Texthelp Talks Podcast with RIDC

Podcast: It’s time to practice inclusivity by design


In this episode of Texthelp Talks, we're joined by Gordon McCullough, CEO of Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RIDC). Listen as we chat to Gordon about the benefits of inclusive design in the digital environment. Explore when and how we should be building in user research and testing. And gain expert insights that'll help you to ensure your digital services and products are accessible and usable by all.



Texthelp talks logo with profile image of Gordon McCullough
 


 


We hope you enjoyed this episode of our Texthelp Talks podcast! Be sure to subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode.

If you have any questions for Gordon, feel free to reach out by emailing gordonmcmullough@ridc.org.uk.

 

Transcript

Donna Thompson:
Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast. This is the place where we'll be chatting to experts from the education arena and the workplace on a host of topics, all related to breaking down barriers, unlocking potential, and creating equality for all. If you haven't done so already subscribe to Texthelp Talks through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode. Today you're hearing from me, Donna Thompson, Marketing Manager at Texthelp, as I chat to Gordon McCullough, CEO of Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, all about inclusive design. Now, Gordon is passionate about inclusive design and even more passionate about putting disabled people at the heart of product development and user experience. So stay tuned as Gordon shares best practice advice on how to ensure your digital services and products are accessible and usable by all. So Gordon, hi, welcome to the show.

Gordon McCullough:
Well, hi Donna. Thanks very much for having me today.

Donna Thompson:
Great. And listen, can you start by telling us a little bit about the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers and your role in the organization?

Gordon McCullough:
Yeah, RIDC, it's a much easier way to say Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, we've been around for 50 years. We were part of WITCH, when WITCH, the consumer association started. And our role, our whole reason for existing is to try and get the voice of disabled and older people into the design of products and services. And that ranges across a whole different set of things. So it could be digital, it can be transport. But wherever a business in somewhere on its inclusivity journey, we're there to help provide that voice. And we've got a panel of over 1,600 disabled and older people right across the UK who really just want to share their experiences, and their knowledge, and their insights and solutions to help make things more accessible. And that's basically it.

Gordon McCullough:
It's a very difficult thing for some organizations and people to really tap into that knowledge and our collective wisdom of disabled and older people. And we're really there just to help provide that connection. And as I say, we do, and we'll talk about it a lot in a range of different ways. My role, I'm the CEO of the organization. I've been there coming up for two years, but I've always been very passionate about research. Even as a young kid sitting in my bedroom on the Ballyson Road, I used to count cars that went past and have little tally charts. I've always sort of like uncovering patterns and behaviors and things like that. And the thing about RIDC that I'm really passionate about is that our work with clients, and charities, and government actually can have a very transformative effect very quickly. And that's really important to me, so the research actually has a tangible outcome and you can see that the impact of it really rather quickly, rather than big, long, long drawn out projects.

Donna Thompson:
Great. So you said there you've been with RIDC for almost two years. Take us back a little step. Where were you before that? What brought you to RIDC?

Gordon McCullough:
That's a good question. And you don't want to get out of the old sort of long CV thing. I ran a charity in South London that was there to support other charities to be better, stronger, better governance, better fundraising. But it was very much about trying to tap into social action within the London [bar 00:03:54] that I worked in. And that really highlighted a lot of the inequalities and a lot of the sort of social injustices that were going on. And I guess that's always been a driving passion of mine, is to try and uncover what is going on in somebody's life to make things better.

Gordon McCullough:
And I've always worked in research. The job that brought me to London was to work for another research institute that was looking at charitable organizations and their strategy and how those could be improved. And the work I did in Northern Ireland, I used to work for NICVA, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. And there we were doing research into charitable giving, the size of the voluntary sector. So I suppose it was just ... It's about research, and it's about gathering insights, and it's getting solutions.

Gordon McCullough:
And I suppose the role of a CEO of a small research institute is a challenging one because you do everything. So you worry about the finances, and certainly during COVID and the lockdown and stuff it's been really hard for us. Because our panel, we've had a lot of projects where they go out and test things. So we were working for the rail regulator on testing accessibility at train stations, for example, that all had to stop. So 70-80% of our work involved our panel going out and doing things. And we've had to change quite a bit to make sure that we can keep doing that work, but safely, and like we're doing now, talking remotely.

