer tools have been designed so that you actually have to break accessibility in your app. Thus there are tens of thousands of accessible apps to choose from – often replacing hard or impossible to use websites that haven’t been built with the benefit of such an environment. As a blind person I always reach for an app which is a much more accessible, cleaner and more distilled user experience. Actually I would first reach for Alexa or Siri to see if the information or interaction I want can be done in a few seconds flat.

One reason why the smartphone is so empowering is that it enables people with disabilities to avoid using the internet. Despite the carrots and the sticks associated with making your website accessible, the internet is still a horribly inhospitable place for people with disabilities. If a virtual assistant or inclusive app can come up with the goods then a frustrating exploration of a much more complex – and almost invariably less accessible – web-based alternative will be avoided like the plague.

Mainstreaming accessibility

The concept of digital accessibility is now not only more mainstream an issue – it is, in fact, a purely mainstream issue.

We’re living in the age of extreme computing. In this mobile-first world, we are interacting with devices in ways that are far removed from the conventional set-up of your office or home, where you had ultimate control over your environment. If the sun was too bright or too dull, for example, you’d pull the blind or turn on the lights.

Now, whether it’s juggling a phone one-handed as you weave down the street coffee in-hand, or as you desperately try to finish off that text or transaction before you reach the bottom of the escalator, or tilting and shading your phone under the glare of the midday sun, you’re involved in extreme computing – and extreme computing needs inclusive design.

The challenge is to optimise for every situation.

That sounds like a tough challenge – optimising your devices or your content and functionality for everyone and every situation. Well the accessibility guidelines are actually meant to do just that – help websites or apps  design to optimise for the needs of people who may have a vision, motor or learning impairment, for example.

However accessibility, with its historical connotations of being solely for the disabled user, should probably now be replaced with the idea of ‘Inclusive design’. Inclusive design is for every user. If you have no disability but you are using your phone one-handed on the move then you actually do have a temporary impairment that is identical to someone who has a motor difficulty 24-7. It’s true. You need exactly the same design considerations (good sized tappable areas separated by enough white space) as is needed by someone with Parkinson’s or a tremor.

How to move the accessibility needle

Hopefully, at this point, we all agree that digital accessibility is essential to make products and services fit for purpose in this mobile-first world – quite apart from it being an essential component of the daily digital lives of people with disabilities.

It’s been a legal requirement to have an accessible website since 2003 and yet we estimate that still 90%+ of websites in the UK don’t even meet a level of WCAG single-A compliance – let alone AA which is arguably the legal requirement.

I believe that the single most impactful development that will see a seismic shift in accessibility is for the government to actually enforce the law. That sounds odd, but I’ll explain.

You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government wardens of the internet? The law on accessibility matters too – arguably much more so for those disabled users directly impacted, and indeed for our digital economy more widely. Because, what’s good for someone with a visual impairment is good for someone using a small screen etc, etc (you’re all experts on this now).

While it can take considerable time and expertise to ensure a website is compliant, it’s incredibly simple to check AA-level compliance (the legal minimum) with an automated checking tool. It would only take a very small team to enforce.

So why leave it to disabled individuals to enforce the law? That seems wrong to me.

One reason is that for the longest time the government probably felt that their own house wasn’t sufficiently in order. They were doing the equivalent of speeding or parking on double-yellow lines themselves. But now gov.uk is pretty accessible and so I say that now is the time. Let’s get this initiative underway and get companies to sit up and take note.

The journey to accessibility in the UK so far has been incredibly slow. Other countries choosing to be proactive are seeing a significant shift towards a more digitally-inclusive world – and the benefits are being noticed by everyone. As a blind person driven to despair by the digital world on a daily basis, I can only hope that you decide to champion accessibility. And not out of fear of the possible brand or legal consequences – but because it’s the right thing to do.

Happy, inclusive digital creation.

If you would like to learn more about what you could do to make your website more accessible, download our practical guide to digital inclusion.

On an orange background a woman is looking at a screen, text says "Texthelp - a quick, practical guide to digital inclusion and accessible information for websites"

About AbilityNet

AbilityNet has been changing lives since 1998. We offer advice, information and expert resources on assistive technologies and mainstream solutions for people with the broadest range of disabilities – as well as workplace and DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessments in HE. We also deliver website and mobile accessibility consultancy to hundreds of clients across all sectors.

Sharing the responsibility for workplace mental health

 

Stephen Pearce looking at the camera

Stephen Pearce, Group Finance Director at Anglo American

World Mental Health Day (Thursday 10 October) was an annual reminder of the importance of looking after our mental health, and the intrinsic role that talking honestly about mental health can play to our mental wellbeing.

At Anglo American, this is a conversation which we believe should last the whole year round. Yet, despite 1 in 4 of us being affected by mental illness in our lifetimes, mental health remains a difficult and uncomfortable discussion topic, for many. Only 44 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by BITC, for example, said they would feel comfortable talking to their managers about their mental health. The problem may be even worse amongst younger employees. Over 63 per cent of those who took part in a survey carried out by Business Disability Forum, last year, said that they would not be comfortable talking about their mental health at their place of work or study.

