Why web accessibility matters

In this episode of Texthelp Talks, we are joined by Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet. Robin shares with us his experiences as a blind professional working in the digital inclusion space. He talks to us about the impact of digital inaccessibility on himself as a blind user but also more broadly on companies and businesses and their customers, services and employees. He also explores solutions to common challenges that organizations face when striving for inclusivity.


We hope you enjoyed this episode of our Texthelp Talks podcast! If you'd like to know more about web accessibility, head to our resources at text.help/accessibility.


Donna Thompson (00:15):

Hello everyone and welcome to the latest episode of Texthelp Talks podcast. This is where we'll be chatting to experts and pioneers from the education arena and the workplace to learn about their strategies for breaking down barriers, unlocking potential, and creating equality for all. So if you haven't done so already, you can subscribe to our podcast through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode. Search for Texthelp Talks, and you should find us. So today you're hearing from me, Donna Thompson, marketing manager at Texthelp and Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet. So Robin is here to share with us his experiences as a blind professional working in the digital inclusion space. He'll talk to us about the impact of digital inaccessibility on him as a blind user, but also more broadly the impact on organizations, their customers, their services, and their employees. So we'll also chat through some of the common challenges that organizations face when striving for inclusivity and explore some of the solutions that are available. So let's welcome Robin to the show. Robin, hi. Thanks for joining us today.

Robin Christopherson (01:20):

Hi guys. I am absolutely loving, well, I just love the accent. Anticipation of the next half an hour or say hearing the accent. Love it. But yes, hi guys let's, talk about accessibility.

Donna Thompson (01:35):

Great. Okay. I don't like to hear my accent on any kind of radio, so I'm going to pretend my accent isn't there. Well, listen, Robin, we've been lucky to work with you on a number of occasions before. One of the things that I remember you saying is that technology is more than just a preference and a feeling of liberation, but it's actually about life opportunities. So can you tell us a little bit about the role technology plays in your day-to-day?

Robin Christopherson (02:02):

Absolutely. I think if you talk to anyone with a disability or impairment, they're going to be very enthusiastic about technology, certainly people of younger generations. But increasingly with lockdown, older users have embraced technology in some shape or form, whether it's just to stay in contact with friends or to get access to those important online shopping or digital services that they're having to do remotely now. So technology is hugely empowering. If anyone's heard this before, then apologies. But very quickly to go back to the advent of the PC in the 1980s is when everything changed for people with disabilities because suddenly you had this thing that was super flexible. You had loads of choice about input and output choices from, if you couldn't use a standard keyboard, there were loads of different types of keyboard, loads of different types of mouse.

Robin Christopherson (02:58):

You could a bigger monitor, you could change the colors, tech size, make the arrow bigger, et cetera. And if you couldn't see a tool, it could speak to you. And if you couldn't use your hands at all, then you could speak to it, that sort of thing. Redundancy is the technical name. And that really opened doors for people with disabilities. And now in the UK, 90% of jobs use a computer of one shape or other. So that's the kind of level of empowerment that it has represented for people with a disability who often would have no other choice. For me with no vision trying to do my degree and then being someone in the workplace who was able to have the skills that they had, et cetera, put to practice in a productive way in the workplace was all about technology. Before technology for blind people, the main careers were piano tuning, physiotherapy, and basket weaving. And that was pretty much it.

Robin Christopherson (04:05):

And if that didn't float your boat, then you had very limited choices. But with technology, 90% of the jobs in the country are available really, and probably the other 10%, if you have the right adaptations in place. Which is just as well really because pianos probably tune themselves these days if people have synthesizers and stuff, and baskets are coming from China. Physiotherapy is probably more important than ever now as we've become more and more sedentary and home-based, et cetera. So technology has really made all the difference. And for me as a blind person, the range of technology that I used to use was mostly specialist and mostly very expensive and not particularly cutting edge because these are small organizations creating specialist solutions, they were limited in their R&D.

Robin Christopherson (05:04):

But nowadays, I'm mainly using mainstream technologies, and they're very, very inclusive. So the main message to get out to every listener out there is that the technology in the hands of disabled people is there, it's absolutely there. In some cases, in many cases, it's kind of cutting edge and Rolls Royce. Apple, for example, built in so much accessibility into their devices. If you did a mind map or a spider diagram of the settings within iOS, for example, well over half of those options are found under accessibility. There's so much power there. We would actually invite every single person who uses an iDevice for example under computer to just go and explore the settings and try and optimize it for their particular needs.

Robin Christopherson (06:04):

So, yeah, inclusion is definitely increasing out of the box. Obviously, there's always going to be a need for powerful specialist solutions like Browsealoud, for example, which can go that extra mile to what browsers offer you in a built-in way. And similarly, you're going to need to have specialist solutions for many users. But it's so amazing that now we are finding that, we've really democratized inclusion by the range of devices that are out there and the range of solutions that are already built in. So yeah, very different place than even 10 years ago.

