Our HPE Living Progress Challenge journey

By Dean Haynes


Back in January 2016 we were approached with an opportunity that was challenging but too good a chance to miss.

The Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Living Progress Challenge invited the global community to bring forward great ideas that address social issues through digitally-enabled solutions.

The challenge was to answer the question: What software applications and digital services would you create to improve people’s lives?

Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager at BDF, presents the Dynamic Accessibility Maturity Model to an audience in Brooklyn, New York.

Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager at BDF, presents the Dynamic Accessibility Maturity Model to an audience in Brooklyn, New York.

At Business Disability Forum our remit is to support business to get things right for disabled people. Our Technology Taskforce was established to help businesses make their technologies more accessible for disabled customers, employees and stakeholders. Using their collective knowledge and skills, our Taskforce members developed our Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM), a management tool to help organisations assess and improve their commitment to accessibility.

While the AMM’s static framework was well used by our members and was signposted and leveraged by organisations including Gartner and Forester, the HPE Living Challenge provided us with a potential opportunity to create a dynamic, responsive version of the tool with international appeal. Our commitment was to offer the tool free of charge to any organisation that wanted to improve accessibility for the estimated 1 billion people globally with an impairment or disability.

At the beginning of May we were delighted to hear that we had been selected as one of 20 semi-finalists out of 130 proposals to be awarded design and development support from HPE and crowd sourcing platform Topcoder to build a Minimum Viable Product software prototype of our dynamic AMM.

Over the following three months, we worked closely with the HPE and Topcoder teams in the USA who were also providing free project management, UX/technical architect services alongside their design and prototyping services. Our collective challenge was not only to develop a responsive prototype that met the competition brief, but to also ensure that it met AA level accessibility for disabled users based on WCAG2.0. We were delighted to find out that we had made it through to the final 10 and that we would be pitching to senior leaders within HPE.

Towards the end of July the competition moved into its final phase. As the prototype was finalised, we started to work with an external coach to prepare our pitch for the live ‘Demo Day’ in New York on 3 August.

And so on 3 August, our Technology Taskforce Manager Lucy Ruck and Market Insight & Research Manager, Ashley Teaupa joined the other nine Living Progress Challenge finalists at the New Lab venue in New York to pitch our prototype for a digital solution to accelerate social good.

The audience included a team of judges, innovators, social entrepreneurs and business leaders as well as viewers from across the globe watching the live stream. You can watch a replay of the event here.

We were absolutely inspired to be among the finalists and although we didn’t make it through to the final build stage, we have developed a proof of concept website and made some great connections along the way. It was important for us to demonstrate the benefits of making digital products and services accessible, and this was an excellent arena to do this in.

Our Technology Taskforce Manager, Lucy Ruck said: “Working with Topcoder and HPE has been a great experience for us and we need to make that final push to get the site developed fully and identify further sponsorship. By having a fully dynamic AMM, we can really utilise this amazing tool that the Technology Taskforce has developed and support IT professionals in becoming disability-smart.”

To find out more about the Technology Taskforce and the AMM you can contact Lucy at lucyr@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.

A chance to celebrate and reflect

By Sir Ian Cheshire

There’s something about summer weather that invites a celebration, so it was just as well that it was a beautiful day for our annual Partner Group Reception at Hampton Court Palace on 20 July.

Our Partner Group Reception is an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved over the last year, and the incredible work made possible by our Partners in terms of raising awareness, sharing ideas and best practice, and in general keeping the conversation around disability and business going.

Delegates and speakers in the audience at the Partner Group Reception

More than 200 delegates attended the Partner Group Reception

This conversation is at the heart of what we do. Talking about disability in a meaningful way brings about real steps forward for employees and businesses alike.

If we as business leaders avoid talking about disability, we don’t get the best out of our employees or from the wider talent pool. This has real practical implications for the workplace: as our keynote speaker Adam Pearson put it, if the conversation around disability is limited to “We have someone with a disability starting on Monday – we’d better get them a chair”, then the relationship between employee and employer simply will not be a productive one. So why do conversations like this still take place in many businesses?

Often, it’s as simple as a lack of understanding or knowledge – this is why bringing together our Partner Group to share ideas and success stories is so crucial to the work of BDF.

Over 200 delegates from our Partner Group attended the event, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge to share. In particular, there were many stories that broke down pre-conceptions around disability and how it might affect someone at work.

One story that no doubt stuck with many at the event was that of Daniel Pruce, a diplomat with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Daniel began experiencing seizures while on a posting in Bangkok a few years ago, and after consulting a doctor found out he had epilepsy. Daniel’s story is an example of how even a life-changing condition need not present obstacles in the workplace. Because his employer was supportive, he felt able to be open about his condition and any adjustments he needed. He could carry on working effectively and using his experience to inform his organisation’s approach to disability. At the same time the FCO were able to retain someone with valuable experience and skills.

This is the kind of success that benefits both employee and employer, and it’s the kind of story we want to hear more of. We know, as Daniel rightly pointed out, that “there is a long road to travel,” even now, which is why it’s so brilliant to see the conversation and exchange of ideas around disability continue when we bring our Partner Group together.

Technical SwapShop – Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions?

By Dean Haynes

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Our latest Technical SwapShop took place on 21 June, hosted by Taskforce member Deloitte. This session focused on mental health, asking the question: “Can technology help our employees with mental health conditions and if so, how?” Chaired once again by BD F Associate Rick Williams, we looked at how new and existing technology could support staff with mental health conditions, along with hearing three alternative viewpoints on mental health in the workplace – from the employee, the organisation and an expert in the field. Outside the auditorium space, we also had a range of exhibitors, including BDF members iansyst, Microlink and Posturite, showing their products that could assist anyone with their productivity.

Proceedings got underway with a brief introduction from Will Smith, Deloitte’s Talent Partner for Audit, where he announced the upcoming relaunch of Deloitte’s own diversity network Workability that aims to promote education, recruitment and retention of disabled staff throughout the business.

Next to take the stage was Jacqui Crane, who spoke of her own experience with mental health issues, and the coping mechanisms and technology she uses to maintain her wellbeing. After living with depression for the last 7 years, something as simple as a notebook (in a particularly fetching shade of pink) with a to-do list consistently helps Jacqui with the day-to-day. On the more technological side, Jacqui told delegates of three apps she also uses to “gamify” her mental health. Moodscope allows users to track their mood, quantifying it to measure the ups and downs at any given time. Habitica provides the user with a cartoon avatar that gains points and abilities as you tick off daily tasks and habits. Lastly, her Fitbit activity tracker lets Jacqui monitor how much she’s moving about and even tracks her sleep, creating goals through the number of steps you take every day, or the amount of sleep you get every night.

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Our next speaker was Heather Cook, Client Director at Brain in Hand. Heather began by telling the room a surprising stat that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental health issue at some point in their life, and employers have an obligation to support them. Dubbed “your own personal mental filing cabinet”, Brain in Hand provides users with accessible and personalised support for difficult or potentially stressful situations, letting you create your own suite of solutions to lessen anxiety and get additional support as and when you need it.

John Starling, Partner in Consulting at Deloitte, then spoke to attendees about Deloitte’s own Mental Health Champion Network, of which John is one of over twenty members. While the Network is not filled with experts, each member has their own personal connection to mental health issues, so while they are able to help others access resources and guidance, they are also learning themselves. The activity of the Network is promoted within Deloitte as a means to “[affect] a cultural change supporting a more holistic approach to health and well being”, a tenet that could easily be adopted by other companies.

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Following a brief break where delegates were encouraged to visit the rest of our invited exhibitors, such as Remploy, MatchWare, Notetalker, Skill Boosters and SignVideo, BDF’s Senior Disability Consultant Christopher Watkins gave us an insight into BDF’s mental health e-guidance, designed as a tool to upskill line managers in their interactions with staff with possible mental health issues. Using a statistic from BDF’’s own “State of the Nation” report, where 83% of employers surveyed thought that information about adjustments was easy to find versus only 32% of employees who were very confident of finding this information, the e-guidance comes in three modules covering awareness, having these sensitive and occasionally difficult conversations, and finally making adjustments for colleagues with mental health issues.

