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.

The Click Away Pound survey is officially launched

By Rick Williams


“Here’s a question: does the Equality Act place obligations on business about making their websites accessible and usable for disabled people? Well… err…yes.

OK, so the second question: why is it so many websites aren’t readily accessible or usable for disabled people? I don’t know the answer but it puzzles me.

I’m a blind guy and use a screen reader – you know, that bit of software that reads out what’s on the screen with a voice like Micky Mouse on helium. I would say I was quite an experienced user but it amazes me the number of websites that I find hard to use or can’t use at all! This is so frequent now I got to the point of not even noticing. I just tried one and if it didn’t work I tried another wherever possible. Last year I started keeping stats just for my own curiosity. When doing a search for something new, especially if I wanted to buy something, it was surprising to find that I would typically look at three or four sites before I found one I could use easily.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Do I contact the sites I can’t access and take up the issues? Actually, I’ve given up. I have done it but… well they usually don’t understand or even reply.

On the other hand if I find a site I can use then I use it as much as possible; often even if I know I might be able to get things cheaper elsewhere. For example, I find it easier to have my supermarket shopping delivered and the best site I found to use is Ocado, so I use it. I know some things would be cheaper elsewhere but, well, the accessibility of the site and the app make it so easy why would I bother to look elsewhere when my experience tells me I’m likely to find problems.

The other thing that I find odd is that my company has been running Business Disability Forum’s e-check service http://www.e-check-it.com since 2008. In that time 70% of the sites we’ve reviewed were given a ‘red’ assessment – in other words ‘significant potential commercial, PR or legal risk’. Even more surprising is the low number of organisations who have got such assessments who’ve done anything about it!

So, putting this together: there is a law but it isn’t that successful and many businesses don’t seem to think this is an issue. OK, so what we need to do is find out what this costs businesses and maybe the bottom line will persuade them that website accessibility and usability is important as a business issue.

Working with Business Disability Forum and supported by the RNIB and Enterprise Rent-a-Car we’ve just launched the Click-Away Pound survey, which aims to find out what disabled people’s experiences are when shopping online, what they do about problematic sites and the potential costs to business of not thinking about the issue.

If you have a disability give it a go – only takes 10 minutes and will help improve the Internet experience for disabled people.”

For more information and to take the survey visit: http://www.clickawaypound.com

Rick Williams
Managing Director
Freeney Williams Ltd
http://www.freeneywilliams.com

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.

A step too far?- A comment on the recent Court of Appeal decision handed down in the matter of Paulley v First Group plc.

By Bela Gor


So the Court of Appeal has decided that bus companies are not required to expect that passengers move out of a wheelchair space on a bus to enable a wheelchair user to travel. The Court decided that it was “a step too far” to compel other passengers to vacate a wheelchair user’s space on a bus. One Judge said that he would “hope and expect” that drivers would do more than simply ask passengers to move but that the law did not require them to do so.

Man in wheelchair getting into a bus

The Court of Appeal’s decision seems inconsistent with the duty to make reasonable adjustments enshrined in law. Mr Paulley has the right under the Equality Act to travel on a bus and the duty to make reasonable adjustments enables that right. Is this not akin to the right that Rosa Parks should have had, as a black woman to sit at the front of the bus? To say that Mr Paulley’s ability to travel on a bus is dependent on the courtesy, unselfishness and moral niceness of other passengers is the same, surely, as saying that Rosa Parks could have sat at the front of the bus if nice white folk didn’t mind – no need for a right protected by law. The woman with the buggy didn’t have a legal right to occupy that space. She just chose to do so and chose not to move when asked and the driver and First Bus Co chose not to compel her to move.

If bus companies don’t have to have a policy to allow wheelchair users to travel then many disabled people won’t be able to guarantee that they can get to work on time or to meetings, hospital appointments or as in this case, a family lunch.

If the final decision of the Court is that the choice of non-disabled people supersedes the rights of disabled people protected by the Equality Act then where does this leave disabled people in this country? Expect to see more on this case.


Join Bela for a discussion on recent key developments in employment and disability at our Legal Workshop on 14 January. Click here to book online or call 020 7403 3020.

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.