Gordon McCullough:
So it's been a challenge, but again, the journey that's got me to here has always been about uncovering insights, trying to find out better solutions for things, and to uncover sort of different patterns and issues that are going on. So it's been an interesting journey from a bedroom on the Ballyson Road in North Belfast to here. There's been a lot of interesting and fun things along the way.

Donna Thompson:
Certainly sounds like it. And NICVA, I know NICVA actually quite well, they're in my neck of the woods in Belfast. But London is a great place. I can see the draw as to why you've moved there. Back whenever we could travel, I went back and forth to London quite a bit, and I do miss it, but hopefully we'll get back to some sort of normality soon. So let's talk about accessibility, that's why we're here today. So Gordon, when it comes to digital products and services, a lot of people talk about digital accessibility, but we also hear people talk about usability and inclusion. Can you explain to us the differences between the three terms?

Gordon McCullough:
Sure. They are all closely related and they do overlap. And people ... I've certainly been guilty of this myself in the past, that you use them as shorthand when you talk about usability when you're actually talking about accessibility. And it's quite easy to do, but actually there are some very clear distinctions about what they are. So usability. I mean, that's just testing and assessing how effective, efficient, or satisfying a particular digital product is. And that's often websites. But it's the user experience, you build that into your design. And that's for everyone, it's non-specific, it's just does the website work? Is navigation clear? And things like that. But it doesn't look at what barriers or things that might disproportionately impact upon a disabled person, and that's accessibility.

Gordon McCullough:
And that looks specifically at the barriers or issues in a site, or an app, or anything really that's digital that relates to the user experience of disabled people. And more importantly, it's how they perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the website, or whatever, the app. And that in particular includes a range of assistive technology. So screen readers and things. So how does that interact? How does the website interact with that assistive technology, and how does the individual interact with that website?

Gordon McCullough:
And then inclusion, I suppose that's getting into your sort of gold standard. And that's about the diversity and ensuring everybody feels involved and can be involved in the website. And that's where we start talking about universal design and design for all. And we talk about in the office when you design for everyone, you design for everyone. And that's sort of the gold standard. But it's looking not just disabled people and their experiences, but it's issues around connectivity, around skills, around different demographics. Geography, culture, age in particular is really important.

Gordon McCullough:
So the whole pandemic and the move to this type of interaction, remotely, a lot of older people who may not have used different technologies are now being exposed to that a much greater speed and rate them would have been in the past, and/or the websites that they're having to use. Are they accessible? Are they inclusive for them? And does it actually ... Do they feel part of it and can they use it? I mean, we did a lot of research at the beginning of the lockdown about the impact on our panel. A range of different things, whether was shopping, or getting medical treatments, or just generally the communications about what was going on. And the shopping side of things, as it was the case right across the UK. The use of online shopping and whether or not you were able to access that to begin with, but whether or not you were able to get a booking and if you were on the government list was a massive barrier for a lot of people because they weren't used ... They never did that before.

Gordon McCullough:
And I think what we saw was a rapid sort of retesting or reassessment of the accessibility of websites. Where in the past, it hadn't been considered in a full proper way, and everybody was running to catch up very quickly. But the people who were really impacted were those who were isolated, older, who maybe had never used online shopping before, or online services. And the sites themselves just couldn't cope, and people couldn't use them, and that made them more vulnerable as a result. So inclusion is about making sure that everybody feels included and everything's done in a way that includes everyone. So age, disability, those are the main sort of distinctions, as we sort of think about them.

Donna Thompson:
Yeah, great. I mean, you mentioned there how they're very interlinked. When I think about inclusion, a quite well-known illustration springs to mind, and it's an illustration, sorry, where three children are trying to watch a baseball game, but there's a fence in the way. You might be familiar with it. But in the first of the three illustrations, the children are provided with the same resource to see over the fence, a box to stand on. And it could be argued that this is a fair approach, everyone is treated equally. But the support provided doesn't actually result in every child being able to see over the fence, the children are all at different heights.