Our next speaker was David Banes of David Banes Access, who spoke about the relationship between assistive technology and mental health, and more specifically how technology can simultaneously be a help and a hindrance to people. The “always on” nature of technology and its inherent flexibility has adapted to let people work more effectively, using apps to help us collect our thoughts, proofread our writing and even find our way around but, by the same token, the risk of alienation through technology or even cyberbullying has to be taken into account.

Steve Brownlow of Frabjous Day and Rick Williams of Freeney Williams used our last slot on the agenda to talk about the ongoing findings of the Click-Away Pound survey and BDF’s new Access Pathway service.

The Access Pathway is borne out of the e-Check member benefit, where organisations can receive an expert review of a random sample of websites. Since 2008, over 100 reviews have been carried out, with over 70% revealing accessibility and usability issues. Obviously, these issues can have legal, commercial and PR ramifications so they need to be addressed by organisations. The Click-Away Pound survey has thrown up a number of recurring barriers, such as the use of CAPTCHAs and the incorrect use of colour. The Pathway itself comprises three steps: determining the benchmark of accessibility, planning your pathway to improve accessibility, and finally writing a specification and successfully implementing it. For more information on the Access Pathway, please visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/access-pathway.

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Technology Taskforce Manager Lucy Ruck then took the stage to round up the day’s proceedings, thanking Deloitte for hosting, our speakers for bringing the seemingly-unconnected subjects of accessible technology and mental health to light, and our exhibitors for bringing their wide-ranging products to our delegates’ attention.

You can catch up with the day’s events by searching for the #TTSwapShop hashtag on Twitter.

David Banes of David Banes Access said: “BDF [Technical] SwapShops are more than an exchange of ideas. Each idea, technology and initiative builds upon those of others, offering the potential to create an approach for an organisation where the sum is greater than the parts. Thought provoking and valuable”.

Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays said: “This year’s Technology Swap-shop’s focus on mental health and how technology can both help or hinder was really insightful – with a peppering of personal stories,  practical advice, apps and organisations’ approaches to boost awareness, empathy and understanding. The day was less about taboos and more about tools for an area of assistive tech in its infancy but gaining pace”.

Heather Cook, Director of Client Services at Brain in Hand said: “Brain in Hand [was] delighted to be invited to address the audience at the latest Technical SwapShop. The forum gave us a real opportunity to talk about the benefits that Brain in Hand technology is bringing to hundreds of users who are using our software to move forwards with their lives and achieve improved levels of confidence, self-determination and independence. Mental Health affects one in 4 of us throughout our lives, and with the rapid pace of technology and the way smartphones and apps are being used in everyday life, we genuinely believe that using this new technology to support people with mental health conditions will deliver a paradigm shift in the way that support can be personalised and easily accessed by the user using every day familiar technology”.

Event round-up: Technology Taskforce Film Festival

By Dean Haynes

Monday December 7 saw the fourth annual Technology Taskforce event take place, generously hosted by KPMG at their Canary Wharf offices. This time, forgoing our tried and tested quiz show format, we decided to hold a film festival with a difference, and not forgetting the popcorn! The delegates were each issued with wireless two-channel headsets, which would allow them to hear the films’ original soundtrack, or with added audio description.

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The space at KPMG was transformed into a silent cinema, where attendees had the chance to see a range of films on disability-related perspectives. From short films by disabled filmmakers about their experiences, to thought-provoking videos produced by members of the Taskforce, the evening aimed to challenge assumptions and attitudes, and open eyes to the reality of living with a disability.

The evening got underway with an introduction from Taskforce manager Lucy Ruck, before she handed over to Walter Scott, the Assistant Head of Communications at the Ministry of Defence, who introduced the first film of the evening “My War With Words”. This profiled a number of military staff and their experiences working with a stammer, a non-visible disability that rarely gets the coverage it warrants.

Our next film came from American filmmaker Jenna Kanell, who gave us a video intro to her film “Bumblebees”, about her disabled brother Vance, who compares himself to a bumblebee in that according to the laws of physics it shouldn’t be able to fly. Leena Haque from the BBC was next on stage, describing her own neurodiversity and introducing her film “A Day In The Life”, which used a video game-like point-of-view to show how someone with neurodiversity tackles their day-to-day work life.

Next, our most intriguing film of the evening came from Gallaudet University in Washington DC, with a statement from Dr. Dirksen Bauman. The film revolves around the students and staff at the university, which caters for the deaf and hearing-impaired and itself is totally silent, which did cause some confusion for some, but made full use of the audio description channel!

The fifth and sixth films came from disability charity Scope, covering the fight for disabled rights with the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995, and how it has impacted the lives of disabled people and the continuing struggle for equality some 20 years on (including a star turn from our very own Lucy Ruck).

Our final film of the night came from Hilary Lister, a quadriplegic record-breaking yachtswoman. Using a system of straws and “sip-puff” switches, Hilary has sailed single-handed across the English Channel, circumnavigated Great Britain and sailed the 1,500km across the Arabian Sea.


 

You can catch up with the evening’s proceedings by following BDF on Twitter (@disabilitysmart), and feel free to view a selection of the films here:

Jenna Kanell’s “Bumblebees” – http://sproutflix.org/all-films/bumblebees

Gallaudet: The Film – http://disabilitymovies.com/2010/gallaudet-the-film

 

The Technical Swapshop – showcasing the very best in assistive technology

By Dean Haynes

Generously hosted by Barclays at their Canary Wharf HQ, Business Disability Forum’s (BDF) annual Technical Swapshop got underway recently promoting an exceptional array of assistive technology solutions.

Barclays Presentation taking place at Technical Swapshop

Chaired by BDF Associate Rick Williams, attendees were offered the opportunity to hear personal perspectives on the use of assistive technology (AT) and find out about the range of products and services available.

Derek White, Chief Design Officer at Barclays, introduced the event by discussing how AT provides endless benefits for disabled people and non-disabled people also. Using the example of Barclays’ Talking ATM machines, Derek asked if any members of the audience had used this audio function when using a cash point. As several members raised their hand, Derek then asked if anyone in the audience had ever experienced difficulties when using an ATM machine in bright sunlight. As everyone in the room raised their hand, Derek was able to illustrate how AT works to the advantage of everyone.

Moving onto the presentations, Jamie Knight, Senior Accessibility Specialist at the BBC (and his constant plushie companion; Lion) began with a discussion about autism in the workplace. Jamie – who himself has autism, gave his personal insights of coping with autism and also the benefits of using AT.

To reduce sensory distractions in the office, Jamie uses specialised ear defenders. Unlike listening to music through standard headphones, ear defenders allow the wearer to hear a person who is talking directly to them whilst also blocking out unwanted background noise.

Jamie also suggested that having a good level of understanding and flexibility is vital to ensuring an autism friendly workplace. For him, this means often working from home and only having to travel to the office when necessary, ensuring he is not continuously interrupted when working on a project and also having the support available to find an effective work/life balance.

Jamie Knight + Lion give presentation at Technical Swapshop

Next to present was Katherine Innes, Business Development Executive at AI-Media who spoke about live event captioning and Simple Text. As AI Media were providing live captions throughout the Swapshop itself, Katherine was in prime position to talk about the range of advantages the service provides.

Simple Text is a live captioning tool specifically designed to help individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome. Simple Text removes metaphors and figurative language and breaks down complex instructions into simple steps.

To illustrate how Simple Text works, Katherine read aloud a piece of text that used a range of complex metaphors and colloquialisms. However, just seconds later when the live captions appeared on screen, the text had been broken down into clear and direct sentences.

AI Media at the Technical Swapshop

The Swapshop then took a break to spend some time visiting the exhibition stands of AT suppliers, including Microlink that had bought along some alternative AT solutions that might support those with autism.

Following on, the audience was joined by Gareth Ford-Williams, Head of Accessibility, User Experience & Design at the BBC. Gareth – who himself has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) gave a presentation on the ways in which organisations can create a working environment that reduces difficulties and distractions for employees with ADHD.

Describing his condition as a “continuous sensory overload,” Gareth recommended the use of wireless noise cancelling headphones to remove audio distraction in the workplace. Gareth also suggested that companies should allow their employees to work flexibly, for example working from home, or working remotely. In terms of visual distraction, Gareth suggested that using neutral colours and patterns in the office space, as opposed to bright colours and highly distractive designs also helps to reduce sensory distractions for employees with ADHD.

Lawrence Keltie, Sales Executive at MatchWare presented the company’s mind mapping software MindView. MindView is a tool that can assist people with autism, Asperger Syndrome and dyslexia to effectively organise their workload through the use of diagrams and visual representations.

MindView helps to breakdown complex information into manageable tasks, which, in turn, helps to highlight the most effective way in which tasks can be ordered and approached. For employees with dyslexia, this is particularly beneficial as the disability can cause difficulties in terms of information sequencing.

Matchware present Mindview at the Swapshop

The audience was then joined by Rebecca Morgan, Senior Accessibility Analyst at the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC). Rebecca spoke about her personal experience of being a wheelchair user and how it has affected the way in which people perceive her. She talked about how she was able to gain her Degree and how she now uses AT in her job working for DAC. She now provides accessibility user testing using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. She has been able to turn her disability into a real advantage and is able to utilise the AT tools that she uses to help others.

Next up, and presenting one of the most popular products on the AT market, Jonathan Whitmore from Nuance took to the stage to present Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Dragon software removes the need for traditional typing and allows users to operate their computer using just their voice. Using a wireless headset, Jonathan exemplified the software’s sophisticated abilities, operating the computer with just his voice. Not only did he show how much quicker dictation is, compared to even the fastest typists, he also demonstrated how you can open up different software packages and navigate around the computer packages with ease.

Nuance presentation at Technical Taskforce

For individuals with physical disabilities including shorter arms, dexterity impairments, visual impairments, and/or mobility impairments, Dragon technology offers vital assistance and helps to ensure digital inclusion and accessibility.

Cam Nicholl, Director of Sales and Service Development from the Digital Accessibility Centre (DAC) also spoke about building in empathy with developers. The developers within our organisation are the key to embedding accessibility technically. If we can ‘win them over’ and explain to them what a difference it makes to individuals with impairments, then they will build accessibility into their design, as they would do with security requirements. Cam showed us a video of Ziad and the difference that AT has made to him personally http://www.digitalaccessibilitycentre.org/index.php/videos/42-screen-magnification-demo.

Visitors at Technical Swapshop

Finalising the presentations, Kathryn Townsend, Strategic Transformation Leader at Barclays spoke about the excellent work Barclays have been doing regarding disabled customers.

Discussing the use of Beacon Technology – whereby disabled customers can inform the bank of their requirements through an app on their phone, Kathryn also discussed the recent launch of Barclays in-branch SignVideo service.

Barclays’ deaf customers can now enter their local branch and communicate directly with a SignVideo BSL interpreter via an iPad video call. The interpreter then relays the conversation to the Barclays advisor and vice versa to the customer.

This initiative has revolutionised the way Barclays’ deaf BSL customers can carry out their banking and fully supports Barclays aim to be the most accessible and inclusive bank.

The Technical Swapshop will be back in February next year to showcase the latest advances in AT. We look forward to seeing you there!

Susan Scott-Parker talks accessible recruitment at 2015 Global Recruiter Summit

By Emily Jackson


On 11 February, delegates from across the business world descended on central London for the annual Global Recruiter UK Summit. Taking place at the brilliant 30 Euston Square venue, the conference featured guest speakers from across the recruitment industry, including representative bodies, members of government and recruitment specialists themselves.

Susan Scott-Parker talks accessible recruitment at Global Recruiter two thousand and fifteen

Chaired by Chairman of APSCo and Recruitment Sector Investor, Miles Hunt, this year’s conference focussed on the topic of evolutionary recruitment and the adaptations recruitment companies must make to access the widest possible talent pool and ultimately stay ahead of the curve.

Joining a wide range of experts and industry leaders speaking at this event, Business Disability Forum (BDF) Founder and CEO, Susan Scott-Parker gave an engaging and eye-opening presentation to delegates entitled ‘Revolutionary Recruitment’. Speaking directly to the wide range of recruitment industry representatives present, Susan’s presentation established the ways in which recruitment companies will best meet their client’s ultimate goal of accessing and attracting the widest talent pool by changing how they operate.