Donna Thompson (06:50):

Great to hear the solutions that you mentioned they are becoming more mainstream, they're not so specialist and maybe not just as expensive anymore either. So technology can be a great enabler. I don't know if you mentioned websites there, but something that you said triggered me. Would it be fair when we're thinking about websites to say that inaccessible websites and apps even can hinder the opportunities that technology presents?

Robin Christopherson (07:16):

Absolutely. So you've got two halves of the story. One is what disabled users are holding in their hand. And that as I mentioned before is very powerful, relatively affordable, and is there for everyone and it's really quite mature. But then it's the, what are you accessing? You're on a website, you've downloaded an app. You need this app for doing your banking, you need this website for ordering your groceries, et cetera. And if that isn't an inclusive experience, then the chain is broken and you're disempowered. So absolutely. And it's been a legal requirement, I would argue it's an ethical or moral imperative. Everyone should want to do this because they want to make products that people are able to use regardless of their disability or impairment. Otherwise, you're going to single out people who are arguably the most vulnerable and the most in need, and often with the least support. Particularly in lockdown with the fewest choices of being able to go out and get groceries in a more conventional way, for example, they might be shielding because they're vulnerable.

Robin Christopherson (08:33):

There's so many reasons why it's the right thing to do. But I would also flag for people that want the business case fleshed out fully. If you make your products, whether it's a website, a digital marketing campaign, social media, mobile apps, whatever it is, if you want them to be supremely usable for every user, then you need to get on board with those web accessibility guidelines or the equivalents for mobile. Because then people who are accessing your content or functionality in extreme environments on their mobile phone who don't have a disability at all are going to find them easier to use as well. And that's because everyone is in effect in very real terms impaired on a daily basis, on an hourly basis. We all slide up and down that scale of impairment as you're juggling your phone one handed, accessing a website on a sunny day on a small shiny sheet of glass, noisy café, bumpy bus, that sort of thing.

Robin Christopherson (09:40):

So everybody, when you're doing things in an inclusive way, you're going to be improving it for everybody, say. At AbilityNet, we would certainly advocate for considering inclusion as being table stakes to make your products fit for purpose in a mobile first world. You should build accessibility into everything that you do, otherwise you're just not going to be creating products that are fit for purpose. The only way you're going to be differentiated from your competitors is in a negative way because everybody is getting on board with it now. Since lockdown AbilityNet's delivery has gone through the roof, it's probably about 160, 170% of what it was this time last year because everyone's focusing on digital. And Don has very kindly rescheduled this recording slightly because there's so many plates that we're spinning here. And I missed the beginning of the window that we had booked for this.

Robin Christopherson (10:45):

And it's literally because there's so much interest in accessibility and inclusion, which is fantastic because it's a win-win for everyone. And I'm sure you guys are experiencing the same as well that finally people are getting with the program. That combined with the public sector regulations, which I'm sure you guys have talked about on other podcasts, et cetera, really focusing the minds of local authorities, HE, central government to the extent that they're finally really getting with the program and engaging, and I think that's absolutely fantastic. I just wish the government would give the Equality Act the same teeth as the PSBAR has to proactively monitor websites. And that would make the other sectors sit up and listen, get with the program as well.

Donna Thompson (11:53):

[inaudible 00:11:53]. It's taken a pandemic really, hasn't it, to really allow everyone to focus on digital and improve their digital services. But you mentioned [crosstalk 00:12:02]. Sorry, go ahead.

Robin Christopherson (12:04):

Well, I was just going to say I was gutted with Brexit was the guillotine that it's difficult to imagine that we're going to incorporate other EU directives or legislation into UK law anytime soon. There's just probably not the appetite or maybe the opposite. Almost on principle, they're not going to do that. And obviously the European Accessibility Act missed that guillotine. So that would have been the one that would have even similar powers too. But they could still do it, they could just do it themselves. And hopefully they're seeing that the public sector regs have made an impact, so they should do it with other sectors too. Sorry.

Donna Thompson (12:50):

That's okay. We'll all keep flying the flag, Robin, so hopefully the government will listen. So listen, just thinking about your own experiences, how do these inaccessible websites and apps really impact on you? And I'm thinking really about your working day, also activities outside of work.

Robin Christopherson (13:10):

For me as a blind person, it's absolutely essential that websites, for example, have some of the basics. So headings, which on webpages you've got a big heading at the top of the body of a page, which hopefully will be a sensible summary of what the page is, you've got subheadings underneath that. Now, visually, they're usually kind of differentiated, but it's really whether the developer has coded those properly and not just made them big and bold visually. In markup, in HTML, you can say, yeah, this is actually a heading, it's got a significance semantically as it's called. It's got meaning behind it, it's not just visually different. So a good heading structure, absolutely vital for someone like me who the page, I only ever hear one thing at a time. So I don't take in a page visually in a big sweep. For me, it's just reading, reading, reading in a very linear way.