Along with our individual circumstances and our external environment, work can be a major contributor to our mental health – both good and bad. Businesses therefore have a critical role to play in seeing mental health as a shared responsibility.

We can help to do this by creating an inclusive environment and at Anglo American we believe this must be one where everyone can bring their whole selves to work.

We know that leadership and business commitment are critical enablers to develop and sustain an environment that supports a mentally healthy workplace for everyone, and this is why internally we have put in place a significant wellbeing offering.

But we know that promoting mental wellness on its own is not enough. We also need to consider the steps we can take to prevent and respond effectively and early to mental ill-health and we have made this a key aspect of our Global Mental Health Framework.

Colleagues experiencing mental illness need the support of trained managers and HR practitioners whose actions are guided by comprehensive and informed policies. In turn, managers need to know that their own needs are being supported by leadership.

For this reason, Anglo American recently chose to partner with Business Disability Forum on the development of a series of best practice resources and guidance intended to help other organisations seeking to develop their own mental health framework.

We hope the resources will help organisations of all sizes to understand the importance of mental wellbeing and the actions they can take and should take to create a healthy workplace.

Poor mental health left unchecked can escalate, impacting on the individual, the team and the wider organisation. It therefore makes sense that promoting mental wellbeing is everyone’s business.

Find out more about the resources available here.

Stephen Pearce is Group Finance Director at Anglo American

Empowering disabled people in the workplace

According to the charity Scope more than half (56%) of businesses erroneously believe that the main reason disabled people don’t get jobs is because they lack the right skills or qualifications.

The text says: 3rd October 2019, join us for a webinar, why disability confidence makes good business sense with Asif Sadiq, Mark Lomas & Louise McQuillan

Texthelp is running a webinar on why disability confidence makes good business sense.

With this in mind, businesses need to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace to quash these misconceptions. If are you an HR or D&I professional working to create this type of workplace this webinar is for you.

Texthelp have gathered together a team of experts from the Diversity and Inclusion arena to bring you a webinar on Thursday 3 October, 12pm, focusing on how companies can gain competitive advantage by empowering disabled people in the workplace.

Asif Sadiq is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for The Telegraph. He was formerly the Head of Diversity and Inclusiveness for EY Financial Services and was also previously the Head of the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Unit for the City of London Police. He is a passionate and inspirational global leader, author and key note speaker with the ability to empower individuals and create a truly inclusive environment for all.

Mark Lomas is Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at High Speed Rail 2 (HS2). He  has delivered numerous diversity and inclusion projects for organisations, including The Financial Reporting Council, Groupama Insurance, The BBC, The Law Society, Sheffield University, NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Boards, ITV, and The Bermuda Human Rights Commission. Mark recently delivered improved performance for the BBC on several employer benchmarks, following extensive analysis of BBC Employment practices and diversity impacts.

Louise McQuillan, Workplace Solutions Manager at Texthelp, specialises in helping public and private sector organisations to support workforce diversity and inclusion strategies, increase staff productivity and customer engagement.

Titled ‘Why Disability Confidence Makes Good Business Sense’ this collaborative webinar is free to attend and will engage participants in a discussion around the importance and value of driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Join in as the panelists take a deep dive into their own organisation’s Disability Confident  journey and share best practice alongside practical thoughts and solutions that can be used by D&I Specialists, HR professionals and business leaders, as they pursue the goal of increasing disability confidence in their organisations.

To register for this webinar please click here. If you can’t attend on the day, don’t worry, if you register you can watch it back at a later date.

Autism and your workplace  

A master in your field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates brightly as you speak, but yet struggling with employment – or know someone who is?

Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 80% of adults with Autism are unemployed (UN, 2015). A barrier exists between talented individuals and the future workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments.

The challenge

Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?

It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t facilitate neurodiversity.

Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies (CIPD, 2018). The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture the neurodiverse mind.

neurodiversity thought

The workplace is missing out on a spectrum of talent

Neurodiverse conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.

A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognise patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. Interestingly, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry due to passionate enthusiasm around their interests.

“Autism…offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that otherwise might pass us by” (Dr. Colin Zimbleman)

 

So, how can you be mindful of different minds?

Changing the workplace mindset means to recognise the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.

 

Recruitment and hiring

Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.

During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.

 

Retain employees

Flexibility towards personalised working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise cancelling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.

Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.

Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.

 

If you want to find out more about embracing neurodiversity within the workplace, download Texthelp’s Neurodiversity Guide.

 Business Disability Forum also has a Briefing for Employment adjustment for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.

Case study: Sainsbury’s accessibility audit with CAE

Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest retailers, sought the help of Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE), via the recommendation from Business Disability Forum, to transform its headquarters in central London into an accessible hub for its 3,000 staff and visitors.

CAE compiled an access audit of the company headquarters’ 8 floors and 35,838 square metres and provided advice on how to make the building more inclusive for all disabled people.

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age in front of Sainsbury's groceries

Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age

The retailer is part of Valuable 500, a movement which urges large corporations to place disability inclusion on their agenda. The audit was part of Sainsbury’s plan to be the most inclusive retailer, supported by Tim Fallowfield, Company Secretary and Board Sponsor for Disabilities, Carers and Age (pictured right). The audit has had a positive impact on the organisation, sparking a focus on disability inclusion across their 30 regional offices across the UK.