Donna Thompson:
And in the second illustration, the support provided is based on individual need. So the smallest child gets two boxes to stand on. And this time all the children can actually see over the fence. And this option is seen really as a more equitable solution. But it's the third illustration where the fence is removed completely, and that provides all the children with the opportunity to see the game without the need for any additional support. So really, the message that I take from this illustration is that real inclusion is where different needs are considered right from the beginning of any project and built in rather than added on at a later stage.

Gordon McCullough:
Yeah, absolutely. And it's challenging and it's difficult to do, but it should be the aspiration of everybody and everything that we do that nobody should feel excluded or only able to participate just because somebody didn't consider it fully at the beginning. And I don't think anybody willfully ever designs anything, or does anything to exclude anyone. It's just ... It's when you take a different perspective and you hear different perspectives, that's what changes the sort of attitudes and behaviors when you're designing and developing things. And that applies in the digital landscape, as much as it does in the sort of physical landscape as well.

Gordon McCullough:
And I think with digital, there's a much, much bigger opportunity to get it right. Because if you're talking about train stations or anything like that, they're Victorian, they've been around a long time, and they might have retrofitting you have to do to make them accessible and inclusive is much harder. But with digital, it's much easier to fix, and the technology is moving at such a pace that it's easier to include everybody. And that's what we get very passionate about is working with organizations that really want to make their product as accessible and as inclusive as possible.

Donna Thompson:
Great. Okay. Well, listen, let's move on to talk about user research and testing. So I know this is an area that RIDC specialize in. What do you feel, Gordon, are the key elements involved in carrying out user research and testing?

Gordon McCullough:
Involve people, basically. Don't assume, don't try and think, "Well, actually my cousin's cousin has an issue and so therefore I'll ask him and that'll be fine, and that will cover it all." I think if you're serious about actually designing something for everyone that they can use, it's about involving people right from the very beginning. And when we talk about inclusive research, we don't just think of the disabled or older person on our panel as the subject of that research. They have to ... They're involved, they're included in the research to help design and think about it.

Gordon McCullough:
Because what you're trying to do with user testing and user research is you get the insights, and the experiences, and the knowledge of those people to the fore. And so it has to be structured because it could just end up all over the place and you need to really start to focus in on that behavior, and the needs and expectations and what sort of motivates people when they're using a website, or an app, or anything like that.

Gordon McCullough:
And it's a combination of sort of observation techniques, task analysis, and other ways to get that feedback in. And then our job really is we take all of that information that we gather from our panel members and begin to sort of synthesize that and aggregate it so that it provides a series of solutions for whoever we're working for about how to improve their offer or their services. But it depends very much on the type of site, or the system, or the app somebody's developing. Also depends on the timeline. Often with agile design and quick turnaround, it's sort of, "Can we do some user testing next week?" Well, actually it's a little bit more involved in it because it's, it's not just enough to send somebody a link to your website and say, "Is that accessible?" There is a structure, and there are a load of different ways of doing it. You can have moderated testing, or [moderate 00:14:41] testing, remote, in person, explorative, comparative. I could go on. And we use a range of techniques based on what the sort of subject matter is we're trying to look at.

Gordon McCullough:
Recently we've been doing a lot of moderated remote testing, where we're just investigating the motivations and behaviors behind somebody using the website. And we'll do that remotely. We were about to work with a large building society on that type of approach, that remote moderated testing. But the security issues around their website meant that we couldn't do it remotely, we would have to do it in person. And of course that's not possible at the minute. So there are challenges that come up around that type of user research. But I suppose the message really that we always say, is get the insights and the experiences of people in at the very beginning. It's as much part of the design process as building a wire frame for a website, or all the technical side of things that we think it should always sit alongside the technical development of the site, because it influences it, and allows you to go back and check.