Robin Christopherson (14:10):

So to be able to jump around by headings and get a quick flavor of what the page includes is absolutely vital. Images, obviously the web is a very visual place. So if I can have descriptions associated with images, that's another basic core requirement for me. And access to the links from the keyboard. I'm in essence a keyboard user. So if you can't just hit tab and see where your highlight is as you move down the page and see that it's in a sensible order, then your website is not going to be friendly for me or for keyboard only users, or for people accessing it on a smart TV with their remote control. When your right arrow going through a website with your TV remote, you're actually hitting the tab key in the browser.

Robin Christopherson (15:05):

So there are so many overlaps where it's really important. Many browsers have this kind of reader mode built in now where with a click of a button or the press of a key, you can reformat the page and strip out the nav and the ads and things like that. And that's an absolute gift. And they've often got a button to just read linearly down through the page, which that's a blunt instrument, but still it's a nice feature to have. Obviously being able to roam your mouse around and have buttons and paragraphs and headings read that are under the mouse is 100 times more useful. But still to just be able to sit back and listen to an article being read is important. And if that reads well with that reader mode, then it's probably going to read okay for me with my speech output that I use as a blind person.

Robin Christopherson (16:02):

So there are many overlaps, many multiple wins when you make your web content inclusive. Everything speaks to me. JavaScript, I'm sure you've all heard of JavaScript. Many programs that run on every single web page has got a bunch of JavaScript in there. And that's a movable feast when it comes to accessibility. So if you can test those, for example, from the keyboard, if you've got a carousel that keeps changing, can you pause that using the keyboard? Can you tap through it using the keyboard? Then that's probably going to be okay for me as a blind person and obviously for a keyboard only user of which there are many. But yeah, there's so many practical examples of the way that you can improve the accessibility. I would probably points because the guidelines for web, the WCAG guidelines web content accessibility guidelines are not for the faint hearted by any means.

Robin Christopherson (17:09):

But having said that, there are some low hanging fruit. Some of the things I've been mentioning now, which are relatively easy to test. But I would point you to an article on the AbilityNet website. If you just search for the word SCULPT, S-C-U-L-P-T, then you can learn to sculpt a more accessible website. It's basically an acronym for some of the top-level, well, six of the top-level things that are important and how you can test for them. And that was put together by a local authority. And it's just a shorthand way of remembering the key elements. And don't ask what they are because I'll probably blank. Structure, color-

Donna Thompson (17:53):

I don't remember either of them actually because we talked about them in our last webinar, but I can't remember what [crosstalk 00:17:57] stands for.

Robin Christopherson (17:59):

That's right. So have a look at those guys. Just search for SCULPT AbilityNet, AbilityNet is just one word in Google or wherever, and that article should come up. But that's I think a really nice shorthand because unless you're listening to this and your job is to be an accessibility champion within your organization or a developer coder, et cetera. I mean, it is literally your job to check for WCAG compliance, then obviously you want to go to the source. But for most people, even if you're just creating a word document, if you can have a quick look at the SCULPT summary and bear those in mind and do some easy wins like put the accessibility checker in the ribbon because we know we can customize the ribbon in Office. Put that on the top level as a top-level tab so that it's front and center so you can remember to click it from time to time to check for accessibility as well as spelling and grammar and that sort of thing.

Robin Christopherson (19:05):

And a lot of the hard work is done for you, it'll just step you through in a wizard way to make sure that your document is accessible. And PDFs are probably the biggest challenge, particularly the public sector having to deal with because they are obviously included in the regulations in a prioritized way.

Donna Thompson (19:26):

They're everywhere.

Robin Christopherson (19:27):

They absolutely are. And luckily though, I hope that anybody from Adobe is going to listen to this. But luckily the support for PDFs in something like Microsoft Edge are brilliant, and in Chrome, but Edge is a much slimmer browser. Anyone that's got Chrome running, if you look at your kind of task manager, you'll see that it's taking 90% of your CPU. And if you're on a laptop, then it'll half your battery life if you've got Chrome open the whole time. Microsoft Edge has the chromium engine, so you'll get exactly the same surfing experience, but it's a less bloated, hungry program, and that is a brilliant PDF reader. And I think you can annotate on it as well.

Robin Christopherson (20:14):

But if you are creating PDFs, say from a word document, then that's a really good place to start because you can check for accessibility with the checker. You can then just do save as PDF and all that hard work will be transferred over to the PDF. So you can obviously do it in InDesign and stuff like that. It's a very complicated in depth process to mark up an existing PDF, which is why the regulations give you some grace period to eat into your PDF archive on your website. But, yeah, PDFs have historically been a real challenge from an inclusion point of view.

