Barclays: making IT work for the disabled is good business sense

Investing in making IT systems accessible to an aging population and to disabled people gives a clear competitive advantage,...

Investing in making IT systems accessible to an aging population and to disabled people gives a clear competitive advantage, Barclays Bank said this week.

The bank is making its IT systems more accessible to disabled and older people as it presses ahead with a £9m branch refurbishment programme.

The move comes as businesses face increasing pressure from groups such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which is funding legal action against firms whose websites are not accessible to visually impaired users.

Pressure groups are increasingly turning to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which requires all organisations to make "reasonable adjustments" to their systems to allow people with disabilities to access them.

Roger Davis, chief executive of Barclays Business Banking, said making systems accessible to disabled people was not altruism but "pure business common sense". Speaking to City of London executives last week, Davis said the bank had dramatically improved morale among its staff by investing in IT support for 400 of its staff who are registered disabled. "The difference it makes to the organisation is palpable," he said.

Microsoft believes providing greater accessibility to IT will increasingly become a business driver in Western countries as the average age of the working population increases.

Madelyn Bryant-McIntire, director of Microsoft's accessible technology group, speaking at a conference organised by the Worshipful Company of Information technologists and the Lord Mayor of London, said business needs were driving accessibility, rather than philanthropy.

Tim Berners-Lee said accessibility is one of the cornerstones of the World Wide Web Consortium, the body that sets the future direction of the web. "Accessibility is intimately connected with good design," he said.

James Stracahn, chairman of the Audit Commission, called on IT suppliers to embed accessibility and usability in the development cycle from the outset. Procurement procedures should include full accessibility as a mandatory requirement, he added, urging individuals not to hesitate to invoke the Disability Discrimination Act.

IT minister Stephen Timms said, "IT has an important part to play in creating the inclusive society we all want."

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