Is there really a business case for website accessibility?

By Rick Williams

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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

A chance to celebrate and reflect

By Sir Ian Cheshire

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

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

Delegates and speakers in the audience at the Partner Group Reception

More than 200 delegates attended the Partner Group Reception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dean Haynes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Monday’s dirty secret (and why it doesn’t matter)

By Christopher Watkins


Today is the third Monday of January; so-called Blue Monday, apparently ‘the most depressing’ day of the year. It’s around this time of year that I get a glut of companies phoning me up to ask if I could speak at their mental health awareness event, run a workshop, or advise on the health & wellbeing activities they are planning to ‘celebrate’ the big day. And it makes a great deal of sense to do so: performance dips and sickness absence peaks are a well-recognised phenomenon in January, and such wellbeing exercises can minimise the effects of these on overall business performance. An eye-catching ‘day’ to attach an agenda to can also be a useful tool to raise larger issues across large organisations and promote cultural change.

I must confess, however, that I have mixed feelings towards the ubiquitous mass of awareness days at the best of times. My cynical side is frequently frustrated by the idea that by simply ‘raising awareness’ of an issue we somehow make a meaningful difference to society or individuals’ lives. And then there’s so many of them! Did you know that next month is not only National Heart Month[1] and Raynaud’s Awareness Month[2], but Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month as well[3]? Within the first week of February alone, we have World Cancer Day (4 Feb)[4], National Doodle Day (for Epilepsy, 5 Feb)[5] and ‘Wear it Beat it’ (for the British Heart Foundation, 6 Feb)[6], before a week of Tinnitus awareness starting on 8 Feb[7]?

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

‘Blue Monday’ might just wind me up more than the rest put together, not only because it is an issue close to my heart, but because it hides a dirty secret; one which, I fear, those working in the area are embarrassed to admit lest it promote cynicism towards the wider agenda. I have taken to asking organisations planning their Blue Monday events what they understand the meaning of the day to be, and have heard responses describing it as anything from the day on which people are most likely to be off sick with depression, the annual peak for deaths by suicide, the day in which people are most likely to self-report as being depressed…

Unfortunately, the reality is that Blue Monday has about as much to do with credible research into the seasonal prevalence of mental ill-health as the 1983 New Order masterpiece by the same name. The third Monday in January is, in fact, the day on which is it easiest to sell you a summer holiday.

Or, more specifically, it is a widely discredited invention peddled by PR company Porter Novelli on behalf of Sky Travel about ten years ago. It claims to be based on an entirely nonsensical formula based on metrics including ‘travel time’, ‘delays’, ‘time spent packing’, and a number of other factors without defined units of measurement[8]. To be fair, by a 2009 press release the formula seems to have been reviewed to consider slightly more reasonable factors like ‘weather’, ‘debt’ and ‘time since failing new year’s resolutions’, again without any defined units of measurements but reassuringly (or miraculously) coming up with exactly the same day[9].

I’m not, to be clear, passing judgement on any of the causes or issues behind these awareness events and don’t for one minute want to suggest that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s easy to see, however, how well-meaning businesses and diversity teams can get bogged down in a relentless calendar of ‘awareness raising’, to the extent that they might lose sight of what’s really important: the benefits to business, individuals and society as a whole delivered by diverse workforces and inclusive practices. My message is simply to take a step back and consider the purpose of any event or wellbeing exercise you are taking part in today, and specifically the value these activities add for the time, effort and money invested.

So, have I been turning down these Blue Monday speaking engagements on principle, then? Of course not. After all, almost every awareness day is essentially ‘made up’, and it would be foolish to dismiss them on this basis. If you are currently investing in mental health in your organisation, it makes great sense to attach your activities to a (rightly or wrongly) recognised ‘awareness day’. It’s also perfectly sensible to invest in mental wellbeing at this time of year because you have identified that performance or sickness absence issues peak in the winter months. But for the sake of not just pedantry but transparency and credibility, please let’s stop calling Blue Monday ‘the most depressing day of the year’ and rather see it for what it is: a potentially useful tool to promote meaningful cultural change and reap the benefits of a healthy and inclusive workplace and society, with no need for a fabricated ‘meaning’ beyond that. Let’s have the courage to be led by tangible and empirically-founded diversity and inclusion priorities based on business and cultural need, not the unrelenting calendar of awareness events!

[1] http://www.bhf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[2] http://www.raynauds.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[3] http://www.ammf.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[4] http://www.worldcancercampaign.org/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[5] http://doodle-day.epilepsy.org.uk/

[6] https://wearitbeatit.bhf.org.uk/

[7] http://www.tinnitus.org.uk/#sthash.TroBQktw.dpuf

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/16/badscience.uknews

[9] https://web.archive.org/web/20100221213456/http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/media/news-releases/news-releases-2009/13-january-2009


You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs

The Apprentice – you’re hired!

By Charles Clement

Charles Photo 

Recruiting the right candidate can be a challenging business. How do you make sure you get the right person with all of the skills necessary to do the job?

If you’ve been following the las t 12 weeks of The Apprentice you’ll see that more and more candidates are expected to show a diverse range of skills, not only technical abilities, but personal and social skills too. Just like Lord Sugar employers are increasingly using a diverse range of methods to test applicants. However, these can present all manner of challenges for disabled applicants. There is a legal duty to make adjustments for disabled candidates during the recruitment process. Let’s see what changes Lord Sugar could have made during the process.

First of all, there is the ‘brainstorming’ session at the start of each task. Everyone is vying to be heard and talking over each other and it can turn in to a bit of a bunfight. This could be really stressful for someone who feels anxious easily. The unstructured nature of these meetings may also cause problems for people who are hard of hearing. One of the most effective things here would be to do some planning beforehand. A clear agenda of what is going to be discussed and when would make the meetings a little less stressful and help deaf candidates keep track of what was happening. Another easy change that could be made would be to ask everyone to speak one at a time. This may help those who needed to lip read or use an interpreter. But wouldn’t these changes make the task easier for everyone? And just think how much more productive they would be.

Then there are all the tasks that require candidates to run around buildings or warehouses taking measurements on the fly or adding things up in their head – no calculators allowed. Now this is just asking for mistakes to be made – disabled or not. And if you have a condition such as dyslexia, this might be particularly challenging. Why not allow people some quiet time and space to double check figures and make sure they are right or, better still, allow them to use a calculator. I’m assuming that you wouldn’t ban calculators from the workplace too?

And what about the creative challenges such as creating and branding a product? Not everyone will feel comfortable with this type of challenge – particularly perhaps if you have Asperger’s Syndrome or autism, and might feel more comfortable working with figures or processes (although of course this isn’t the case for everyone). Often, people will only apply for roles they think that they can do; so if someone applies for a role as an accountant, don’t give them a generic test that requires creative thinking, unless that is required in the job.

With all this in mind, Lord Sugar might actually decide it would be reasonable to allow some candidates to bypass the process completely and do a work trial on the job. But I suppose that wouldn’t make very good television.

To ensure your recruitment process is inclusive and giving your business access the widest talent pool, contact Business Disability Forum (BDF) for more advice. BDF member organisations can get in touch with our Advice service on 020-7403-3020.

Event round-up: Technology Taskforce Film Festival

By Dean Haynes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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