Donna Thompson (21:00):

They take such a long time to try and mark up and make them more accessible. I think a lot of organizations are trying to move away from PDFs where they can and maybe have the information hosted on the webpage instead, which makes it much more accessible. And so even the impact of inaccessibility really does affect millions of people. Some of the stats there, globally one in seven people have a registered disability. For many really the barrier is that websites and apps present can make the digital world that many of us take for granted inaccessible. So it really is important for organizations to consider accessibility for diverse users. From those with visual impairments, to those with neuro diverse conditions, such as dyslexia, for example. So Robin, let's take a look at what organizations can do to be more inclusive of such a large audience. And really what we want to start with is thinking about your own experiences, what are some of the most common inaccessibility issues that you find when you're navigating the web? Let's say, what would your top three issues be?

Robin Christopherson (22:07):

Unlabeled images and buttons. I've touched upon unlabeled images. This is particularly challenging on a website that is eCommerce, a retail website like Amazon or Sainsbury's or whatever it might be where you've got potentially thousands or tens of thousands of, or maybe millions when it comes to Amazon images of products. And for me, they are often a really long string with dot JPG or whatever at the end. And that that can be hundreds of characters long. And we would have to listen to that as we're reading down through the page. If you're not going to provide alternative text, then at least make sure that the software doesn't expose that massive long file name because that can slow you down significantly.

Robin Christopherson (23:00):

Thankfully with a website like Amazon, which actually in many other respects is very usable, very accessible. Thankfully there's a lot of other information on that page about the product, so it's not a showstopper that you don't have the image. But when it comes to eLearning in particular, which is obviously very important and salient at the moment with home schooling and stuff, often there's no text alternative description given to the visual content in an eLearning module. There's very little in the way of describing what the visuals are by the person delivering the lesson or whatever. And obviously from a hearing point of view, there would need to be captioning and all that thing. That's really, really challenging, particularly when eLearning is something that is delivered live or is building up a bank of resources that people need to refer back to, so it is a challenge.

Robin Christopherson (24:06):

And a lot of people listening to this podcast are thinking, I've got a day job, so how can I squeeze this in as well? We're totally aware that that is a challenge. Just like you wouldn't publish or share a document or whatever that hasn't been spell checked, we need to get to that point. You don't begrudge doing the spell check. Now, I know that you've got a full day of work, and say we're asking you to build in other things on top of this spellcheck or whatever. But it will soon or later get to the point where it's recognized that that is what you need to do to create good content, content that's fit for purpose. And that will just be how you roll, and it will become quicker and easier. The more that we do it, the more it will just be muscle memory, and it'll just be part of what we do.

Robin Christopherson (25:02):

So we do need a prioritization within organizations. At AbilityNet, we do website audits and disabled user testing. When we work with organizations that take it seriously, then we see their websites improving, and I am a customer of some of those. So I actually see benefits personally myself enabling me to then shop with that organization, give them my money, et cetera. And one really useful process that we're now engaging an increasing number of organizations in is called the digital accessibility maturity model. Because many organizations, they have the will and they want to become better, but it's very piecemeal or they don't know how to take a strategic approach to building in best practice. Which bodies do you need to get involved? What resources do you need to make available to who? How do you prioritize the different areas that you need to nibble away at to get really much better at accessibility than you are at the moment?

Robin Christopherson (26:14):

And this DAMM, Digital Accessibility Maturity Model that we can talk people through, other organizations have their own versions as well. This is one that we've optimized, we think it's a really, really useful approach. We can provide organizations with the structure for them to self analyze and set their own actions, or we can help people through it as well with a couple of online sessions with the right bodies in the virtual room. But yeah, we would definitely point people at a maturity model that will help them bring together all of the different elements that need to be put in place to make an organization do this really well and not in a a firefighting or a piecemeal way where, yeah, we're improving. I think accessibility is hard, so we don't know where we are on the journey or whatever. Because it is a complex situation as I'm sure you're aware as well.

Donna Thompson (27:21):

Ultimately, Robin, I think where we will all want to be is that thinking about accessibility becomes second nature just like you do check for the spelling and grammar errors that you mentioned. Checking for all those other things is something that we just do, and we don't think about it as an add-on. That really gives us an understanding of where our organizations like begin when improving their online experiences. But I want to look beyond the web for a second and think about the entire customer journey. How accessible or inaccessible do you find other communication channels like social media platforms, digital ads even, or emails that we use every day?

