How to know if your company’s software is accessible (and what to do if it's not)
A primer on buying workplace tools that everyone can use
👋 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 to receive it in your inbox every couple of weeks. You can also read and share this post in your browser.
So, you’ve bought a piece of software and only after the fact you’ve realised it doesn’t meet the needs of all your colleagues.
What do you do?
That’s exactly what happened to us at Nile recently. In the last issue of this newsletter, I shared how we acquired Dig Inclusion, a digital inclusivity company, and quickly realised how the software we procured wasn’t fit for purpose.
This week, I’ve asked my new colleague, Director of Dig Inclusion, to share his practical tips on how to build accessibility understanding and awareness into your procurement process.
In this issue:
How to know if your software is accessible
Who owns ‘AI you’?
A visit to Scotland’s £22.4m robotarium 🤖
My best wishes as you navigate your week,
How to know if your software is accessible
When I tell people that I run a company that tests whether a digital product is accessible, they usually want to know how to tell if their own organisation’s software is accessible.
My answer, much to their frustration, is that it’s not binary. It's often not a matter of whether a product is accessible or not – instead, it's a question of how accessible it is. This is especially true in the workplace, where accessibility is often an afterthought.
And even if it’s not, finding the right tools isn’t as simple as it should be. The reality is that the situation Nile found itself in, with a piece of HR software that wasn’t accessible to a colleague who is blind, is all too common. Before we were acquired by Nile, the HR software we – as a digital inclusivity company – were using was also inaccessible, it was just marginally better than the one we have now. The reality is that none of the software we needed was accessible. We had no choice but to pick the best from a bad batch.
For many of the people purchasing their organisation’s software, accessibility isn’t something they’re thinking about because it’s not something they themselves experience. They simply don’t know the right questions to ask during the procurement process. And so here I wanted to share some of the common questions I get asked about digital accessibility in the workplace – and help answer them for you.
What is accessible software?
If you were to look at ten HR systems with a view of picking one that was accessible, you'd probably have to discount all of them. The real problem is that everybody's in need of solutions that in many cases may not exist.
Everybody knows that they need to be accessible and they say that they're doing it. But not everybody is and people do it to various degrees, and practically nobody's doing it as well as they're supposed to.
All you can do really is make sure that you've done your due diligence and pick something that works as best as it can.
How can I know if a piece of software I’m about to purchase is accessible?
Ideally, you'd have the equivalent of a fire safety certificate for accessibility. These do in fact exist, but it's not widespread. At Dig Inclusion, we provide a certificate of accessibility for websites, but the take-up is very low because so few sites actually meet the standards.
There are two things to do if you want to know how accessible your software is:
Ask the vendor for a statement of accessibility. The vendor needs to be able to tell you whether their product is fully accessible, or accessible to a degree. It’s on the purchaser to ask a vendor to prove the credentials and then measure their product against those credentials.
Test the software. It's very difficult to know whether the credentials for a system are true unless it's been tested, preferably by a third party. The only way that a business can really mitigate that is by having their systems tested.
What can small organisations do?
Large organisations should really be testing everything that they procure to make sure that it works for everybody. Understandably, this might be prohibitive for a smaller organisation.
That’s why, for small businesses, it’s so important to get a statement of accessibility. That way, you know what you’re buying and should the software not live up to the company’s claims you have something to go back to them with.
How can I incorporate accessibility into my procurement process?
Accessibility validation needs to be part of any software procurement process. What this looks like in practice is asking the vendor: Is your product Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) conformant?
The follow-up question then becomes: If not, what needs to be done to the product to make it conformant?
If the vendor is unable to provide any of that information then that’s probably not the software for you. The assumption should be that nothing has been done to improve access.
It’s also good practice to stay in-the-know of the latest WCAG updates– new guidelines are set to be coming out in May 2023.
What if I don’t have accessibility needs in my organisation?
Whether they realise it or not, every business has to cater for people with disabilities. So even if they don't currently have people with disabilities in the organisation, they can't exclude them in the future by procuring software that doesn't work for people with disabilities. Situational disabilities, like broken limbs or sight issues, might also arise. So even though a business might not have those people in the organisation now, that doesn't reduce their responsibility.
I’ve already bought software and now I’ve found out that it’s not accessible. What can I do?
Support the person who can’t use the software. Every organisation needs to be aware that if they have someone with a disability that can't access their products, then they need to provide an Access to Work worker. If the software doesn't work and they can't use it, the employer needs to have someone available to do it for them. Which is not ideal for either employee or employer. Once highlighted, this is something the company pays for, and immediate action is expected.
Challenge the vendor. Contact the company that sold the product to check whether there are any updates or whether they're aware of the issues. If the vendor hasn't got any short-term plans to make that product accessible, then the next step is to look for different vendors.
Look for alternatives. Make sure that you’re aware of any products that can that perform better. If there’s an employee with special needs, then ask that employee to take a look at the demo of that product as well.
It's a very difficult situation for an employer to navigate because there simply may not be any accessible alternatives. The main thing, however, is that they need to find out and do the best they can to find a workable solution.
This brings me to the most important question and the one that I don’t get asked enough:
Am I really thinking about inclusivity?
If companies are truly inclusive, they buy systems that are accessible to people with disabilities.
But what about employment more broadly? When you post a job ad, have you considered how accessible it is? What if someone has difficulty travelling to an interview? If you're using a video interview, have you made sure it's accessible with captions and audio descriptions? Have you tested the platform?
This is not a list of things to do, but it's important to ask yourself these questions. Because when you say you're inclusive, have you sat down and thought about what that really means?
Organisations don't do this enough. They don't think about what inclusion is, and that's the most powerful thing business leaders can do. Because a lot of people say it, but the reality is, it's quite difficult to deliver. And if you're not putting that time and effort in, you can't really say that you're inclusive.
Accessible Software 101: Free training for procurement teams
Nile provides introductory training for procurement teams who want to level up their knowledge about accessibility and software.
Our 45-minute Zoom sessions are free of charge and designed to enable in-house procurement teams to ask better questions of suppliers selling software or engineering solutions to their business.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with Accessibility & Software Training in the subject line to book a session.
Signals Snippet 👀🔮
Every Friday on LinkedIn, Practice Director Neil Collman shares his analysis and reaction to signals of change (mini disruptions that would change everything if they blew up).
This week, it's of course our friend, generative AI.
John Mayer (yes the singer), created an AI Steve Jobs trained on original Steve Jobs voice recordings.
So what? Three possible implications to think about...
1. Put your own digital twin to work
Tech companies have been training their algos on users for years, but what happens when YOU can train an AI on yourself – your voice, your body, what you write, even what you think, and use it to do stuff you'd rather not or don't have time for, but as if it were you? Could you outsource tasks to AI you? Maybe AI you can deliver a presentation, leave a message for your co-workers or even make money on a YouTube channel when you're too busy?
2. Who owns AI you?
The Steve Jobs example raises a lot of questions about IP and ownership. Should anyone be allowed to use your voice, appearance or interactions to simulate you? How do you stop them? If you generate useful data at your company (e.g. the way you write, how you interact with others, the way you prompt an AI), does your employer own it or do you? Is any of that data off-limits? What happens when you leave? What skills do you take with you and what ones do you leave behind?
3. What happens to AI you when you pass away?
Let's say we all have ever more sophisticated AI versions of ourselves floating around the place – when we pass away, who has the right to turn AI you off? Even if your loved ones can, could they muster the emotional strength to do it? What if AI you is still running that YouTube channel? Can it still generate an income for your family?
What do you think? Leave a comment below or follow Neil’s #FutureFridays conversation on LinkedIn.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Nilers! Here are some of the things we’ve been up to lately:
Last week, Nile Chairman Dag Lee and I went to Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus to visit the National Robotarium. The £22.4m state-of-the-art robotics and artificial intelligence facility will use cutting-edge science and technology to create innovative solutions that help industry and society be safer, healthier and more productive
Principal Consultant,, went to the Scottish AI Alliance #ScotAISummit in Glasgow to take part in a fascinating panel on how to pitch and sell products built on AI. The other panellists included Rich Wilson, CEO and Co-founder of Gigged.AI; Robbie Binnie, CTO of Lupovis; Mhairi Aitken, Ethics Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute; and Katy Guthrie, AI Accelerator Programme Manager at Edinburgh Innovations.
Louise Mushet, Senior Service Designer, welcomed Tommaso Petillo from Alzheimer Scotland to the Nile studio to share learnings and practices around inclusive design.
Head of Innovation and Nile CoFoundry, Sam Irving, hosted last year’s Converge Challenge winners into the office to teach Design 101 and break down their vision into a roadmap.
Nile is a specialist team that helps companies in highly regulated industries deliver positive change. Our methods engage employees and customers with new technology and ways of doing things. Our outcomes help clients save money and improve their business. We have a proven track record of success and are the trusted partner for companies looking to make human-centred changes.
If you think we can help your teams, reply directly to this email (they come straight to my inbox), or reach out to someone specific via our website.
Thanks for reading! 🚀