With 20 percent of adults having some form of disability, and 80 percent of disabled people being of working age, this community makes up a huge potential workforce. However, accessibility is still largely overlooked in most businesses’ practices, and also in the design of their products, argues Andrew Taylor.

This needs to change. It is incumbent on leaders to create an inclusive environment where anyone can contribute effectively while being comfortable and supported in their roles. Disability can take many forms, not all of them visible, and businesses should make it a priority to increase their accessibility credentials.

I speak from personal experience. I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2005 which later caused me to go blind in July 2014. At the time I went blind, I had been working as an accountant at a firm for seven years. Unfortunately, my office wasn’t equipped for this development, and I had to give up my job there. While this was very challenging and demotivating at the time, it also gave me the chance to take charge of my career and learn new skills, and a little over a year later I set up my own accountancy firm, AJT Bookkeeping.

Now more than ever, businesses are struggling to attract talent due to the current global skills shortage and many can’t afford to lose capable and skilful employees in this way. Employers that implement accessibility practices will find that they are able not only to retain talent, but also gain access to a huge talent pool that others are missing, benefitting both the potential employee and the business.


 Better employee retention and wellbeing

Part of the joy of setting up on my own was being able to build accessibility features into my business from the beginning, largely through the use of digital tools. Some of these include Voiceover Screen Reader, which describes aloud what appears on your computer screen and comes as standard on all Apple products. I use QuickBooks as my financial management software, which features a voiceover compatible website and enables me to do my day-to-day bookkeeping, payroll and VAT. I also use Optical Character Recognition software, which scans receipts and letters and reads them out.can provide the services to my clients of the same quality that they’d receive from other accountants, which is how it should be!

 While digital tools and new assistive technologies present the main opportunity for companies to re-evaluate both their working practices and their product design, business leaders also need to focus on the human resources side. One of the main barriers I’ve faced in the workplace is that my colleagues and clients don’t necessarily realise how much I am still able to do as a working blind person, if provided with the right tools. Educating teams on this is paramount to creating an inclusive company culture, improving everyone’s wellbeing at work and making disabled employees feel valued. It is clear to me that staff in the workplace don’t know how to treat disabled people – I’ve experienced this as both a consumer and employee.

Being more inclusive has a plethora of benefits for employers. A study from Accenture showed that companies that implement accessibility practices see 28 percent greater annual revenue and 30 percent higher profit margins than those who don’t. In my experience, employees whose needs are being fully met within the workplace are likely to be more productive and motivated.


Building accessibility into the design of products for customers

It’s not just employees that benefit from better accessibility. With an astonishing 75 percent of disabled people in the UK saying that digital products and services are not designed well enough for them, businesses also have some way to go in making their products and services available to all customers. Many major companies now have a large digital offering – by making these accessible to a wider audience, they would attract more prospective customers.

One way businesses can improve their accessibility for blind customers, for example, is by creating an app or adjusting their website to break down sections with headers, links, text boxes and tables. I’ve found it makes it easier for me to skip through listening to the section titles to find the section I am looking for, rather than wasting time listening to the entire website. Other changes businesses can make include captions for all videos and images, and keyboard accessibility.

 If product designers are prioritising disabled customers’ needs, they can more easily build accessibility into the design of their products from the get-go. Business leaders should also be continually assessing their existing products for accessibility, and ensuring that they offer customer support in different formats, from phone numbers to written forms.

A disability, however large or small, should not mean having to leave your job or entirely restart. It is business leaders’ responsibility to put in place measures and tech to increase inclusion both in their company practices, and in the products and services they sell, which will in turn boost both their talent and customer pool.


Andrew Taylor is an Accountant at AJT Bookkeeping