Gordon McCullough:
And there are a load of different automated testing tools for accessibility, but I don't think you can replace the experience and insights of people who are actually trying to use the website, and issues around navigation, and contrast, and font size and stuff can be picked up. And I think our experience is about 30 to 50% of those accessibility issues get picked up by the developers, but there's a whole other range of issues that people will come across when they actually sit down and try and use the website. And so for us we try and cover as much as possible in the design stage so that we get as much out of the individuals who are involved in it as possible so that the end product is as accessible and as inclusive as possible as well.

Donna Thompson:
So you would recommend then building that research in at the very beginning then?

Gordon McCullough:
Well, yeah, I mean, I would say that would nice, but if you build it ... I was thinking about this the other day. So if you use the example of a shop. And you're opening up a shop and you open it up and you've made it all lovely, and you have a nice window display, but you don't have step free access. Somebody in a wheelchair is not going to be able to get in. You would then have to go back and do a load of building work, close the shop for a while, and put steps in. It's no different. It's about considering what and how people access your digital product website, app, whatever, from the very beginning. And that means that you don't have to go back and retrofit. You don't have to spend time going back and thinking, "Right, what could we do to make this more accessible?"

Gordon McCullough:
Which is one cost, the other cost is that people will go to that site and go, "Well, I'm not going to use that, it's not accessible," and go somewhere else. Which ... And given again, the whole pandemic thing is sort of all right if you're talking about whether or not you use one clothing shop online compared to another, there is choice. But where it gets really important is where there is no choice, where it's a public service or a utility, and people then are really struggling to use that particular website.

Gordon McCullough:
So we would say build it in at the beginning, get as much insight in at the beginning, and then test as you go through. So if the ... I suppose the best way to think of it is you want to explore what is needed on a website or an up from a disabled or older person's perspective, design with that in mind, go back and present some solutions, "So does this work for you better, or does that type of approach work better for you?" And then assess it as the development goes along.

Gordon McCullough:
So yeah, build it in the beginning. It's expensive. There's no two ways about it. Because you're having to do it in different ways, whether it's remotely or in person. But it's a cost, I think that you get back through not having to go back and retrofit. You don't lose customer, you don't lose loyalty, or your brand isn't damaged. One thing that there's loads of research into this, that because disabled people ... It's disabled and older people are very loyal in terms of the brands and stuff that they use, because if it works, it works. And if for non-disabled people, it's something that's inconvenient, it's just that, it's just an inconvenience. But for somebody who's disabled, there's a lot of planning, and a lot of innovation, and a lot of adaptability and resilience that they have to show and exhibit all the time. So they'll use something they know that works.

Gordon McCullough:
Same with travel. If somebody uses the London underground, they know which station is accessible, where they get on the tube and where they get off. Any disruption to that is a massive disruption and can really destroy somebody's day or their plans. And I don't think it's any different when you talk about websites or apps. They'll just not use them, or ... We just did some research, actually it's for the Energy Saving Trust, it's about smart home technology. And particularly the apps that people use to run their smart home, particularly heating. And we find that generally people are finding ... A quarter of people, disabled people, were fining apps inaccessible. And they'll download them if they can. And if they don't work, they'll just delete them and move on. And so what we're finding is that the apps are now becoming a bit of a barrier to something that's very transformative for somebody in terms of controlling their heating, or controlling lights and stuff on their house. And again, that's about trying to build that accessibility in from the very beginning.

Donna Thompson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So there's no one approach, basically, that fits all.

Gordon McCullough:
No, but it's because we're dealing with people, and people's lives, and different ... There's no one answer to disability, because it intersects with so many different other issues. And where somebody might be in a wheelchair and have mobility impairments, a website, that's fine. But somebody who's got cognitive impairments, or have dexterity issues, or are visually impaired, then an inaccessible website is a real challenge. And so there's no one size fits all, but it's trying to get an appreciation through our work. Our panel is pan-disability, so we've got people with a range of disabilities. Often they'll have more than one. And so that complicates and makes the whole issue much, much more difficult. And so it's important to listen to their insights and their views. So, no, there's not one size that fits all, unfortunately.

Donna Thompson:
Okay, well, listen to any of our listeners interested in exploring inclusive research and design, and I'm wondering just hard to get this on their budget holder's agenda. What's the business case for organizations to invest in this?

