I’m a business owner and my company’s software isn’t accessible
Part one of a deep dive into accessibility in the workplace
👋 Welcome to The Navigator. A newsletter about people, psychology and design for business leaders who want to make meaningful change. I’m Sarah Ronald, and I write this newsletter with the Nile team. If this email was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here to receive it in your inbox every couple of weeks. Click here to read and share this post in your browser.
I’m the founder of a strategic design firm and my company’s software isn’t accessible.
Recently, we announced the acquisition of Dig Inclusion, a digital media inclusivity company. This was a super exciting moment for Nile, as we welcomed into our ecosystem a team of accessibility experts.
I soon learned, however, that the HR software we use in-house doesn't work for one of our new colleagues who is blind. We’d inadvertently excluded one of our team members in our workplace. And we’re advocates of accessibility.
As a business owner, it’s awkward to share when something isn’t right behind the scenes. But that’s precisely why it’s so important for me to share this experience. Because if there’s an issue with workplace inclusivity, it’s vital to acknowledge it, and set a plan in place to address it.
I also know I’m not the only one grappling with this issue. We all know the importance of creating an inclusive workplace. However, when it comes to making sure our software is accessible for all colleagues, we may not be giving it the attention it deserves. My incorrect assumption, in this case, was that the software we had purchased would be built to accessibility standards – as it turns out, it wasn’t.
Diversity, equity and inclusion has, rightly, become top of the agenda for companies. And yet, despite this, too many DE&I initiatives overlook workers with health conditions or impairments – the people who form the largest diversity groups in the workplace.
In a previous issue of The Navigator, I made the business case for inclusive design. Given our recent experience at Nile, I want go back to basics. This newsletter is a primer on the importance of making sure our software and tech is inclusive for all colleagues.
This is the first in a two-part deep dive into accessibility in the workplace. Here, I cover why businesses need to ensure their tools are accessible and in the next issue Grant Broome, director of Dig Inclusion, will provide practical tips for doing just that.
I hope these posts will help you navigate this critical issue in your own organisation.
In this issue:
The case for making your workplace tools accessible
A common digital accessibility issue and how to fix it
Nile on the Coutts’ window 🥳
My best wishes as you navigate your week,
By the numbers
🌍 1.3 billion: The number of people the World Health Organisation estimate to experience a significant disability today. That is 16% of the global population and this figure is on the rise because of an increase in noncommunicable diseases and people living longer. (WHO)
😶 54%: Percentage of employees with disabilities who did not disclose their disability to their employer because of concerns about discrimination or negative consequences. (Accenture)
⚠️ 51 million: Number of distinct accessibility errors detected in a study of the home pages for the top 1,000,000 websites, representing an average of 50.8 errors per page. (WebAIM)
Accessibility and inclusivity aren’t the same thing
Accessible design means designing for everyone, including those with health conditions or impairments. Laws like the Equality Act in the UK, and internationally recognised recommendations like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), regulate how organisations need to accommodate their employees with disabilities.
Inclusive design, meanwhile, is more of a design philosophy. It aims to create products and services that can be used by the broadest possible range of people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
Or put another way, it’s possible that an organisation meets the legal requirements of making reasonable adjustments to ensure employees with disabilities aren’t discriminated against, but still not make them feel included. Indeed, despite it being a legal requirement for UK employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, they are 60% more likely to feel excluded in the workplace.
Both inclusive and accessible design share the same goal: to make products and services that are usable by all. However, it’s important to understand the nuances and distinctions between them if we’re to make everyone in our workplaces feel included.
Accessible software can improve productivity and efficiency
Peer-reviewed research published this year by economists in Turkey found that accommodations, including accessible software, improved job satisfaction, productivity, and overall quality of work for employees with health conditions and impairments.
This research confirms something that we all take for granted: when we ensure that our software is accessible, we make it easier for our colleagues to do their jobs.
Accessible workplaces help us attract and retain talent
The lawyer and disabilities advocate Elise Roy, has a brilliant Ted Talk on the rippling benefits of accessible design. She says: "When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm."