By becoming increasingly disability confident and incorporating accessibility into each and every stage of the recruitment process, organisations will place themselves in the best possible position to attract, recruit and retain employees from the broadest possible talent pool. This process begins at the very beginning, from making online applications accessible to disabled people, to the ways in which potential candidates are contacted, all the way through to the interview process, offering the position and finally, taking on new employees.

Speaking in her engaging signature style, Susan began the presentation by asking to stand, those in the audience who could. Once standing, Susan began to read aloud a list of disabilities and asking audience members to sit down if they themselves or someone they knew had any of the disabilities noted. Before reaching the halfway point of the list, all audience members had already returned to their seats. This simple task immediately illustrated the fact that disability is not a peripheral or minor issue, but something that affects the large majority of us in a variety of different ways.

The presentation focussed on the central leitmotif which states:

“If recruiters and recruitment companies make it easier for their employers to ensure that their procedures are accessible to people with disabilities, then everybody wins a balloon”.

In keeping with BDF’s aim of working towards the mutual benefit of disabled people and business, Susan outlined a number of ways in which recruitment companies can begin to build and implement accessibility into their organisation

Firstly, ensuring candidates with a visual impairment can easily read the company’s online database and publications. This is particularly important when making adjustments for an aging workforce such as that in Britain. Furthermore, ensuring that your company website is fully accessible to the 10% of the workforce who have dyslexia so that they can use your company’s online application service successfully as opposed to taking their business elsewhere. In terms of communication, ensuring that applicants are provided with a number of different ways in which to contact the employer so that candidates with a hearing impairment for example can easily apply for the role. And finally, ensuring that your premises and your client’s premises is physically accessible to people with a disability. This could be as simple as installing a ramp where there are stairs or installing automatic doors to aid wheelchair users.

Having presented and illustrated a number of ways in which recruitment companies can incorporate accessibility into their business models, Susan went on to describe how BDF works and what it can do for its members and partners. Susan described the essence of BDF as a company which:

“…enables all human beings – in all our complexity, in all our oddness, in all our non-standardness to contribute to business success.”

To close, Susan ended with a discussion on the importance of changing attitudes. Whilst making your business accessible to people with a disability is vital if you are to succeed in reaching the widest possible skilled workforce, you should not need a business case to treat people properly and fairly.

Event round up: Accessible London, can it work?

On a cold December evening, we were delighted to be joined by a panel of industry experts and Business Disability Forum (BDF) Members and Partners for a lively debate on the realities, challenges and opportunities offered by an accessible London. The event was kindly hosted by our Partner HSBC in Canary Wharf.

The debate opened by BDF Associate and panel chair, Geoff Adams-Spink, asking our six panellists with expertise in transport, tourism, employment and housing to rate London’s current level of accessibility out of ten. With an average score of seven across the panel, we were intrigued to hear the panellists’ reasons for their ratings.

Panel of industry experts sitting on long table

Transport – some good intentions but slow progress 

In response to the question: “Is the Mayor’s aim of ensuring 53 per cent of all tube stations are step-free by 2024 enough?”, Christiane Link, Trustee at Transport for All and Director of Ortegalink Ltd, was very clear that the target should be 100% Tube accessibility. Christiane acknowledged that while Transport for London (TfL) has made great improvements to the accessibility of London’s buses, the fact the only 25% of London’s Tube stations are step-free at present shows the need for a roadmap for an accessible Tube system.

In response James Grant, Senior Communications Officer at Transport for London (TfL) outlined TfL’s phased approach to accessibility. This includes an additional 28 step-free Tube stations as well as the launch of the fully accessible Crossrail in 2019, demonstrating that where there is a roadmap, financial backing and creativity it is possible to deliver a fully accessible transport solution.

Step-free access versus other accessibility requirements 

Mark Berrisford-Smith, Head of Economics at HSBC shared his experience as a visually impaired commuter who regularly uses the (sometimes overzealous) voice announcements and tactile markers in many stations across the capital.