Gordon McCullough:
Well at this point, people like me will rule out a lot of biggers that are really large and sort of don't really mean anything, but I'll do it anyway because it's always useful to hear. There are 14 million disabled people in the UK, and so there's estimates suggest they have a spending power of about £250 billion. There's your business case. That's 20% of the population. That's 20% of people who are in one way or another being excluded, or aren't able to access various things. We can't talk about it by sector, by sector, but you just ... As I said, one in four apps are inaccessible to disabled people based on our research. So in that case, you're missing out on about three and a half million customers. And as I said before, they are customers who spend money in your shop, or on your services, but equally it's three and a half million customers who might be struggling to access utility stuff, financial services, that type of thing.

Gordon McCullough:
So the business case to me is, do you want to ignore 20% of your potential customer base by not building in that accessibility from the very beginning? They're big, abstract figures. But I think if ... What I always would like to do is get somebody who's thinking of commissioning some inclusive research to come and sit in in one of our focus groups and just listen to what people have to go through, plan, compromise. The word, the phrase that always sticks with me as disabled people, it's a series of trade-offs. And it's constant sort of assessment of whether or not I can do that, whether I can afford that, whether or not I would be able to even do that because of some barrier that's put into place.

Gordon McCullough:
And that to me makes the strongest business case to build it in the very beginning. Me, it seems to be a no brainer because you'll eventually have to go back and fix it. So the legislation that came out on the 23rd of September for public sector websites, that's a good step forward, but there will be a lot of retrofitting of those websites to make sure that they are accessible and up to standard, which is fine. But the business case should be, we should be better than standard. We shouldn't just be accessible, we should be inclusive. And yeah, it's why ignore 20% of the population?

Donna Thompson:
Yeah. I think you've actually answered my next question to you, Gordon. I was thinking about the cost for organizations not investing, and we are missing out then on that 20% of the population. You mentioned all the work then of going back and retrofitting. So I mean that in itself is a strong, strong message.

Gordon McCullough:
There was a ... I was obviously preparing for today. I was looking back through some of our work we've done for a financial services client. And there's one thing she said too, is that she said, without us doing that research and providing those insights, them trying to improve the experience for their disabled and older customers with just theory. It was just, "Well, we would like to," but they never really understood what was actually going on. And we provided that sort of conduit, that way in to really begin to understand what people are experiencing when they try and access the websites. And they were able to go back and fix it. Because they noticed that their customers were getting older, like all of us, but they were seen as a much more solid, old type of financial servicing, that's who their customer base was. But they had no means to really test or understand what the website was like, what their communications were like, and how people were interpreting them and understanding them.

Gordon McCullough:
So businesses will end up having to do this type of work anyway, because the legislation, the regulations, the guidelines, will all keep ... It'll keep rolling forward and keep coming in. So it's better to do it now and get that reputation as being an organization that really understands its customer base, rather than just a proportion of it, or what they think that proportion of the population thinks, does, feelings. So, yeah, but this is ... You mentioned the passion earlier on the beginning, and this is what really does get us out of bed in the morning at RIDC, is to try and help. And not in a judgmental way, but just to help provide those solutions to whoever is interested in actually providing an inclusive service. Because nobody ... The opposite of that is not to provide something that's inclusive, and nobody really wants to do that.

Donna Thompson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Great. Gordon, that's a strong message to finish on for sure. So I think that's really all we've got time for today. I really enjoyed chatting to you and learning more about inclusive design, and I'm sure you've given our listeners lots of food for thought. So just to finish up, where can our listeners learn a little bit more about all the great work at RIDC, and reach out to you directly if they want to, after the show?

Gordon McCullough:
Sure. Probably the best thing to do is just go to our website. It's ridc.org.uk. And if anybody wants to get in touch with me, it's GordonMcCullough, no dot in between, @ridc.org.uk. But the details are on the website.

Donna Thompson:
Lovely. And of course you can join us on our next workplace related podcast. So be sure to subscribe to us, search for Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to catch up on the next episode. Thanks for listening everyone, and bye for now.

 

Comments

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
SHARE

Search

Submit

Subscribe To Blog

Google reCaptcha: