Why is web accessibility important?

(This guest blog originally appeared on texthelp.com as part of their Accessibility Leaders series)

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

So much has changed in the last two decades. In fact so much has changed in the last two years. As a blind person I’m just one example of how tech has helped improve the life choices for people with disabilities.

With the power of computers all around us wherever we go it can be incredibly empowering when one or more of your own senses don’t work. In the past, I used to need a talking GPS device (£750), a talking notetaker (£1,500), a talking barcode scanner (£150) and many more specialist devices. Whereas now, I have all that functionality and lots more on one device, which is also almost infinitely expandable with each new app or service that comes along.

However, this powerful new tech can only enable access to the digital world for people with disabilities if that world makes certain allowances. That’s where the need – no, the imperative – for digital accessibility comes in.

The low-down on accessibility

Digital accessibility has two main aspects; the accessibility, affordability and functionality of physical devices (specialist or mainstream) and the accessibility of services (websites and apps etc) that we access using those gadgets.

The accessibility of devices has transformed in recent years, driven in large part by Apple. The accessible Mac and I-devices have ‘mainstreamed’ inclusion and, because of its influence on other manufacturers, has meant that inclusion is now more affordable than ever before. Disabled people are using their smartphones to aid mobility, manage their health, interact with colleagues, friends and society, play an active part in commerce and also have a lot of fun.

The accessibility of these devices has also impacted that second area of web and app accessibility. Apple’s developer tools have been designed so that you actually have to break accessibility in your app. Thus there are tens of thousands of accessible apps to choose from – often replacing hard or impossible to use websites that haven’t been built with the benefit of such an environment. As a blind person I always reach for an app which is a much more accessible, cleaner and more distilled user experience. Actually I would first reach for Alexa or Siri to see if the information or interaction I want can be done in a few seconds flat.

One reason why the smartphone is so empowering is that it enables people with disabilities to avoid using the internet. Despite the carrots and the sticks associated with making your website accessible, the internet is still a horribly inhospitable place for people with disabilities. If a virtual assistant or inclusive app can come up with the goods then a frustrating exploration of a much more complex – and almost invariably less accessible – web-based alternative will be avoided like the plague.

Mainstreaming accessibility

The concept of digital accessibility is now not only more mainstream an issue – it is, in fact, a purely mainstream issue.

We’re living in the age of extreme computing. In this mobile-first world, we are interacting with devices in ways that are far removed from the conventional set-up of your office or home, where you had ultimate control over your environment. If the sun was too bright or too dull, for example, you’d pull the blind or turn on the lights.

Now, whether it’s juggling a phone one-handed as you weave down the street coffee in-hand, or as you desperately try to finish off that text or transaction before you reach the bottom of the escalator, or tilting and shading your phone under the glare of the midday sun, you’re involved in extreme computing – and extreme computing needs inclusive design.

The challenge is to optimise for every situation.

That sounds like a tough challenge – optimising your devices or your content and functionality for everyone and every situation. Well the accessibility guidelines are actually meant to do just that – help websites or apps  design to optimise for the needs of people who may have a vision, motor or learning impairment, for example.

However accessibility, with its historical connotations of being solely for the disabled user, should probably now be replaced with the idea of ‘Inclusive design’. Inclusive design is for every user. If you have no disability but you are using your phone one-handed on the move then you actually do have a temporary impairment that is identical to someone who has a motor difficulty 24-7. It’s true. You need exactly the same design considerations (good sized tappable areas separated by enough white space) as is needed by someone with Parkinson’s or a tremor.

How to move the accessibility needle

Hopefully, at this point, we all agree that digital accessibility is essential to make products and services fit for purpose in this mobile-first world – quite apart from it being an essential component of the daily digital lives of people with disabilities.

It’s been a legal requirement to have an accessible website since 2003 and yet we estimate that still 90%+ of websites in the UK don’t even meet a level of WCAG single-A compliance – let alone AA which is arguably the legal requirement.

I believe that the single most impactful development that will see a seismic shift in accessibility is for the government to actually enforce the law. That sounds odd, but I’ll explain.

You can barely leave your car one minute over time without getting a parking ticket, but where are the government wardens of the internet? The law on accessibility matters too – arguably much more so for those disabled users directly impacted, and indeed for our digital economy more widely. Because, what’s good for someone with a visual impairment is good for someone using a small screen etc, etc (you’re all experts on this now).

While it can take considerable time and expertise to ensure a website is compliant, it’s incredibly simple to check AA-level compliance (the legal minimum) with an automated checking tool. It would only take a very small team to enforce.

So why leave it to disabled individuals to enforce the law? That seems wrong to me.

One reason is that for the longest time the government probably felt that their own house wasn’t sufficiently in order. They were doing the equivalent of speeding or parking on double-yellow lines themselves. But now gov.uk is pretty accessible and so I say that now is the time. Let’s get this initiative underway and get companies to sit up and take note.

The journey to accessibility in the UK so far has been incredibly slow. Other countries choosing to be proactive are seeing a significant shift towards a more digitally-inclusive world – and the benefits are being noticed by everyone. As a blind person driven to despair by the digital world on a daily basis, I can only hope that you decide to champion accessibility. And not out of fear of the possible brand or legal consequences – but because it’s the right thing to do.

Happy, inclusive digital creation.

If you would like to learn more about what you could do to make your website more accessible, download our practical guide to digital inclusion.

On an orange background a woman is looking at a screen, text says "Texthelp - a quick, practical guide to digital inclusion and accessible information for websites"

About AbilityNet

AbilityNet has been changing lives since 1998. We offer advice, information and expert resources on assistive technologies and mainstream solutions for people with the broadest range of disabilities – as well as workplace and DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) assessments in HE. We also deliver website and mobile accessibility consultancy to hundreds of clients across all sectors.

Disability-Smart stories: 2020 technology showcase

By Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum

“In the context of disability, technology offers some great opportunities but also some real challenges that we need to look out for. We’ve all got a role to play in creating an inclusive working environment,” was the reminder to the audience from Sarah Churchman OBE, Chief Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing Officer at PwC, at our annual Technology Showcase, this year called Disability-Smart stories and hosted by PwC.

CEO Diane Lightfoot and Lucy Ruck, Business Disability Forum’s Taskforce Manager welcomed the audiences and the three speakers who would take to the stage to tell their disability-smart stories.

Pictured from left to right are Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

From left to right: Diane Lightfoot, Michael Vermeersch, Robert Nolan, Tracey Lenthall and Lucy Ruck

First was Tracey Lenthall, HR Director, PwC, who shared her story of living with dyslexia. She explained that dyslexia sits under the neurodiversity umbrella, those include dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism and other neurodiverse conditions – and dyslexia means difficulty with words. She offered the insight that: “the difficulty of words is actually a symptom, not a cause… dyslexics have abilities that are out of balance, so we have difficulties in processing and remembering sounds, and difficulties in putting details in order. This is often balanced by strengths, which is 3D imaging, we see the world from a visual perspective, verbal skills and long-term memory.” She also alerted the audience that dyslexia affects 1 in 10 people and there is a strong impact on everyday life and in your education. It has a very, very strong link to ADHD. 40% of dyslexics have got ADHD. 60% of people who have ADHD are dyslexic.

She added on how technology has helped her: “So how does it manifest itself in me? Constructions of sentences, I find incredibly difficult. What is in my head, I have this amazing creative head, but actually what comes out on to pen and paper, and on to the laptop, is completely – it just does not represent it at all. I love Google for many, many reasons, so what Google is brilliant at now is the whole blue line thing and it just tells you if your sentences aren’t quite right, so you can go back and have a look at that, and recreate those.

“understanding how you can change what was a real negative into an absolute positive… and just being part of the workforce, I think is really important.”

Michael Vermeersch, Digital Inclusion Lead, Microsoft followed soon after and talked about how his disability in the context of the day was autism and dyspraxia. He told the audience of early events in his life how he was “probably was the first pupil in my school also at the age of six to have read from A to Z in an encyclopedia because that’s the amount of times they would put me away because I was disruptive, which was fantastic, because there’s a lot of knowledge in an A to Z encyclopedia”. This contrasted to his times at university experience: “Moving into university, university was easy, I liked learning, that was really easy for me, I just needed to look at a page and I absorbed it, university life, being social there was really easy because the only thing they do is drink and make lots of noise, which I could really imitate… people felt like I was a good person to hang around with, and they gave me all kinds of jobs to do, like being chairman for this and chairman for that, which I did really well, because of my attention to detail, and I liked to have things run really perfectly. A bit like my work now really, apart from the drinking, and that bit.”

He told the audience he was diagnosed in 2016, and stated why: “I felt like I needed to have that diagnosis because the world got more and more hectic and I kind of needed to make some kind of stance and saying, whoa, let’s just stop there, and tell you how you can remove the barriers for me.”

In 2017, Michael was encouraged to present his work more and in 2019 I got the highest award at Microsoft – the platinum award.

Of the role of technology played in his life, Michael added: “Artificial intelligence I think is the great saviour and is going to become more and more the great saviour.” He was evangelical in his love for Office 365, workplace analytics “where it will tell me, you’re having too many meetings, maybe you want to have some focus time, do you want me to schedule that for you? And it will schedule that for me, if I give it permission. Or look, those are the people you mostly work with, those are your stakeholders, your collaborators. Or actually you worked a lot with that person in the past, you have been disconnected for a while”. He also believes it needs to be designed with people with disabilities, to have that insight in there, adding “we don’t want other people to assume what the barriers are for us”.

bdf

Robert Nolan, Chair, Deafblind UK was the third speaker and told the audience he was born deaf, adding “in the early 60s, it’s a tough thing to be told your child is deaf but that’s what my parents had to deal with”. He felt fortunate though the frequencies he could hear best were around speech. He recalls: “My first bit of technology was the NHS box hearing aid which I wore on my chest with a knitted thing my mum made and it meant I was always different, anyone with young children knows no kid wants to be different.”

He added: “The other thing about hearing aids, they don’t correct your hearing. Spectacles correct your vision, but hearing aids don’t. They amplify, so if you hear mess, that’s all you will amplify, background and foreground, it doesn’t distinguish.”

After his time at university, Robert had hoped to become a teacher after being inspired by his geography teacher. After being informed he could not teach secondary students (in the 1970s), he decided to go hitchhiking, for over a year, however his mother and girlfriend, who later became his wife, realised that his sight had got worse. He eventually decided to go into IT.

Robert is very motivated working with Deafblind UK and Deafblind Scotland, organisations he’s worked with for nearly 25 years. He talked about the role technology plays in finding matches for people who need to communicate who have lost sight and hearing. He shared the story of Clarke and his communicator Christine. “Clarke is like me, has usher’s syndrome. Unlike me, he lost his sight in his late 20s. Like me, he used to go to football matches and support his team with his friends. He now has no sight at all. And guess what? He still goes to football matches with his friends but now he takes Christine with him, the guide communicator. Deafblind UK provide the best-managed guide communicator service in Europe, in Scotland, where they provide 50,000 hours of support a year which is phenomenal, so Christine has no interest in football whatsoever, but she knows more about it than most people in this room now probably. She puts her left hand on Clarke’s wrist and tactile sign language, because he’s also deaf, remember, tactile sign language on his hand. His hand is the football pitch. He knows the players, and he can feel the excitement, and when people start banging on the terraces he can feel it. What I love is the fact that Deafblind UK is enabling Clarke to carry on enjoying his football even though he can’t see it, isn’t that great?”

We ended the event with a panel discussion of all our speakers, where members of the audience were able to pose their questions via the website Slido or in the room. We had a wide range of questions, once of which was what was the one piece of technology that had made the biggest difference, for Michael it was PowerPoint Designer as he could ask artificial intelligence to make the content “look pretty”, Robert’s first “fantastic bit of technology” was the gramophone record and the mobile phone because “being able to follow text and have conversations with your loved ones is marvellous” and Tracey the search engine and Word or Google that highlights spelling and grammar issues.

