Suppliers to businesses often struggle with the concept of accessibility, particularly when providing technology products and services, the head of accessibility at a major UK bank told delegates at a recent event.
Speaking at a technology-focused session at the Business Disability Forum (BDF) Conference on ‘Disability-smart suppliers and partners’, Paul Smyth – head of accessibility at Barclays – said that there is a need for businesses to explain the principles behind accessibility to their suppliers: “[Suppliers] are new to accessibility, so we need to spend a lot of time talking about the ‘why’, what we mean by accessibility and about why it’s important to us.”
One reason for this was a lack of understanding of accessibility requirements, Smyth said, citing the widely used Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as an example. He said: “[WCAG] is very long and technical. ‘Techies’ understand it, but salespeople and suppliers don’t, project managers and business people don’t. So [Barclays] has spent a lot of time re-engineering and creating better summaries, to create a consistent understanding [for those people].”
Smyth also said that accessibility is often still seen as a hassle by some, who meet minimum accessibility requirements out of obligation, and little more: “I think that in the tech space, accessibility has got a bad reputation. It comes from a history of seeing accessibility as a bureaucratically burdensome compliance checklist,” he said.
Smyth went on to point out that accessibility can also offer significant business benefits, which not all suppliers realise. “As our accessibility agenda has matured, as our thinking has matured, we have come to realise that, yes, [accessibility] is a legal obligation, but there is a huge commercial opportunity of finding innovation from the edges … It’s about providing a positive experience for a greater number of people and avoiding unwitting exclusion, and making sure that in the shiny new digital channels and content and apps and cash machines we’re building, no one gets left out or left behind.”
Smyth also talked about the importance of thorough user-testing to ensure that digital products and services are usable by as many customers as possible, whether those customers have a disability or otherwise: “We have to involve and consult with a wide range of users, and actually we need to shift our perspective. It’s not just about disabled people, but about designing for difference.”
The Business Disability Forum Conference on ‘Disability-smart suppliers and partners’ took place on April 11 in London. Read more about the Business Disability Forum, including resources for employers and suppliers: