When it comes to going global with accessible IT, the future is now

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

By Neil Milliken, Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion, Atos

As more and more businesses find they have to consider their work not just on a national but an international scale, the phrase ‘full accessibility’ takes on a new meaning. At Atos, for instance, we have around 100,000 employees located in more than 70 countries – so how do we ensure accessibility for all when we are working at this scale?

For those in IT and technology, this is a very pertinent question, because IT is central to our new global style of working. It isn’t a challenge that we can ignore if we want our systems to work for everyone.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day in May made it a good time to consider this question, and certainly it was great to see that so many organisations like Microsoft, Orange and Barclays share how they met the challenge at an event we held at Atos to mark the day. We used IT to make this event globally accessible too, in keeping with the theme: we held events in the UK, US, France, Spain, Austria and India, and live-streamed the UK event with closed captioning.

This kind of approach is key to accessibility on a global scale: it is about providing a standard service regardless of location or country. New technology and IT systems provide a huge opportunity in doing this, because they provide a single platform for customers and employees to use all over the world. But this also means they need to work, and to work perfectly, for everyone.

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffeeThis means taking a single approach which has been shown to work with your IT systems locally but then adapting it for different locations, working styles, and countries. At Atos, for example, we are seeking to do this by taking our UK model and using it as a blueprint for our work internationally.

The key elements of this blueprint? First and foremost, a holistic approach that goes beyond the technology itself. Our work on accessibility naturally included practical solutions such as assistive technology and overcoming any potential compatibility barriers with existing IT systems, but it also meant changing the way we approach governance around IT to incorporate more portable devices, flexible working and availability of specialized software.

A good way in to establishing this new way of working is to use an ‘tried-and-tested’ method, which for us was the ‘Accessibility Maturity Model’ developed by Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce. Applying the Model when developing our approach to accessibility also meant we could use

Taking a holistic approach also involved building knowledge of accessibility among staff. We did this with specific training on accessibility for colleagues but went further by including accessibility in our standard development methodologies and creating a world first Accessibility Apprenticeship program.

Another element to this is building on that knowledge base and encouraging employees to exchange thoughts and learning. We did this at Atos though our enterprise social network and our think tank the “Scientific Community” which produces thought leadership for the organisation, publishing blogs magazines and white papers and also keeping people up to date with “learn with Adrian” sessions every hosted by our CEO Adrian Gregory.

One way to keep up the knowledge exchange is to engage with others working in the same field within a safe space. With us at Atos this came in the form of Business Disability Forum’s Technology Taskforce, where senior people from a range of sectors come together to discuss our work around accessibility and share ideas.

Key to the holistic approach happening, though, and central to the success of any accessibility initiative, is senior buy-in. You need this not just to affect changes in thinking or procedures but also so you have a highly visible person to champion accessibility. At Atos, this started with our Head of Strategy but we now have support from our Global CIO as well. On a global level, this also means securing the buy-in of regional managers so that you can be supported in implementing the same changes at different locations and have a senior figure to support that rollout.

The last element, and one that is very much relevant in the world of IT, is keeping track of developments in the sector, and in 2017 those developments are happening as fast ever. We are seeing increased automation, huge advances in AI and even, with Elon Musk and neural lace, research into how computer systems can interface with the human brain. This is all very interesting to watch, and indeed some of it is still very much at the theoretical stage: but there’s no doubt that at some point it will have a bearing on accessibility and the way this is delivered for employees and customers.

Perhaps most immediate impact is from automation, and indeed there is an imperative for businesses now in reskilling workers for the new economy that automation and AI will bring. But again this is a major opportunity – for in creating these new roles, we can put accessibility at the centre of employees’ remits from the get-go.

We have still got a way to go on digital accessibility in the business world, and accessibility as a whole. But the rewards for making progress are obvious. As many people point out, this is the right thing to do but is also a commercial imperative: significantly, the biggest calls for greater accessibility come from customers, even more so than staff. At Atos some of our highest customer satisfaction ratings come from disabled people, for instance, because of the accessible features we have implemented. Furthermore for any organization hoping to be successful it pays to harness the talents of every member of staff – and key to that is removing all possible barriers.

These developments can all be harnessed in making businesses more open and inclusive for everyone, and the benefits that follow: it just remains to meet the challenges of those developments.

Face Equality Day – and its challenge to employers

By James Partridge OBE, Chief Executive, Changing Faces

On 26 May 2017 Changing Faces held the UK’s first Face Equality Day. People across the country wore the unique butterfly that is Changing Faces logo on their faces and bodies – and many companies pledged their support to promote face equality in their organisations.

And David Isaac, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “At the Commission we are working to deliver a fairer Britain for everyone and we wholeheartedly support both Changing Faces and their Face Equality campaign.”

Why a Face Equality Day?

Because over the last 25 years, Changing Faces has received far too many anecdotal

reports – borne out by research – that people with disfigurements to their face or body are seriously disadvantaged in British society. Which is why we lobbied for them to be protected under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 – successfully thanks in large part to the Employer’s Forum on Disability (as Business Disability Forum was then).

Joanna Corbin webversion

In 2008, we launched the campaign for face equality with additional information from an Implicit Attitudes Test (IAT). This showed very substantial unconscious bias: nine out of 10 members of the public found it very difficult to associate positive characteristics to someone with an unusual-looking face, believing them less likely to be successful or happy, and less fun to be with.

Since 2008, we have endeavoured to raise awareness of the prejudice and discrimination associated with disfigurement – through poster campaigns, work in schools and with many employers, initiatives such as my reading the news on Channel 5 and a film starring Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary in Downton Abbey) pointing up the lazy use of scarring by Hollywood and other film directors (https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/face-equality/face-equality-film).

We have made some progress in shifting public attitudes. The number of people showing bias is now down to seven out of ten according to the latest IAT study (http://www.changingfaces.org.uk/fetest).

But there is far to go. Just how far is now clear because, on Face Equality Day, Changing Faces published a shocking report, Disfigurement in the UK.

This shows that British society presents a vastly unequal playing field for people with disfigurements in almost every aspect of life which leads them to have lower aspirations and expectations, and where they are resigned to the inevitability of staring, abuse and injustice.

If you have a condition, mark or scar that affects your appearance (such as from a cleft lip and palate, a Bell’s palsy, scarring from an accident or burns, after cancer surgery or from psoriasis, vitiligo or rosacea) you are likely to face widespread discrimination, multiple challenges, and often abuse and harassment from other people.

The report is based on a 200-question survey completed by over 800 people and is available here: https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/campaigns/dituk

The challenge to Business Disability Forum members

I encourage – ask – all members of Business Disability Forum to read this report because we have been working with many of you and your organisations to create knowledge and confidence around disfigurement for more than 20 years.

We had hoped that, with disfigurement included in the Equality Act 2010 and other legislation, the workplace would be a place in which people who have a disfigurement would be able to contribute without prejudice and harassment. Sadly the evidence suggests this is far from the case.

Almost four-fifths (79.5%) of our respondents have avoided applying for a job because of potential reactions at interview or from new colleagues, 40.8% think their appearance hindered or prevented them from getting a job, and 55.7% think that their condition affected their lifetime ambitions for their career. One in six (16.7%) of respondents have had their condition or appearance mentioned at a job interview and, of these instances, in 82.6% of cases it was the interviewer who mentioned it.

If they did get into a new role, things don’t appear to get much better. 62.9% said that their appearance had been mentioned by work colleagues, and 26.2% – more than a quarter – have experienced discrimination from colleagues at the same rank or level of employment. Almost a fifth (17.8%) report experiencing discrimination or unfairness from their manager:

“A co-worker regularly singled me out and made comments and jokes about my skin suggesting I had spent too much time in the sun or that I must enjoy my alcohol. It was distressing and I left because of it.”

What needs to be done?

This report is a call to action for employers across Britain – and we hope BDF members will lead the way.

All employers and recruitment agencies need to be aware of their legal obligations to ensure people with disfigurements are not treated unfairly or discriminated against in the workplace. Disfigurement should be included equal opportunities policies and their monitoring. ‘Disfigurement confidence’ training should be mandated for HR teams and interviewers and all staff should receive face equality training – which Changing Faces can provide.

