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Businesses forget disability and accessibility when buying IT

Both customer and supply side IT organisations need to consider the needs of disabled people when embarking on new procurements, according to a recent study

A study conducted by the Business Disability Forum (BDF) has found that the majority of enterprise IT buyers and many suppliers are not doing enough to account for the needs of disabled people when making purchasing decisions.

The report, entitled Disability-smart approaches to engaging suppliers and partners, said more than half of IT deals between organisations and third-party IT suppliers did not have a disability-smart outcome built into the planning process.

By disability-smart, the BDF means embedding the needs of as many people as possible into new technology projects, both internal and customer-facing, said George Selvanera, BDF strategy and external affairs director, and author of the report.

In practice, said the BDF, only a quarter of businesses were reviewing contracts with IT suppliers to ensure they delivered on requirements for inclusion and accessibility, and less than two in five said they had discussions with their suppliers about how they approach disability outside of formal processes.

“While disability tends to be included in formal agreements by companies buying-in services, there is often a danger of it not being visible at each stage of the procurement cycle,” said Selvanera.

“As a result, inclusion and accessibility are not grounded in the lived experience of a business’s disabled staff members and customers and don’t feature in discussions with the supplier either while the supplier is delivering on a contract, or during more formal reviews.”

With disabled customers ready to collectively spend more than £200bn per annum on products and services, disabled employees accounting for a fifth of working-age people, and an increasingly elderly population, it is becoming much more important for businesses to bear their needs in mind, said the BDF.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Selvanera cited numerous examples of businesses that have successfully applied this thinking to their IT projects, such as those of retail banks Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

In Barclays’ case, the bank involved disabled people in the testing and development of a digital interface for consumer financial services, while RBS worked closely with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to review its ATM cards and systems and find out how they could be made more accessible to blind people.

Read more about disability inclusion in IT

For suppliers, he suggested that more work was needed to build empathy for disabled people among designers and developers through the use of simulations. This would then give them more insight into the physical experience of using technology with impaired function, although this practice is not without its critics.

Selvanera emphasised that there had already been good progress in many areas, and said the iPhone was a good example of technological innovation that had done a lot of good.

“The challenge I am most conscious of, both on the supply and customer side, is that there is a lot of legacy technology without accessibility built in, so there is also a problem of retrofitting old systems,” said Selvanera.

One area to address urgently, he said, was the legal obligation for employers to make reasonable adjustments to support staff with disabilities, which applies as much to their use of IT as it does to more immediately obvious aspects of disability, such as installing ramps for wheelchairs. This applied in particular to enterprise software installations.

“Spectrum conditions such as dyslexia, for example, mean that some people need more colour contrast, so they need to be able to personalise systems,” he said.

The BDF is promoting management tools that it offers businesses to assess their current digital practice and performance with regard to the needs of disabled staff and customers.

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