By making sure that our workplace is inclusive, we show that we value diversity and that we are committed to creating a welcoming environment for everyone. This can help us attract and retain talent who may not have considered our companies otherwise.
One of our values at Nile is ‘human at heart’. Systems which aren’t available to everyone undermine this value and that’s why it’s so critical for us to acknowledge and address it.
When it comes to company values, a thought-provoking question I’ve been thinking about is one recently posed by the writer James Cook: should employers change their values to keep staff? It’s a great read for anyone interested in the culture and values piece.
Empathy is the best tool
Technology is not the biggest barrier to workplace accessibility – attitudes are.
The Office for National Statistics, in partnership with Humankind Research, found that people with disabilities wanted to be involved in the service decisions that impact their lives. The implication is that we’re designing for a group of people without involving them in the process.
I believe empathy is the secret sauce for design. Without it, you can’t really understand what changes to make to a process, system or journey which will really impact the group of people you’re designing for. All too often, we design for societal norms – this needs to change. In any standard approach, accessibility needs to be baked in at the beginning. Had this been done in the case of our HR software, the company wouldn’t now have to retrospectively fix their product, at a significantly greater cost.
A final word on the responsibility of design
A client recently shared the following article with me If design is everything, is it anything?, written by Allison Arieff, editorial director at Technology Review. She makes a compelling argument about the responsibility of design – and how it has often overlooked political and social concerns.
“The design profession has—not for the first time and surely not for the last—been awakened to questions it hadn’t been asking before: Who is this for? Who is benefiting from it (and who or what might be harmed by it)? Who is being excluded? Have we explored the unintended consequences? Are we solving the right problem?”
And so where the workplace is concerned, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment means accessibility needs to be at the heart of everything we do as a business.
In the case of our HR system, our Dig colleagues will be working with the technology company to get their product up to accessibility standards. Going forward we will ensure all future systems are reviewed for accessibility as part of the procurement process.
There is an argument to be made that non-accessible software shouldn’t be sold in the first place. But we as buyers also need to take responsibility for our purchasing decisions. And what this experience has highlighted for me is how imperative is it that we ask better questions. How do you know if a piece of software is truly accessible? What does an accessibility audit look like? What does “accessible software” actually mean?
Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll dive into those answers!
What you can do about one of the most common digital accessibility issues
One of the most common accessibility issues your business is likely making without realising has to do with a regularly used digital communication tool ….PDFs!
The majority of PDFs are not accessible.
Assistive technology tools such as screen readers, text-to-speech, screen magnifiers, and Braille displays are not automatically compatible with standard PDFs. Meaning anytime you use PDFs in an online journey, you are cutting that journey short for many people.
So what can you do?
Ideally don’t use PDFs! Wherever possible, use an alternative like HTML which is accessible to all users.
If using a PDF is completely unavoidable, create it in addition to an alternative format and, of course, ensure the PDF meets accessibility standards.
If you currently have PDFs online, start a project to ensure they meet minimum standards whilst you work on alternative formats.
For digital teams new to accessibility we have a great lunch and learn session which covers the basics. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with the headline Accessibility and we’ll organise it.
Empowering female entrepreneurs
"It's just words until government embraces the action points". That’s what Ana Stewart, co-author of the recent independent review into women in entrepreneurship in Scotland, said at a panel discussion that I took part in recently.
As well as Ana and myself, on the panel were Professor Eleanor Shaw, associate principal at the University of Strathclyde; Carolyn Jameson, chief trust officer at Trustpilot and board member of the Scottish National Investment Bank, and Vanessa Collingridge and the journalist Vanessa Collingridge facilitated.
There’s a good write-up of the discussion on Insider, but the bottom line is: it’s time to take up the report’s recommendations and tackle the root causes contributing to the low numbers of female participation across our entrepreneurial economy.
Nile on the Coutts window!
I’m so thrilled that Nile has been featured on Coutts' window in central London, which highlights female-founded B Corps. As a company committed to sustainability and making a positive impact, we're honoured to be recognised alongside other inspiring female-founded businesses. With only 23% of the 1,000 plus B Corporations in the UK being female-led, it’s so important to shine a light on women's leadership.
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