With a building in the heart of central London, CAE’s first focus was to highlight priority actions that Sainsbury’s could carry out straight away. Some of these priorities included quick wins such as better signage or glass manifestations – which were low cost but had a big impact on accessibility for staff. CAE also provided medium and longer term recommendations which can inform future works for Sainsbury’s. Following the audit, Sainsbury’s has carried out over 100 changes, which have been well received by staff and leadership.

Sainsbury's Holborn HQ

Sainsbury’s Holborn

Sarah Beisly, Sainsbury’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager said, “The audit that CAE undertook for us had a huge impact on our business. We could not have asked for a more robust and easy to use report”.

Fara Muneer, Head of Business Development at CAE, says: “it’s fantastic to see the impact of our work and to be a part of Sainsbury’s plan to support a more inclusive workforce”.

Find out more about CAE at cae.org.uk

Not all value is as clear as dollars and cents

Jodie May 2019

By Jodie Greer, IT Accessibility Lead at Shell Information Technology International Limited

How many of us would have a business, or a job if there weren’t other people somewhere in the chain? Be that colleagues, customers, potential new recruits, suppliers etc. So how can you really put a value on accessibility?

In many forums I hear the same familiar questions, wanting to put a $ mark against accessibility goals and wanting to know the number of people impacted. Well, what if I told you there aren’t any statistics?

Some people would disagree with me and research shows that globally there are more than 1.3 billion people living with a disability* and together with their friends and family that group has a spending power of $8 trillion**.

Those of us in global organisations also contend with the numerous legislations around the world, meaning in some countries we cannot ask staff to share if they have a disability and sadly we all contend with the stigma that is still very apparent with regards some disabilities that makes people reluctant to share voluntarily.

In the workplace and with your customer base can you really put a value on making people as productive as they can be and/or enabling people to make use of your goods and services? Let’s not forget that accessibility doesn’t only enable people with disabilities, these good practices can prove beneficial for many. Some examples, captions can be invaluable for someone with a hearing impairment and can be just as beneficial for someone facing a language barrier, colour contrast can make all the difference for some people with a visual impairment to access information and also help those of us with good vision to stop squinting as we try to decipher what’s in front of us and good meeting practice can ensure we all take away the same messages without relying on the ability to recognise sarcasm or distinguish what’s said by motivated people all speaking at the same time.

The reason I suggest there aren’t any statistics is that the world keeps turning. Not just literally, but the demographic you are serving today will be different tomorrow and again the day after and so on. Staff who do not require adjustments today may do tomorrow, customers who can use your products today may not be able to next week. Are you prepared to lose them? That’s the true value of accessibility.

Most of us love a statistic, so I would say think about the value you put on your staff and customers and whether you can run an effective and commercially viable business without them (if you can please share how as that sounds like an opportunity not to be missed and the lottery isn’t working out for me) and then translate that in to $$ to decide if you can afford to be anything but truly accessible.

Accessibility is simply good business sense and the Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce provide support and guidance to those who want to be successful.

Data sources: *The World Bank and **The Global Economics of Disability

Understanding how accessibility affects us all

Fara Muneer, The Centre for Accessible Environments

The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) is passionate about delivering inclusive environments and a critical part of CAE’s mission is to raise awareness through training, offering consultation to organisations to create the right environment which plays many roles. Firstly, that the right environment is inclusive and comfortable for staff and secondly, will attract and retain customers.

This goes hand in hand with staff training to embed the values of being an inclusive organisation.

The payoff for CAE is seeing the impact first hand of delegates having a wider influence on diversity and accessibility with their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

‘Understanding how accessibility affects us all’ was how one of the delegates summed up her training, which was critical to her role within a leading gallery where she was responsible for visitor experience.  Jo who is a Chartered Ergonomist, recently had this to say about a course she attended: “A brilliant and informative course; including teaching and practical elements so that we could apply what we’d learnt…. the trainers, are extremely knowledgeable and provided lots of real life examples. I am already utilising the knowledge I gained.”

CAE Centre for Accessible Environments logo

Three scenes of training provided by CAE: Left - people looking at a diagram, top right, a man talking, bottom right, a man wearing glasses

Various scenes of training with CAE

CAE deliver both bespoke courses for organisations and in addition offer open courses, last year CAE trained over 400 delegates –  a win for CAE, as these delegates now have a higher level of access knowledge and understanding of the practicalities of access improvements in light of the Equality Act 2010.

One of CAE’s clients is the Government’s housing accelerator who work across regional offices throughout England. As their teams had a variety of roles including staff from office roles to more specialist housing teams CAE delivered a mix of training from half, one and two-day training courses for them on disability awareness to more specialist training.

As their training partners, CAE’s biggest outcome was not only supporting their strategic plan to put equality and diversity at the heart of their work but also the knowledge that CAE’s training will impact the housing needs of more diverse communities.

Although CAE gets a variety of requests for training, courses cover:

To see upcoming dates and to book for any of CAE’s upcoming courses please click here.