Robin Christopherson (28:00):

I think the more ephemeral the product, the thing, the less people are going to be inclined to take time to make it inclusive. Luckily, email, for example, is pretty text-based. Obviously, any copy that you write, any words that you put down, you could think from a literacy point of view. And as you guys are very well aware, literacy is a significant challenge not just for people with recognized diagnosis of dyslexia, for example. What is it, 25% of the population have a under 12 reading age, I can't remember what the stat is. But you can't assume that everyone is going to know. People take pride in using the right words, and sometimes those words can be quite erudite. But we would say, if you could look at the plain English guidelines that are out there, if you search for plain English, it's a thing. Then it's saying use a good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon word instead of a Greek or Latin one where you can. Let's think about readability, it's supremely important.

Robin Christopherson (29:18):

That goes for everything that you write from the web, to emails, to your social media posts, et cetera. In social media, you've got a lot of stuff smushed together in hashtags and writing things in a shorthand way and stuff like that. That can be really problematic for me with my screen reader. If you've got a hashtag, which is several lowercase words all pushed together, then it tries to pronounce it as a whole word. Whereas if you go camel case and put capitals at the beginning of each word. If that isn't going to obstruct legibility too much for other stakeholders, then that would certainly help me because then it is all spoken properly as separate words even though they're smushed together.

Robin Christopherson (30:03):

There are lots of challenges with social media because even though Twitter has the ability to add an alternative text description to every image that you post, nobody does. It's understandable. The WCAG guidelines and SCULPT will point you at what you need to consider for whatever document you're creating regardless of the platform. One other point to make on copy is if you want to take something from the page and put it on the web, then you should cut it down by half. Some people say a third because it's not the same medium, and people aren't used to reading such long form articles on the web. A lot of people have a summary of the article at the top, TLDR, in case people can't read the whole thing. And if you're looking at mobile, you can almost assume that when you're drafting for mobile as well, then you should actually cut it down further still. So really distill it right down to the essence if you can, and that's going to help a whole range of people.

Donna Thompson (31:15):

Yeah. I can see that already. Hashtags that you mentioned on social can be really hard to see without capitalizing the individual words for everyone I think, Robin. You mentioned readability there. I think in the UK the average reading age is nine years old, which is unbelievable when you hear it out loud really, isn't it? So that's really the age that we should be trying to write for mostly if we can.

Robin Christopherson (31:38):

Yeah, totally. And it's not dumbing down, that's not what we're asking for, we're asking for .... Look at the plain English guidelines basically because they say it very nicely. It's about straightforward language that is still appropriate. We don't talk down to our audience, but at the same time don't assume that they will know, that they'll have a massive vocabulary. And also it will just make it more readable, and people have very short attention spans these days.

Donna Thompson (32:09):

Absolutely, especially when reading web copy I think. So listen, there definitely sounds like there's lots of scope for improvement across a lot of digital channels, Robin. So taking all that into consideration, what would your key piece of advice be to organizations as they work to create accessible experiences?

Robin Christopherson (32:29):

I think empowering individuals for whom it's part of their job to give them the time and the resources and the support that they need to make it happen. And again, I'd point that back to the maturity model because you do need to have a mature implementation towards this within an organization. Every individual can go and do something as simple as making sure that the accessibility checker in Office is part of just what they do. So there's some practical things. The valuable 500 organization, Caroline Casey, they're doing a brilliant job of making sure that organizations are at least aware that you need to have disability along with the other groups in the diversity festival that we're all enjoying at the moment, LGBTQ, BAME, et cetera, that disability is also in that group because it needs to be. But we're often the forgotten cousin in the parade.

Robin Christopherson (33:43):

They are making sure that people try and prioritize it at C-level meetings, get it on the board agenda regularly. So if people want to see if their organization can sign up for the valuable 500, it's basically just a way of committing to making sure that they prioritize accessibility sufficiently. Because you can have loads of people within an organization with the best of intentions. But unless there's a strategic org-wide approach, then what happens if that person leaves or what happens if higher up a decision is made which means they're not able to use that particular tool anymore because they've rolled something else out? So it mustn't be piecemeal anymore, it needs to be strategic. And it needs to be both top down as well as bottom up because there's a lot of passionate people at the bottom who are doing great things, but it needs to be done on a much more strategic level.

Donna Thompson (34:47):

A bigger voice really, isn't that right?

Robin Christopherson (34:49):

Absolutely, yeah. And I think we're there now. COVID has focused everyone's mind on digital. If you don't do things in an inclusive way, there can be a lot of very ugly, hairy fallout from that. And we've seen the likes of Teams and Zoom supremely prioritize accessibility and hence gained the traction that they had because organizations that are having to accommodate every single employee working from home, regardless of what that particular diversity needs are. If you roll out a key platform that is going to be core to their delivery on a day-to-day basis, maybe even like 10 or 20% of the organization are going to have trouble with and that is illegal, to put it bluntly. Then that's not a decision that they're going to make lightly, and hence they've focused in on these ones that have done a really good job. Although there are loads of others out there, we're talking on Google Meet here. And luckily, that's inclusive. There are other options as well, but it's no coincidence that the main two have prioritized accessibility.

