Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

home-worker-image-obscured-person-using-a-laptop-with-mug-of-coffee

Following the publication of the Click-Away Pound Report http://www.clickawaypound.com I’ve been reflecting on why website accessibility and usability for disabled people is still an issue after all these years. It is a puzzle to me that 71% of disabled users click-away from sites with access barriers and consequently displace £11.75 B to accessible sites. Why do businesses let that happen? It definitely isn’t good business on any level.

This situation exists despite:

  • The Equality Act and its predecessor – the Disability Discrimination Act
  • International standards
  • Government guidelines
  • A British Standard
  • Expert guidance and discussions
  • Campaigns

The traditional business case

It seems to me there are three key aspects to the broader business case:

  • Legal
  • PR
  • Commercial

These three issues are, of course, inter-related but are worth considering individually.

In reality the legal risks of having an inaccessible website are low in the UK. To make a case a customer would need to demonstrate a breach of the Equality Act which affected them personally and this would need to be done in a County or High court which would be expensive and time consuming. No cases in this field have been pursued to their conclusion; the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has initiated several cases against businesses with inaccessible sites but the cases were settled out of court, with the organisations involved agreeing to address the issues. The lack of cases coming to court probably explains why the law has had little impact in this area since its introduction (in the form of the Disability Discrimination Act) in 1995, although challenges are always a possibility. Interestingly, in the USA the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for class actions and the imposition of much higher compensation payments. Even so, the US approach has not delivered a fully accessible web presence.

There are potential PR risks if website accessibility is ignored and this has implications, albeit limited, for loss of reputation. Any business strategy based on customer-focus and inclusivity is quickly undermined by the lack of an inclusive website. Such stories are unlikely to generate significant coverage in mainstream media and result in PR damage unless a legal challenge is mounted, but they do attract attention on social media and generate ’mood music’‘ of negativity about the business’s understanding of the issues which can be damaging to the brand.

Even commercial judgements such as lost or displaced revenue has not driven business to ensure accessible websites; if it had there wouldn’t be this issue. This surely can only mean businesses don’t understand its size and implications.

Clearly this business case has failed to gain traction. What is the reality that business is failing to grasp?

The business issues

Considering the trends identified in the Survey and applying them to the national data is illuminating.

  • The most recent ONS estimate of the UK population is 65.11 million in mid-2015 of whom 87.9% (46.47 million) have internet access.
  • CAPGemini projected overall UK online spending to be £126 billion by the beginning of 2016 equating to an average spend per head of the UK population with internet access of £2710.
  • In 2016, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were 8.6 million internet users with a disability in the UK
  • This Survey found that 71% of internet users with a disability have access needs; this translates to 6.1 million people
  • Taking an average spend per head of £2710, the online spending power of 6.1 million disabled people with access needs in 2016 is £16.55 billion.
  • The Survey found that 71% of the total 6.1 million disabled internet users with access needs (4.3 million people) simply click-away when confronted with a problematic website.
  • These figures equate to a click-away figure of £11.75 billion lost in 2016 from those sites which are not accessible.

These calculations are extrapolated from the Survey’s findings so care must be taken when considering them. Nevertheless, these figures are so large that even allowing for a significant margin of interpretation they are too large to be ignored.

This assessment is supported by findings from our wider work in this field which indicates that over 70% of websites present significant accessibility and usability barriers to disabled users. This means that over two-thirds of businesses are significantly undermining their own potential online customer base. This spend is not lost but simply moves elsewhere as disabled users with access needs turn to a website which is more user friendly. Two-thirds of online retailers are passing customers and sales to their competitors.

Conclusion

To answer the question ‘Is there really a business case’ I believe the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’, both nationally and at the level of the individual business.  However, business needs to get a better understanding of the bottom line implications and adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach to website accessibility rather than treating it as a ‘nice to do’ or ‘bolt-on’.

A brief look at the numbers in the Click-Away Pound report should be enough to persuade organisations that they are potentially ignoring and excluding a large number of potential customers. Also businesses need to bear in mind that if a disabled shopper clicks away from their site to one of their competitors, they show little inclination to return.

Take a look at the Click-Away Pound report and get an insight into the business issues and how inaccessible websites impact on your business.

http://www.clickawaypound.com

Disability Confident and what it means for businesses

By George Selvanera

2016 has been a busy news year indeed but one thing businesses likely noted this summer was the relaunch of the Government’s Disability Confident scheme.