A big thank you to everyone who attended.

Exhibitors who were at the day were:

AtWork, a strategy-focused resource that blends workplace tasks with assistive technology

Audacious, making mobile calls clearer

Bennett Workplace, workplace and ergonomic solutions

Claro Software, assistive technology software for people with print and reading difficulties

Crawford Technology, who provide innovative solutions to optimise and manage enterprise documents

Lenovo, smarter technology for all

Microlink – assistive technology

Microsoft – empowering every organisation to achieve more

MyClearText, who provide on-site and remote speech-to-text reporting

PwC disability awareness network

Texthelp helping everyone read, write and communicate with clarity

 

Keep up to date with our events here

Time to talk about men?

By Jacob Spargo-Mabbs, Business Disability Forum

‘Real de-stigmatisation comes from a realistic approach – and when 62% of men will have a mental health problem at work, you could call it an epidemic’ Dr Seidl

Did you know that almost two thirds of men have experienced a mental health issue where work was either the main cause or a contributory factor? Based on the reaction of the audience at BDF’s Scottish Conference, a lot of people weren’t aware of that before (including me).

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), David Hanlan (pictured second left), Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) on stage. There is also a BSL interpreter in front of the stage.

Dr Wolfgang Seidl (pictured left), was joined by Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club (pictured second right) and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men (pictured right) shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity (pictured second left).

One of the most talked-about speakers at Business Disability Forum’s Scottish Conference on 30 January was Dr Wolfgang Seidl who spoke eloquently about men’s experience of mental health and the crisis that we are facing as a society. Whilst mental health is now – rightly – receiving greater attention, Dr Seidl shed light on an underappreciated aspect to the mental health crisis: the link between men’s mental health and their work. The statistics and stories that Dr Seidl shared show clearly that mental ill-health is an epidemic, and workplaces will have to adjust to address it. This chimes with Business Disability Forum’s own research in 2019 which showed how many men feel the pressure to perform to societal standards and expectations and the detrimental impact that has on their mental health.

We also heard powerful stories from men who have been directly affected. Dr Seidl played a video of Richard Wright talking frankly about his experience of mental ill health in the workplace. We also heard from Richard’s manager about what he did to support Richard.

Joining Dr Seidl, Alex McClintock from Andy’s Man Club and Michael MacInnes from Mind the men shared their experiences as part of a panel on men and mental health. They were joined by David Hanlan from Scottish Water, who also gave a talk about health, work and identity.

We also heard on the day from our head of legal and campaigns Bela Gor , who asked whether the Equality Act 2010 is fit for 2020 and this is a subject we will be exploring throughout the year, alongside the 25th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. Bela then joined Dennis Howard from RBS, Jennifer Teacy from Scottish Water and Anna Smith from PWC to discuss the role of employee networks in exploring our intersecting identities.

After lunch we heard from comedian Juliette Burton about her experience of mental health. She was followed by Lauren Chiren who shared her experience of menopause and how the lack of a common awareness of menopausal symptoms led her to believe she was experiencing early-onset dementia.

The day finished with a panel hosted by our Global Taskforce and Partner Development Manager  Brendan Roach about accessible tourism in Scotland. He was joined by Robin Sheppard from Bespoke Hotels, Jan Kerr from the Homelands Trust, Moira Henderson MBE from The Rings and Marina Di Duca from Visit Scotland. The overall message from the panel was that being accessible is not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business too, a messaging reiterated by our CEO, Diane Lightfoot, who closed the day. As she said, when you get it right for disabled people, you get it right for everyone.

We’ll be exploring some of these topics and more at our Annual Conference at the British Library Conference Centre in London on 22 April. Sponsored by our Partner HSBC, our theme this year is “Disability in 2020: Time for Business” so do join us! Visit the conference page for more information and to book your place. We hope to see you there!

Is 2020 the year of accessibility?