Donna Thompson (36:11):

Yeah. Yeah. Hopefully everyone else will just follow suit, Robin. Listen, that's really useful. Thank you. So at AbilityNet, I know you have a real focus on helping to build a more accessible digital world, sorry. And I know you work with many organizations to support them to design better for accessibility and usability. So when clients approach you for services, are there any common challenges that these businesses experience when they're striving to be more intrusive? And if there are, what advice would you give to help overcome some of these common challenges?

Robin Christopherson (36:47):

We tend to get organizations who are already bought in, although budget is often the challenge that they ... So they want to be inclusive, they're not 100% sure how to go about it. They have maybe one or two projects front and center that they want to focus on, but they are aware that there's a much broader hinterland of questionable or digital properties and infrastructure that has a big question mark over how inclusive that is, and they're not 100% sure. So they're at the beginning of the journey, but they're already bought in. People that approach us are already on that page, but they are usually one team or even one individual. And they don't have the corporate backing that they need to make sure it's properly resourced, prioritized, and embodied into the organization.

Robin Christopherson (37:54):

So as AbilityNet, we often worked historically with organizations on a project by project basis. And they might come back 18 months later with another project and even within the same team. And there hadn't been the best practice approach that we pointed out in our reports from the audit and disabled user testing the first time round, hadn't resulted in changes in the tools that they use or in the kind of way that they build their digital properties, et cetera. So it was on a very ad hoc basis. We're definitely moving away from that now towards a knowledge transfer idea. Our ultimate goal as a charity is to get to the point where they don't need us anymore, so we want that knowledge transfer. So that's part of that maturity model process that we go through.

Robin Christopherson (38:49):

We do an awful lot of training now, much more than we used to. I think the main challenge that an organization has is that they've got one thing in front of them, this particular project. They've got a certain amount of budget that may or may not be sufficient to help them realize inclusion on that project, but there needs to be a much bigger approach. And we're seeing a lot of traction in helping organizations have a much deeper relationship with those organizations because they appreciate that it hasn't been on the right footing up until now. I think the biggest challenge is that it's only ever the project that they've got in front of them. But yeah, that is changing.

Robin Christopherson (39:41):

So we would definitely invite organizations to have a look at what information there is on the AbilityNet website, that's abilitynet.org.uk. But also to just drop us a line or give us a bell, and we can talk through how, even if you haven't got a particular project in mind, how to wheedle, how to get the process, the start of the process happening within their organization so that in X months down the line they'll be in a much better position to have the internal expertise that they need to do things as part of their day job.

Donna Thompson (40:23):

Yeah. I think that's the biggest hurdle I think, Robin, is starting. A lot of organizations are nervous about taking that first step. So with a bit of guidance, setting them on the right path, it becomes a little bit easier to get started.

Robin Christopherson (40:38):

And we would all [crosstalk 00:40:40]. Sorry.

Donna Thompson (40:38):

Go ahead.

Robin Christopherson (40:40):

Well, I would just say we would also flag that from an employee point of view as well we're equally about empowering employees and helping line managers and HR, et cetera. And we've got a number of solutions that can help there too. It's one thing valuing your disabled customers, but what about your employees as well? So that's very much part of the discussion that we would want to have around making sure that you've got the right feedback mechanisms, the right support in place to make sure that ... And we know health and safety executive have done research just to say that teams that have disabled members in the workplace, they're happier teams, they're more productive. They take less sick leave, et cetera. So the more diversity you can build into your organization, the better it's going to be. And valuing your disabled employees is at the very heart of that.

Donna Thompson (41:42):

So Robin, when it comes to embedding inclusivity across the whole organization then, so thinking outside of websites and digital channels, do you have any advice that would help organizations to achieve this?

Robin Christopherson (41:54):

Yep. There's external and internal, and we've covered both. But from an external point of view, you do need to have a mature approach to it. So if you're not aware of where you are on that spectrum, then something Digital Accessibility Maturity Model, if you just Google that or if you talk to us about it, then that is a very step-by-step process to get to the point where you know where you are, you've got a roadmap, you've got clear action points assigned to clear bodies to improve that to get to the point where you're doing really well on an external point of view, Internally, we can talk about that as well. We can do workplace assessments for individuals, but we can also point at solutions that will make you undertake a similar process internally as well.