BDF welcomes the Government raising awareness about the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people. We also strongly support many MPs hosting events within their electorates to draw attention to the benefits of recruiting and retaining disabled people.

While it is not our place to endorse the Disability Confident initiative, we help our Members and Partners where they want it with confirming that they have met the criteria at tier three of the initiative and provide information about how they can participate in the scheme whenever they ask for it.

At BDF, we know that changing employer commitment to prioritising disability leadership and then planning and making changes to policies and practices and getting better at disability employment is not straightforward. It requires a whole organisation approach. It requires cross functional working, strong leadership and must always be grounded in the lived experience of disabled candidates and employees themselves.

For example, ensuring that the needs of candidates and employees with dyslexia are meaningfully addressed requires ensuring any online application processes are fully accessible and potentially adjusting any assessments depending on the needs of the individual candidate; and once the person starts work possibly sourcing and making available specialist software or at least enabling some IT personalisation which could involve colleagues working in IT, HR, Occupational Health, Learning and Development, Procurement and Communications. The line manager and staff manager likely need support too. For candidates and employees that have visual impairments, different approaches are required and other colleagues such as those involved in Facilities Management might be involved too. For candidates and employees that have mobility impairments, different approaches are required again. And so on and on.

That’s why BDF developed with its Partners and Members in 2004, the Disability Standard 1.0 and were pleased to launch our fourth iteration of the Disability Standard in 2015 reflecting the evolution in best practice. The Disability Standard is a best practice management tool that helps employers plan and measure their disability improvements across 10 functional areas of any organisation. While a SME for example might not have 10 functional areas with 10 distinct leads- it might all fall on 1 or 2 people- the whole-organisation principles apply in the same way.

Our experience is that organisations that use the Disability Standard over time get substantially better at how they interact with their disabled colleagues, candidates and customers and can demonstrate that they employ more, retain more and develop more their disabled colleagues.

The Disability Confident scheme is helpful in drawing light on the benefits for employers from recruiting and retaining disabled people; and wherever that acts to encourage employers to do more with their disabled colleagues and to provide more opportunities for disabled job seekers and young people that is always a good thing.

We do think it would be helpful to make the tier two status of a Disability Confident Employer only available to employers that are experienced at employing disabled people. It seems risky to the scheme to have employers self-assess and then publicise that they’re confident at recruiting and retaining disabled people when they don’t have any actual experience, whether in the past or currently, of doing so. We think as well that it will be helpful to make sure only organisations with appropriate expertise are validating organisations as Disability Confident Leaders to also give confidence to disabled people that these are organisations that are doing amongst the best- not perfect- but are genuinely very good and getting better in their recruitment, retention and development of disabled people.

It’s not yet clear what metrics Disability Confident will use to measure success and its own contribution to the recruitment and retention of the 1 million plus extra disabled people the Government aims to have in paid employment as part of halving the disability employment gap. So we think its important also we must not have excessive expectations of what Disability Confident on its own deliver.

There’s other Government support available to employers to make it easier to recruit and retain more disabled people as well as direct support to disabled people and indirect support through programmes such as Work Choice, third sector provision and so on too. They each have a role to play. The Government’s Green Paper gives us all a chance to have a say on this whole package- what’s working, what needs improvement and what’s missing- and we certainly hope that as many disabled people, friends and families, the third sector, public sector bodies and businesses share their views. It’s certainly our plan to do so in February 2017.

World Mental Health Day – employers take note…

By Samuel Buckley

It’s World Mental Health Day today (10 October), and this time it feels as relevant as ever
mental-health-buddies-feature-468x299—and also like the issue needs more than one day a year to address.

In the last few weeks alone, studies have revealed that mental health issues are becoming more common among young people, that three-quarters of UK workers have experienced a mental health problem and that suicide kills more workers than falls in the construction industry.

We’re also seeing a major disconnect between how employers and employees view mental health in the workplace: 97 per cent of managers eel ‘accessible’ when it comes to discussing mental health, but only 49 per cent of employees feel able to raise these concerns, according to a study by Business In The Community.

World Mental Health Day is a great opportunity for employers to start the conversation around mental health, but this is a conversation that has to continue beyond just one day. Employers need to take a sustained approach.