By Lucy Ruck, Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum

A man holds a tablet and 2020 in 3D appears. There are patterns across the photo

It would be great if it was, and in so many ways, it really should be. There are more resources, groups and information available than ever before. The business case (and I struggle with that, because why should we need a business case to employ and provided services to people with disabilities and long term health conditions? I’ve never been asked for a business case to employ men) is stronger than ever, with more and more research on how organisations are losing out by not making their products and services available to everyone.

In my role as Taskforce Manager for Business Disability Forum, I find myself speaking to a new contact most weeks about the work that we do. In nearly six years of this, I have yet to find someone who didn’t agree that we should be doing more. So why is this proving such a challenge?

I think that people often want me to deliver ‘magic accessibility pixies’ to them, who will sweep in, waving their wands over all your inaccessible systems and as if by magic – they’re all sorted! I do love magic pixies, but they just don’t exist. It’s like most things in life, if you want something done, you need to work hard at it, have a focus and you will achieve your goals.

Where do you get started with trying to address your organisation’s accessibility issues and how do you know what the issues are? Funnily enough, Business Disability Forum has an amazing tool, called the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM) and it’s free for anyone to use. The AMM is a self-assessment tool that helps you to look at the tech you have in place and assess how you think about inclusion. It will help you to prioritise what you need to do next and generally give you a focus.

In my experience, I have found that many people who work in digital accessibility, it can be quite an isolating role. More often than not, it’s added to an existing role, so they don’t have dedicated time and resources to really make an impact. But things are changing. I used to only know two or three organisations that had dedicated accessibility colleagues, and I can now think of about 10 different organisations that have a lead full-time post on digital accessibility.

Networking can make a huge difference and really help to move organisations forward and help maintain that positive momentum. We have a Technology Showcase event coming up on Tuesday 3 March, generously hosted by PwC, but there are also some amazing events run on a monthly basis by London Accessibility and Nottingham Accessibility.

Make it one of your new year’s resolutions to just think about accessibility more: How will our product or service work better if we think about inclusion?; How can we embed this within our tech departments, and more broadly across our organisations?

So, is 2020 the year of accessibility? Maybe. If we keep spreading the word and keep on with the hard work it really could be. We are certainly on the cusp of something great.

Help to shape research on global disability inclusion strategies

Two hands shaking across a night landscape

Globally, an estimated one billion people have a disability (that’s 15% of the world’s population). There is strong evidence that disability and poverty are linked, with disabled people more likely to live in poverty due to higher unemployment, lower income levels and lower attainment of skills and qualifications. This is a global trend but, unsurprisingly, is especially pronounced in low income countries.

Half of the organisations that we support at Business Disability Forum are global. Between them, they employ more than 8 million people globally. Members and Partners are increasingly telling us that their ambition is to get it right for employees and customers with disabilities wherever they are in world.

Whilst it’s relatively early days, we’re already seeing some brilliant examples of organisations approaching disability as a global business issue. For example, Accenture has a global disability strategy and Shell has developed a global process for making workplace adjustments for employees with disabilities.

Please share your views!

With this in mind, Business Disability Forum is conducting research into disability inclusion at a global business level.

Sponsored by Shell, the project is exploring the existence, and challenges, businesses face in developing a global strategy, as well as lessons learnt so far.

We know this is a complex, but incredibly important area of our work and the only way of exploring it fully is to talk to as many global businesses as possible. It does not matter where your organisation currently stands regarding commitment, or activity, relating to a global strategy for disability inclusion – please share your views in this short online survey.

The body of research will be used to develop guiding principles and practical steps for diversity and inclusion professionals to use within their own organisations. Findings from the survey and the wider research will be published in 2020.

If you work in a global organisation and have a view on how disability inclusion is working, or might work, at a global level in your business, then please take part.  The survey is anonymous and an opinion piece of research, you will not be required to know or share any data. It will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

To take part in the survey please click on the following link https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/GDSS8V6

Please contact us at global@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk if a different format of the questionnaire would work better for you. Do not hesitate to contact us at the same email address if you have any other queries.

Business Disability Forum thanks all contributors for their time and input into this important piece of research. 

Empowering disabled people in the workplace

According to the charity Scope more than half (56%) of businesses erroneously believe that the main reason disabled people don’t get jobs is because they lack the right skills or qualifications.

The text says: 3rd October 2019, join us for a webinar, why disability confidence makes good business sense with Asif Sadiq, Mark Lomas & Louise McQuillan

Texthelp is running a webinar on why disability confidence makes good business sense.

With this in mind, businesses need to build a more diverse and inclusive workplace to quash these misconceptions. If are you an HR or D&I professional working to create this type of workplace this webinar is for you.

Texthelp have gathered together a team of experts from the Diversity and Inclusion arena to bring you a webinar on Thursday 3 October, 12pm, focusing on how companies can gain competitive advantage by empowering disabled people in the workplace.

Asif Sadiq is Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging for The Telegraph. He was formerly the Head of Diversity and Inclusiveness for EY Financial Services and was also previously the Head of the Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Unit for the City of London Police. He is a passionate and inspirational global leader, author and key note speaker with the ability to empower individuals and create a truly inclusive environment for all.

Mark Lomas is Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at High Speed Rail 2 (HS2). He  has delivered numerous diversity and inclusion projects for organisations, including The Financial Reporting Council, Groupama Insurance, The BBC, The Law Society, Sheffield University, NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Boards, ITV, and The Bermuda Human Rights Commission. Mark recently delivered improved performance for the BBC on several employer benchmarks, following extensive analysis of BBC Employment practices and diversity impacts.

Louise McQuillan, Workplace Solutions Manager at Texthelp, specialises in helping public and private sector organisations to support workforce diversity and inclusion strategies, increase staff productivity and customer engagement.

Titled ‘Why Disability Confidence Makes Good Business Sense’ this collaborative webinar is free to attend and will engage participants in a discussion around the importance and value of driving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Join in as the panelists take a deep dive into their own organisation’s Disability Confident  journey and share best practice alongside practical thoughts and solutions that can be used by D&I Specialists, HR professionals and business leaders, as they pursue the goal of increasing disability confidence in their organisations.

To register for this webinar please click here. If you can’t attend on the day, don’t worry, if you register you can watch it back at a later date.

Meet Disability-Smart Award Winners: Microsoft

Microsoft won the technology category at last year’s Disability-Smart Awards for using cutting edge technologies to ensure their widely used products were as accessible to as many customers as possible.

Hector Minto, Microsoft’s Tech Evangelist for Europe, Middle East and Africa, (pictured right alongside Michael Vermeersch, left), spoke about the impact of the Disability Smart win at Business Disability Forum’s Annual Conference in April.

He said: “Winning the Disability-Smart award was very good for us, not just because of the Windows work but for what people don’t see, which is the number of employees with disabilities working as engineers on the product. It is not somebody doing something for people with disabilities, it is blind engineers, it is deaf engineers, it is people working and bringing their life experience to our product to make it better.

“There is so much built into the product that empowers people routinely. But it really took the Disability Smart Award to get the message out clearly to the business world and the education world.”

Michael and Hector from Microsoft

At this year’s ceremony there are a total of 11 Awards to compete for with four completely new categories. 

Categories for the 2019 Disability-Smart Awards are as follows:

  1. Disability-Smart Senior Champion Award 2019
  2. Disability-Smart Design Award (new category)
  3. Disability-Smart Workplace Experience Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
  4. Disability-Smart Influencer Awards 2019 (new category)
  5. Disability-Smart Technology for All Award 2019 (sponsored by Microlink)
  6. Disability-Smart Customer Service Award 2019 (new category)
  7. Disability-Smart Communications & Marketing Campaign Award 2019 (new category)
  8. Disability-Smart Global Leader Award 2019
  9. Disability-Smart Multinational Organisation Award 2019
  10. Disability-Smart Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner Award 2019
  11. Disabled Peoples’ Choice Award 2019

To find out more about the awards categories and how to enter, visit our awards page.

All entries must be received by 6 September 2019. Winners will be announced at the Disability Smart Awards Ceremony on 23 October 2019.

Find out how you can attend here.