Robin Christopherson (42:50):

And there's a brilliant company called Clear, the ClearCompany diversity experts when it comes to recruitment and also internal best practices as well. There's a brilliant online solution called ClearTalents, that's all one word, that they and AbilityNet have jointly created where every employee can create a clear talents profile. You can go to cleartalents.com. And it doesn't just cover disability, it covers all the nine protected characteristics plus nutrition. So you can report what your dietary requirements are, whether it's halal or non-allergy or whatever it might be through to a full DSE, Display Screen Equipment evaluation module as well. Everyone can freely create a profile there, and their line manager will get the reasonable adjustments in a report that they can then discuss with them to put into place.

Robin Christopherson (43:49):

So that's really powerful too. There was a very strong need identified to try and help automate the process of reasonable adjustment within an organization because there's a lot of fear in recruiters, in line managers, in HR in doing the wrong thing. And there's an awful lot of litigation out there. There's a lot of compromise agreements and tribunals and medical retirement and stuff going on, so that's a challenge as well.

Donna Thompson (44:23):

Yeah. They don't always make the headlines, so we don't always get to hear about them.

Robin Christopherson (44:28):

Absolutely. And I would also say that on their website compliance as well, there are legal challenges going on all the time here in the UK, they get settled out of court. And part of the settlement, which the payment to the individual who has been disenfranchised by an inaccessible app or website, part of that requirement is that they don't disclose. So there's an NDA around that, which is why they don't make the headlines either. I don't think that the law isn't enforced, not by the government except in the public sector area, but by either individuals or organizations like the NLRB bringing a class action, a group of users together to take an organization to court.

Donna Thompson (45:18):

It definitely happens. We hear the headlines from the States probably more than we do in the UK. Various organizations, even Beyonce and Nike have been a suit, haven't they? So it really-

Robin Christopherson (45:30):

And Domino's last year.

Donna Thompson (45:30):

Domino's, that's right.

Robin Christopherson (45:34):

Talk about bad optics. They pushed back, and then it went to the regional court. They pushed back saying, "No, we still want to appeal," went to the Supreme Court. They were basically saying, "No, we don't think we should make our app and website accessible for a blind person, we're going to take this right to the top." And course the Supreme Court still upheld the local court's initial ruling, because obviously it's a requirement under US law Section 508. So yeah, they did well for themselves brand-wise, didn't they?

Donna Thompson (46:11):

Didn't they? Yeah, of course. Well, listen, it isn't rare really. When you think about it, the outcomes are clearly worth it for everyone. But when we talk about web accessibility, you touched on this already, we're not just talking about disability. And I know AbilityNet, Robin, you say that web accessibility is also about universality. Can you maybe expand to our listeners what you mean by this?

Robin Christopherson (46:34):

Yeah. I talked about this before where the accessibility guidelines, the word accessibility is obviously talking about access for people that have a particular disability or impairment. But we think that that's potentially not a useful phrase anymore because the word accessibility has got a lot of baggage associated with it. It's this extra work we've got to do for those disabled people over there. And they're not a particularly big group, and they haven't got a lot of disposable income. All of which aren't true, by the way. The [inaudible 00:47:08] something like 250 billion in the UK, so none of that's true. But that's the baggage that's associated with it. And it's this bolt-on exercise. If it's bolt on, then you don't do it as part of your day job, you do it at the very end when often it is problematic because you hadn't considered it earlier, and now you're having to try and retrofit it.

Robin Christopherson (47:29):

And anything that's bolt on, when push comes to shove, it can be dropped off because it's not core, it's on this side. So yes, the guidelines have the word accessibility in it, whether it's for the web or for mobile. But if you think about them as being the way of making your products more inclusive for every user, and I touched upon that before, making your products accessible will make them easier to use for everyone who are competing on the edge with their phones in extreme environments. Or just make them more usable because if it's easier to read for someone with dyslexia, if it's easier to understand for someone with a learning difficulty, if it's nice and visible for someone with low vision, just think how easy it's going to be to understand, read, process for people that don't have an impairment.

Robin Christopherson (48:22):

So you're actually going to end up with something that is extremely usable. And the RNIV did some research a while ago where they looked at a number of websites that were compliant to single A. Now, double A is that the legal threshold, but these were just single A complaint, which is the very highest priority issues. If your website doesn't comply with some of the single A criteria, then for me as a blind person, I'm not even going to be able to get past the homepage probably. It's the equivalent of not having a ramp up into the front door of a building for someone in a wheelchair, it's a showstopper basically. So they were single A compliant. And they had a bunch of blind users who were comparing those to sites that weren't single A. And obviously they were able to use them better than the sites that weren't. But the real key finding were that they had a control group of able-bodied testers because in good research, that's what you do. You have a control group as well as the target group.

