Accessibility is increasingly a hot topic, not only because it is just the right thing to do, but there is a huge opportunity for businesses to serve a broader population. In this podcast, Matthew Johnston, Technical Delivery Lead, Thoughtworks, makes the case to push accessibility “left” to embrace innovation, create an inclusive workplace and tap into the “purple dollar.”
There are many types of disabilities to consider for accessibility efforts - invisible, long-term, temporary or situational disability.
By making your products more inclusive, you expand your consumer base and you’re able to tap into the purple dollar.
Embedding accessibility in your product helps you keep it more simple and clean so it's easier to develop, replicate it, and it pushes innovation.
Accessibility should be integrated into the product and the delivery lifecycle. It's less risky and less costly than thinking about it afterwards.
Thoughtworks became a member of the Valuable 500, making a commitment to captioned events globally, an accessible public website and making all of our tools adjustable.
Considering accessibility early and across the board creates inclusion and it often benefits everybody.
Karen: Welcome to Pragmatism in Practice, a podcast from Thoughtworks, where we share stories of practical approaches to becoming a modern digital business. I'm one of your hosts Karen Dumville. Accessibility has become a hot topic, particularly as remote work becomes the new norm. According to a 2021 world health report, over 1 billion people or about 15% of the global population currently live with a disability and at some point in time, it's expected that almost everyone will experience disability.
Improvements in accessibility and not only the right thing to do to serve the whole population, there is also a huge opportunity for businesses everywhere but it's not always top of mind in the work environment. To help our audience understand accessibility as more than just an add-on, I'm here today with Matthew Johnston. As technical delivery lead at Thoughtworks, Matthew builds teams and digital products for our clients. He's also a lifelong disability champion who sees inclusive technology as essential to drive a socially and economically just world. Welcome to our podcast, Matthew.
[00:01:13] Matthew: Hi, thank you, Karen. Nice to be here. Thanks for the introduction.
[00:01:17] Karen: It's good to have you. I shared a compelling statistic earlier about the amount of people living with disabilities, and many people think of disability as physical impairments. Can you explain a bit more about how everyone can benefit from accessibility?
[00:01:34] Matthew: Yes, of course. It's so easy to think that people with disability are those with physical impairments, but that's not true. There are so many different types of other disabilities. Visual dyslexic, mental health, autism, all that and they are invisible. Cancer is another one, and about 80% with disability are invisible. You may think everybody looks normal, but they might have a hidden disability so that is something that we need to bear that in mind, and not just for those with physical disability but there are three different types of disability that we need to think about.
One is the long-term disability which I've described. Like myself, I'm deaf. That's my long-term disability, it would never go away but there are two other types of disability. One is temporary disability. You may have a broken arm or a broken hand. That's temporary. While you have a broken arm or hand, you may not be able to use the mouse or the keyboard. You need to think about how that person is able to navigate on the website without the mouse, that you need to make sure that person can navigate the website using the keyboard alone.
That's just one example. Or you may have an eyepatch or you covered, you had an eye operation, and so on. The other one is situational disability. A situational disability is someone at that moment is unable to perform everything. One good example is a mother carrying a baby and therefore one of her arms is not being used or she's pushing a pram or whatever, or somebody who carry luggage, it is situation disability.
It's almost effectively that she's unable to use her arm and therefore cannot use the mouse and so on. There are three different types of disability. Going back to your introduction, you say there are over 1 billion people with disability or 15% of the population but if you take into account those two different disabilities, there is much more than 1 billion and we are all temporarily not disabled through our life. One day or the other we will become disabled.
[00:04:35] Karen: That's great context. Thank you. With that in mind, why should businesses care about accessibility?
[00:04:42] Matthew: They should. Very often, a client comes to me, say, "Oh, Matthew, we don't have the time. We need to get the products faster and it's too expensive." These are two common themes that we hear, but let me put that to rest. First of all, you expand your customer base by making your product more inclusive, so that's a financial incentive. Secondly, from the financial point of view, I don't know if you've heard, but it's called the purple dollar.
Now the purple dollar is the spending power of a family or household which has one disabled person. If I'm a parent of a disabled child, I want to buy products that are inclusive. So the spending power of the purple dollar is a trillion dollars per year. That's a phenomenal amount. There's no way a client will say to me, "Oh, Matthew, it's too expensive." "Well, you're missing out that customer base, that $8 trillion."