The panel queried why these relatively straightforward but effective solutions were not rolled out consistently across all stations including smaller outer London stations. James Grant explained that TfL’s strategic approach to improvements focussed on central stations like Victoria and Bond Street which improved journey opportunities for larger numbers of people. The panel acknowledged that while this would benefit disabled tourists, local disabled people who needed to travel into the capital from outer London and further afield were still disadvantaged.

As a final point in the discussion on accessible transport, the panel stressed that one of the biggest public transport challenges for disabled people was still the attitude of staff and the general public towards disability. This issue is being addressed by organisations like TfL who have been working with Transport for All to deliver disability awareness training to their bus and Tube drivers.

A row of Victorian-style houses

Above: Older buildings buildings such as these Victorian style homes pose problems for people with disabilities that wish to adapt a home to suit their needs, giving rise to a preference for new builds. Credit: Nigel Chadwick, Wikimedia Commons.

Is London’s housing stock accessible for people living with a disability or long term health conditions?

As Helen Carter, Interim Director at Centre for Accessible Environments and Neil Smith, Principal Advisor on Access at Greater London Authority outlined a number of challenges in terms of planning and development, it became clear that there were good opportunities for improving the accessibility of new builds in the capital.

By combining the concept of ‘lifetime housing’ to accommodate the changing health and access needs and educating architects and planners, real improvements could and were being made in accessible housing. Disabled peoples’ organisations outside London increasingly look towards the capital for best practice examples in terms of accessible new builds. However there are still significant challenges in terms of adapting older properties both financially and practically.

Working in London

We recently blogged on Access to Work (AtW), an outstanding labour market intervention. This evening we heard more praise from employees and employers who use the scheme and real concerns about its future. In keeping with the theme of the evening, BDF Associate Joanna Wootten reminded the audience that AtW can be used to fund transport to and from work where accessible transport isn’t available. It was suggested that improving the accessibility of London’s transport system could ultimately reduce the requirement for AtW to help fund transport, freeing up funding to support other aspects of employment.

In general it was felt that since the implementation of equality legislation there had been a significant improvement in the accessibility of corporate buildings in the capital and indeed of understanding how disability discrimination law applies to employers. Those employers who are committed to making their business accessible to disabled staff are also benefitting from unique market insights from disabled employees and therefore to market insights and disabled customers. However we also heard a number of examples highlighting the disability discrimination that still exists on the high street.

View of the Tate Modern from the Thames

Above: The Tate Modern, named the most accessible tourist attraction in the UK by Vitalise. Credit: MasterOfHisOwnDomain, Wikimedia Commons.

How welcoming is London to disabled visitors?

As we approached the end of the evening, the final part of our debate proved to be the most uplifting in terms of hearing how London really can claim to excel in accessibility as a tourist destination. Helen Carter mentioned a recent accessible tourism award won by BDF Member Tate and shared some creative solutions to adapting older historic buildings from Kew Palace and the Royal Opera House. It was felt that one of the main reasons for success in this area was down to consistently consulting with disabled people to develop services in a meaningful and useful way.

Richard Knowles, Head of Visitor Services at The Royal Collection spoke about their holistic and person centred approach to accessible tourism. This included listening to feedback from disabled visitors and working with BDF and access consultants to think creatively about the needs of all visitors including those with disabilities. During the evening, we had heard about accessible solutions for people with mobility and sensory impairments. Richard spoke about how the Royal Collection used technology to offer online tours of exhibitions and venues to help people with conditions like Autism to plan their visit and address any concerns associated with visiting an unfamiliar environment.

Technology was also increasingly being used to provide accessible information about journey planning and TfL are now using a more personal meet and greet service on key transport gateways into London.

So, could London become an exemplar city on accessibility?

If we are all agreed that the London tourist industry can rightly claim to be leading European best practice in accessible tourism, then why has London not been a serious contender for awards like Access City?

While many visitor attractions capitalised on opportunities offered by the 2012 Olympics and many of our large corporates understand the value of investing in the access requirements of a diverse workforce, our transport infrastructure, high streets and public attitudes towards disability still need improvement. We think that the evening’s event offered both encouragement and new opportunities for us to continue to work with our Members and Partners to help bring about further improvements to accessibility in London.


Interested in attending our next After hours event? Email events@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk with your details to be placed on our Events mailing list.