Robin Christopherson (49:23):

And the control group were able to perform the tasks that were part of the testing on the sites that met single A compliance that were moderately accessible compared to the ones that weren't at all. On average, 35% more quickly. So for people that have absolutely no impairment at all, if you make your products more inclusive, everyone's going to benefit. And that was back on desktop browsers. So you could just imagine a smaller screen. That 35% might go to 50%. It might be twice as fast for somebody to be able to access content or your services. So there's a massive usability bonus for every single user, particularly now in this extreme computing age. I would flip it around, not use the word accessibility anymore, talk about digital inclusion. It's not just for disabled people.

Robin Christopherson (50:25):

In fact, because disabled people are the minority of the people that will be benefiting, you could almost argue that it's not for disabled people, we're just the most benefited individuals because we're going to be able to use it when we otherwise might not be able to use it at all. But actually do it for every single user, why just target 80%? Let's push that right up to the high 90s to make sure that everyone is being able to access the content, and everyone's having a really lovely, delightful experience at the same time. Just think about the Uber app, that needs to be supremely usable for people that have had a good night out. This is before COVID obviously. If you've had a few drinks, just think how very advanced the usability has to be on that website for you to be able to successfully get home.

Robin Christopherson (51:22):

It could be a game changer for so many people to make sure that your products are inclusive. So yeah, let's flip it through 180, let's call it digital inclusion or inclusive design and make us be doing it for every single user. And then that approach unlocks the resources because now it's everyone. It has to be part of your day job because it's for everyone. It's not a bolt-on, so it can't be dropped off because it's for every single user. So that's what we'd like to see.

Donna Thompson (51:55):

Yeah. So essentially the information online should be usable by everyone regardless of the devices that they're using or any disabilities or challenges or impairments that they may be experiencing because it's the whole group that we should be considering.

Robin Christopherson (52:09):

Yeah. Or how busy they are or how distracted they are, or how distracting the environment is. Whatever it is, you need to push the envelope towards making something supremely usable to benefit everyone.

Donna Thompson (52:24):

Great. Okay. Well, listen, Robin, that pretty much brings us to the end of the session, would you believe? It's really great chatting with you again, you always have really good insights to share.

Robin Christopherson (52:34):

Thank you so much. I absolutely love talking about this stuff because I'm so passionate about it because it's done so much for me. And that sounds quite selfish, but you can't help but be grateful and passionate when it has meant everything for yourself. And you see all around you, I mean AbilityNet, we are a coalface organization in as much as we've got disabled employees, we work with disabled people every day. So it's very real to us how important this is and how it's changing people's lives. So we just want people to appreciate that this is an important thing. It's important enough for you to go away having heard this and do whatever you can. And whatever that is, it's more than nothing. Whether it's just running that accessibility checker or whether it's going to seek out the disability champions within your organization or searching for accessibility on your internet. Whatever it might be, we would love people to feel as passionately involved in making the world a more inclusive place as we do here.

Donna Thompson (53:53):

Great. Okay. Well, listen, Robin, do you have any thoughts that you want to leave with our listeners? I know you mentioned a couple of great chills there like the SCULPT acronym that you talked about. Is there anywhere that you'd like to point anybody to find out more of these great things that you have mentioned?

Robin Christopherson (54:09):

We do monthly webinars where we talk to global accessibility leads. So I'm not sure when this is going out, but on the 19th ,,, No, it's not the 19th, it's the 16th, I'm talking to-

Donna Thompson (54:27):

Of February?

Robin Christopherson (54:29):

Yeah. I'm talking to Sarah Herrlinger of Apple, she's head of accessibility there. She's got a longer title, but that is what she is pretty much. Each month, we talk to different ... I've talked to Jenny Lay-Flurrie who's head of accessibility at Microsoft, I've spoken to Google, et cetera. So please do check that out. And you can go to abilitynet.org.uk/accessibility-insights or just search for it on the website. I'm sure it'll be flagged from the homepage as well actually. And slash training is the definite place to go to to see what very affordable or free training we have that can take you a really long way on the journey to becoming a real passionately engaged person when it comes to digital inclusion. So I definitely point you at slash training as well. And slash webinars is another place where, slash webinars is probably the go-to place for other webinars that we have as well.

Donna Thompson (55:31):

Lovely. That's great. All right, Robin, I think that really is us for today. So just to our listeners, if you'd like to learn more about web accessibility, obviously there's lots of resources on the AbilityNet website that Robin has just gone through, but you can also head over to our resources page where you'll find tons of other useful information and guides and webinars to help you on your journey. So you can go to text.help/accessibility for that. And of course, you can reach out to us directly for more information, our contact details will be on the website. So finally, if you have enjoyed our chat today, you can listen again by subscribing to Texthelp Talks on wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to share the podcast with your friends, your colleagues, and anyone who you think would benefit from our expert insights. Thanks again to Robin, and thanks to you for listening. So bye for now.

Robin Christopherson (56:19):

Thanks guys.