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.