Why do businesses have no i.d.e.a about Access and Accessibility?

I.D.E.A stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Accessibility. Like intersectionality, these principles interlink and have equal importance to each other. You need all four strands to be considered accessible. Our I.D.E.A.s Hub has resources and information that will widen your customer base. It will also improve the employment opportunities for those that find themselves on either side of the bell curve. We’re here to help you find extraordinary job seekers.

Our resources will help your organisation on its journey towards being accessible and inclusive. To be accessible, organisations need to incorporate accessibility and diversity to create equity – all of these elements combined enable you to become an inclusive employer but more importantly, an inclusive organisation. Becoming inclusive is a journey that secures the future resilience of your organisation.

Covid 19 – the impact on Access:

Covid 19 has alerted many organisations, like yours, to the impact that inaccessible services have on customers. Equally, staff working from home has revealed how many organisations were unprepared for the accommodations needed by employees. Homeschooling, undeclared hearing loss, underlying mental health issues were all hidden when work was in another place, rather than at home. All these issues as well as needing an accessible digital presence has impacted many organisations. Customers need barriers to be removed to access your goods and services. However, being accessible to customers requires organisations to consider the wider issues of accessibility and diversity.

Accessible vs Accessibility – what’s the difference?

According to Gov.uk “98% of the million most visited web pages did not meet accessibility standards and 69% of disabled internet users click away from sites with barriers”. Physical spaces such as restaurants and shops are no better. Why do so many businesses get accessibility so wrong?

The problem with ‘accessibility’:

Many organisations fail to get to grips with accessibility because they do not fully understand the concept. The definition of accessibility is too narrow and tends to focus on the general idea of whether people with disabilities can use a product or service. However, the aim for accessibility is to make goods and services accessible to everyone regardless of difference. Many organisations take a passive ‘set and forget’ approach to accessibility – they create a policy and then forget about it until the need for accessibility arises.

Accessibility requires action to make services accessible. Sometimes organisations assume that a service is  ‘accessible’ because they assume the end product or service is usable by anyone. For example, you cannot access the internet unless you have a computer. Once you have a computer you may still be unable to access the internet because you need to set up accessibility tools i.e. make adjustments to suit personal needs. There may still be access issues even with accessibility tools in place because websites are not usually set up to be accessible.

It is important to note that accessibility can affect individuals with or without disabilities. A product or service is assumed to be accessible until someone has an issue with using the end product or service. Only then are adjustments made so that goods or services can be used. Unfortunately, that means many barriers preventing access are often embedded before a customer has tried to use the goods or services.

We tend to think of ‘barriers’ as physical barriers that might prevent someone from accessing a venue e.g. a building without a ramp being inaccessible for wheelchair users. However, many barriers are invisible – if they are out of sight, they are out of mind. Below are examples of ‘invisible barriers’ that make goods and services inaccessible for users (not just those with disabilities).

Physical barriers: these are usually architectural barriers that come with a building. For example, shop aisles being too narrow, poor lighting or an office building with a buzzer entry system. Other barriers might be environmental ones such as working in a noisy office. And what about cultural barriers? There are many habits and behaviours that we may perceive as normal and yet cause a disconnect for people from a different cultural background.

Technological barriers: these can include websites that prevent screen reading software from being used or you may be limiting the way a customer can contact you. Not everyone uses a phone, even if they are capable of doing so. For example, Millenials prefer text-based communication.

Organisational barriers: this is where your processes are inaccessible. For example, using an online interview portal that requires the interviewee to record a videoed response to questions under timed conditions. This process is pretty much inaccessible to anyone with a hearing impairment, speech impairment, visual impairment, someone with English as a second language, older applicants and anyone who is not confident using technology. And yes, some companies really do use this type of system for interviewing prospective employees!

Communication barriers: this includes the language you use on your website, in print and when a customer tries to contact you directly (by phone, email or face to face). Many businesses forget that English has unpredictable grammar, spelling and pronunciations.

There are also cultural barriers across languages too. If you trade with other businesses across the world then it is important to be aware of cultural differences that influence communication. Body language and behaviours also play an important part in communicating effectively. Cultural differences can also create assumptions about communication. For example, you might have staff that are relying on their own stereotypes – this will impact their communication style. This is why so many companies sign up for unconscious bias training – an understanding of our own internal barriers can help remove those barriers and make you more appealing to a wider range of customers. Other types of training such as cross-cultural or intercultural communication can also help to remove barriers that prevent customers from buying your goods or services.

Diversity

Diversity acknowledges what is different about each other. Much of our diversity is embedded in the Equality Act as protected characteristics:

  • diverse ages
  • diverse ethnicities
  • diverse cultural backgrounds
  • diverse religions
  • diverse sex, gender
  • diverse sexual orientation
  • diverse disabilities

Many people get confused about diversity, often citing the perception that there is favouritism or even preferences for those that are different in some way. Diversity merely needs to reflect differences in thinking – often world views of those from different age groups, ethnicities, genders will be different to each other. Different is key to change. Homogenous groups, particularly in the workplace, become a risk to financial resilience – organisations need to reflect the changing social landscape to remain relevant to customers.

Difficulty recruiting or retaining staff?

Why are organisations finding it difficult to recruit and retain the right people? Because company culture might be too ‘exclusive’ – you might have the brightest talent sitting in front of you but if they don’t feel comfortable just being themselves, they won’t stay.

Intersectionality:

Intersectionality is often overlooked when it comes to accessibility and diversity. For example, adjustments may be made for individuals who are visually impaired and individuals who are deaf but many organisations will be unaware of how to adjust services for someone with dual sensory loss.

A positive employee experience is essential to keep hold of the best talent.

Equality and Equity

Equality is not about making some more equal than others, it is about giving equal opportunity to those that would not ordinarily have the opportunity. In terms of equity, this makes processes like recruitment fairer.

How to be more accessible and inclusive

The more accessible you can make communication, the work environment, policies and procedures, the more likely your customers will see you as inclusive. Below are just a few examples of changes that you can make so you can be more accessible.

RecruitmentAvoid selection bias

Selection bias already affects algorithms which increases the difficulty of capturing the diversity of candidates for employment. Algorithms will work better for certain groups e.g. Cortana relies on speech and more specifically American English which means it will fail to pick up accents and will definitely fail to pick up different speech patterns e.g. in ‘deaf voices’. Both recruiters and prospective job candidates need to be aware that speech recognition will work against the candidate (unless the candidate hires a white male native English speaking sign language interpreter to voice over responses).

Websites – what accessibility should a website have

Inclusion is not universality

There is an important point to note here, inclusion is not the same as universality or universal access. It is unrealistic to expect services to be universally inclusive as there will always be situations that cannot be accommodated immediately because they are so unique. However, robust processes can lessen the impact of barriers. For example, staff cognitive biases may cause access issues. Unconscious bias training can encourage staff to learn from experiences where behaviour can create a positive impact on customers (and increase brand loyalty).