If you would like more information or advice, please contact Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy, on henrietta.spalding@changingfaces.org.uk

Being inclusive in recruitment is more than just ‘doing the right thing’ – it makes business sense


Peter Holliday speaking at the BDF Conference on Disability-Smart Suppliers & Partners in April 2017

By Peter Holliday, Managing Director, Sopra Steria Recruitment

Working with suppliers and partners isn’t always discussed as a factor in the way organisations approach disability – but it should be.

This is why it was very rewarding to join the wider discussion on working with suppliers and partners at Business Disability Forum’s annual conference – and even more interesting from our perspective as a recruitment supplier.

Employers in the UK spend £38 billion a year on contract and permanent recruitment suppliers alone – so it pays to ensure that this relationship between organisations and suppliers works well for everyone.

The recruitment profession is often considered to be operating at arms length from companies who need candidates. However, enlightened recruitment consultants working in true partnership with enlightened hirers can deliver great results together.

We do this because we believe that enlightened recruitment providers can really add value in this way, allowing for recruitment outsourcing to be seen as an opportunity for good practice to happen, rather than an obstacle to it.

It needs to be this way because, as a company procuring services, your equality agenda will only be as good as your suppliers. This is true of any service you outsource but is particularly true of recruitment, where inaccessible practice could block candidates or deny them an equal chance at success.

Recruitment service providers can now play a significant role in driving disability best practice to employers and candidates.

This is certainly what we’ve set out to do at Sopra Steria Recruitment, and I feel that our approach shows the relatively straightforward steps a supplier can take to ensure they are meeting best practice. It is a case of examining your processes for accessibility, as we did, and removing any potential barriers. For example, we developed how we advertised roles, using more inclusive job boards and making our own website more accessible.

Going further we trained our own recruiters through Business Disability Forum’s experts, enabling them to handle conversations on disability.

Taking these positive steps towards being a disability-smart supplier is more than just the right thing to do – it is also something that makes excellent business sense. Suppliers can gain an excellent business advantage from being disability-smart, not least when it comes to being awarded contracts during the tendering process. For example, on at least three occasions we were appointed by organisations that placed a 10% weighting in their tender criteria on having a policy around disability. More than that, we could demonstrate what we do on the ground, how we reach out to disabled workers, and how we make absolutely sure that they get equal opportunities. Showing this commitment to inclusivity will set disability-smart suppliers apart in terms of being partners in efforts on equality – and as providers that will bring added value to their services.

Key to this, ultimately, is making inclusivity the standard: making it business-as-usual. This was one of the many reasons we have chosen to sponsor and support Business Disability Forum’s Recruitment Service Provider Charter. It makes sense for employers and recruitment providers alike to follow the practical steps towards disability-smart recruitment the Recruitment Charter sets down. The results are employers that benefit from a wider pool of talent, and hiring processes that are open, accessible and fair for everyone.

The Recruitment Service Provider Charter provides employers and recruitment organisations with practical steps to becoming disability-smart and advice on how to promote barrier-free recruitment practices. To find out more about the Charter and download a copy, visit our website.

To find out more about Sopra Steria Recruitment’s approach to barrier-free recruitment, www.soprasteriarecruitment.co.uk or email contact.recruitment@soprasteria.com or call Tel: +44 (0) 370 010 7715

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.

Recruitment: how do we break down the barriers for disabled people?

By Jane Hatton, Founder/Director, Evenbreak

Picture of Jane Hatton

Jane Hatton, Founder/Director of Evenbreak

I was lucky enough to speak at the recent Business Disability Forum event on the topic of “impairment-specific recruitment” – which, in short, means aiming to hire people with disabilities.

It was fascinating listening to the other speakers and members of the audience. It seemed that there was a general consensus around specifically targeting disabled candidates, as organisations were traditionally missing out on this particular pool of talent. However, opinions on impairment-specific recruitment were divided.

It is a conflict. On the one hand, the idea of stereotyping people with a particular impairment as having a specific set of skills only suited for one specific type of job role seems to go against the whole idea of inclusion. However, the traditional recruitment process – CV or application form followed by interviews or assessment centres – clearly discriminates against some people more than others.