Business Disability Forum has done a lot of work with organisations in the UK and abroad to find practical solutions to this issue, with approaches based on reasonable adjustments, developing managers’ soft skills, employee assistance programmes and wellbeing initiatives.

Best practice involves approaching mental health issues with a few key points in mind:

  • An employee with a mental health issue may be considered disabled. Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know about an employee’s disability, including a mental health condition, and to protect them from discrimination. Relevant workplace adjustments could include changes to working hours, flexible working, or changes in workload, as well as changes to the physical environment like lighting, position in the office, or measures to reduce triggers like noise or temperature.
  • As with other non-visible disabilities, there is no obligation for employees to disclose a mental health condition to an employer and it’s important to respect the privacy of anyone who does choose to share this information. 
  • It is absolutely not down to the employer or manager to try and diagnose a mental health issue in a member of staff, but the employer is responsible for identifying when an employee might require a reasonable adjustment – even if the employee has not specifically requested one. 
  • As with any non-visible disability, a mental health condition might manifest in a number of ways, including changes in behaviour, attendance, appearance, punctuality or performance.

There are real implications when it comes to tackling mental health conditions in the workplace. Figures from the Office of National Statistics indicated that 15 million work-days were lost due to mental ill-health in 2013, costing the UK economy £8.4 billion.

But the cost benefits of addressing mental health at work are also clear. Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that workplace mental health promotion programmes save almost £10 for every £1 invested.

Which brings us back to the study by BITC. While most managers admitted putting business interests before employee wellbeing, there is a clear business case that healthy employees will ultimately lead to a healthy business.

So mental health needs a focus that goes way beyond awareness-raising for World Mental Health Day: it should be a priority for businesses every day of the year.

If you want to find out more about the help and advice about mental health, please see our Line manager guide ‘Mental Health at work’ or visit our events calendar where you can find information on our upcoming events around reasonable adjustments, wellbeing initiatives and best practice.

Making sure that ‘digital-first’ is also ‘accessible-first’

By Lucy Ruck

Delegates at the Accessibility in the Digital Space event

The Accessibility in the Digital Space event on 28 September

There’s no question that the main way that employees and customers alike will deal with most organisations today will be digitally.

But the question remains: what does this mean for accessibility? So this is what we asked at our Accessibility in the Digital Space event which I was lucky enough to lead on Wednesday 28 September.

These events are enormously rewarding in terms of the success stories and good practice we hear about from BDF’s Members and Partners and particularly the sheer passion many of them have for making their websites and IT systems fully accessible.

Indeed what emerged very quickly at Wednesday’s event was the importance of digital accessibility for organisations. Nigel Fletcher of Tesco, who kindly hosted the event, estimated that around 20 per cent of Tesco’s 500,000 employees have a disability.

The event gave us the first glimpse of the Click-Away Pound research which BDF have produced with Freeney Williams and which will show the costs to businesses of users leaving inaccessible websites.

What we know already is stark: that over 70 per cent of disabled people face significant barriers to accessing websites and apps and often give up.

Of course, there are many challenges involved with digital accessibility, not just in terms of working around existing systems but also entrenched ways of thinking. Rick Williams highlighted the need for a change of culture at organisations so that accessibility is approached as a matter of course, rather than being included as an afterthought as often happens at present.

Then there is the sheer scale of the work involved, with Alistair Duggin of the Government Digital Service noting that making the gov.uk site accessible entailed work on some 300,000 pages of web content.

But one of the key points from the discussion was that organisations are rising to the challenge in a big way.

Marianne Matthews and Clare Davidson from Sky highlighted a major shift in the organisation towards embedding accessibility in everything they do. They have built up a massive digital product development team of 650 people to help them do this, tested every digital product with live users and linked accessibility directly in to Sky’s three design principles of ‘brilliantly simple’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘intelligent’.

Meanwhile Will Houston of Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, noted that accessibility for employees is being transformed by allowing employees to personalise the way they work on IT systems. Will also spoke extensively about the tools that the Technology Taskforce has developed, that are really helping him to embed accessibility with their organisation. Signing up to the Accessible Technology Charter and using the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM), have really helped them to assess where they are and the areas where they need to improve.

So the key theme here is changing the way we think – as we move more and more towards being ‘digital-first’, we should also become ‘accessible-first’.

And it’s great to be part of the discussions that drive that move.

For more information about BDF’s Technology Taskforce please visit www. technologytaskforce.org/

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

2016-06-21 09.56.17

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”.