When we speak of impairment-specific recruitment, by and large we think of people on the autism spectrum. There is an assumption that people with autism all make good computer programmers or coders. Whilst there is a disproportionately large amount of people with autism or Asperger’s who are brilliant coders, every autistic person is, of course, different.

The interview barrier

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photosThe main barrier that autistic people face when trying to find work is the interview. At the BDF event, one of the speakers was Will, an Evenbreak candidate who is highly talented in many areas, but who is unable to “sell himself” at interview.

He explained that a common trait for autistic people is a difficulty in playing interpersonal games – making small talk, ingratiating themselves with strangers.

They see the interview as what it should be – an opportunity for the would-be employer to assess if the candidate could do the job in question well enough. Whereas, actually there would be much more accurate ways of establishing this. Thus the interview becomes more of a “beauty parade” – which candidate do we like the most? Which one will “fit in” with the rest of the team? This requires the candidate to focus on being liked rather than how good they would be in carrying out the role required. A concept which is alien to many people on the spectrum, and which they don’t understand.

For me, the question isn’t so much as whether we should change the recruitment process (to, for example, a practical demonstration of competence through a relevant test, or maybe a work trial) for some particular jobs, it’s about whether our traditional recruitment processes are actually effective in trying to predict the future performance of any candidate.

Interviews can be very flawed for a number of reasons. They are wholly dependent on the interviewers’ ability to ask the “right” questions and the interviewee’s ability to answer them in what that interviewer would consider to be the “right” way. Unconscious bias will come into play (no matter how any unconscious bias training sessions the panel have been on!), and much relies on whether the interviews saw something they liked or found comfortingly familiar in the candidate.

The solution

My personal view, having worked with thousands of candidates for whom traditional recruitment processes have successfully prevented them from gaining employment, is that having a more open, relevant recruitment process means that talented candidates with any or no impairments are able to compete at an equal level.

This means ensuring the assessment process is relevant to the role. A customer service role will clearly require the candidate to show they have good interpersonal skills. A coder may not need interpersonal skills, but will need attention to detail and relevant knowledge. These will need to be demonstrated, but I venture to suggest that an interview will never be the best way to ascertain how good a coder is at coding.

Maybe, rather than looking at the assumed “impairment” of the candidate, we should be looking at fixing the impairments of our recruitment processes to make them more accessible, inclusive – and most importantly, relevant – to all candidates.

Find out about Evenbreak and how they break down hiring barriers on their website.

Speech-to-text: how it works and how it helps

In our latest guest blog Alistair Robbie, Nuance Communications, discusses the benefits of speech-to-text technology for disabled employees.

There’s no doubt that the digital economy has accelerated the pace at which business is conducted. For many companies, this has caused them to change many of their backend processes and applications, in order to both perform effectively and to meet changing customer expectations over speed and service delivery, nationally and internationally.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

One way some companies are meeting these new expectations is through the use of desktop speech recognition solutions like Nuance Communications’ Dragon software for the PC and Mac.

Its appeal lies in the fact that it is easier to talk to your computer than to type, especially given that few of us are trained typists. We tend to talk up to three times faster than we type and that, combined with recognition accuracy rates of 99%, means that users of Dragon, for instance, can see a tangible boost in their productivity levels.

For service companies in particular – or any business that prides itself on customer service and prompt responses to enquiries – users can respond to a greater number of enquiries during the course of the day.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

The productivity boost can be appreciated by users with accessibility requirements. Whether they have an upper body mobility issue, RSI or they find using the keyboard and mouse physically uncomfortable, with a piece of software like Dragon they can simply sit back and dictate, knowing that it gives them not only full access to the power and communication features of a computer, but a dramatic increase in productivity, too.

Employees with conditions like dyspraxia and dyslexia will also come to value speech recognition technology like Dragon. Their thoughts and knowledge are no longer restrained by the keyboard and mouse, with its text-to-speech functionality enabling it to read back what has been dictated, making it easier to spot any mistakes or errors and correct them.

It is rare a technology can have such a profound effect on both personal productivity as well as benefitting users with accessibility requirements. But, as some forward thinking companies have already discovered, speech recognition technology fulfils its promise to cater for both. And, given the relentless pace of the digital economy, this technology could be instrumental in maintaining a competitive edge both now and in the future.

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.