Also, if you embedded accessibility in your product, you have to keep it more simple and clean so it's easier to develop and once you develop it, you could replicate it, for example a website, because you can make it too complicated. You replicate it so it's quicker, faster, cheaper. The third bit which I think is really important, it's about innovation. Very often, when you have to think about inclusivity or make your product more accessible, you have to think outside the box and therefore you become creative and suddenly, you are able to differentiate your product from your competitors.
[00:07:04] Karen: Lots of advantages and byproducts even of accessibility. What's the difference between accessibility and inclusive design? Isn't that just for designers?
[00:07:17] Matthew: Accessibility design are for people with disability but inclusive design look for a solution that fits for everyone, i.e no one to be excluded. Really we should talk about inclusivity rather than accessibility but that's the main difference between the two. I prefer people to talk about inclusivity, i.e no one to be excluded. so it doesn't matter what type of disability you have in any shape.
[00:07:49] Karen: That really incorporates a broader audience and with this broader view of disability, what needs to change? How can product teams make adjustments to better embrace accessibility?
[00:08:03] Matthew: You should really think about accessibility right from the top and not at the end, i.e it's not an afterthought. You should integrate the product and the delivery lifecycle, shift, what I call shift to the left, i.e it should start to left so when you are thinking about your product, your MVP, minimum viable product because it's cheaper that way. It's less risk and less costly because if you think about afterward, it's more of like an add-on so it could be very clunky, and you have to compromise. That's why you should think about from the start, i.e shift to the length in your lifecycle.
[00:08:50] Karen: Matthew, many businesses would argue that they already make best endeavors to make their work accessible. Why isn't this enough, and what is the benchmark we should be aiming for?
[00:09:05] Matthew: We are talking about the workplace. Very often people use the word reasonable, reasonable adjustment. I am not a big fan of using the word reasonable. What do you mean by reasonable? Is it a half-baked product or are you going to do it properly?
When you make the environment much more inclusive, you seem to have a positive side effect for other people as well, without realizing that when you focus on people with disability, it's not just that disabled people benefit this, but everybody benefits. One perfect example is captions. There's not many deaf people at Thoughtworks, for example, but I'm persuading people to put captions on their video, in computers, in events.
The reason that is, not everybody hear what the person talking because there might be a noisy background, or the person had a very strong accent, or in a very large conference, people walking up and down. If you have captions on the presentation or behind it, two-lined, everybody's able to follow, and it makes it more inclusive. All of a sudden people thought, "Oh, I love that." We are very much multi- international company. Not everybody's first language native, but when they come to the country, the captions help them to follow what's being said. That's just one example.
[00:11:34] Karen: That's great. Just talking about Thoughtworks and accessibility here, what has been the accessibility journey for Thoughtworks? What lessons have we learned? How have you been involved?
00: 11:50] Matthew: We're not finished. It's a long journey. We've started a couple of years ago. First of all, we became a member of the Valuable 500. Now, I don't know many people know what the Valuable 500 is, but a person called Caroline Casey, she's a remarkable amazing woman. She used to work for a management consultancy company, and she was blind.
For somehow she managed to fool her colleagues for 10 years that she was not blind. I really don't know how she did it, because I've met her a few times, and she knows she can't see very much. I think she left thinking, "Why am I lying? Why am I pretending?" Because she felt that it might impact her career, so she's trying to set up the Valuable 500 and trying to cox 500 companies to join it.
It is about diversity and inclusion, but when companies say, "Oh, we have a D and I," diversity and inclusion, only 4% include disability, again, because they think it's too expensive to implement, and so on. She decided to drive that campaign. If you were a member of that Valuable 500, you have to put disability on your agenda, as well with the other groups.
She did a campaign for the last two or three years, and big companies like Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola, Nescafe, Unilever, you name it, and more large or small.
She gave a talk to one of our Limitless event talk, and she said, "Why is Thoughtworks not a member?" and we thought we were too small, but we are not so we become a member, and it's fantastic. It's free to join, but it means that we have to make a commitment and our commitment to become a member is to make all of our competent event captioned, subtitled all over globally by 2022.
That was the start of our journey. Then we realized, actually, it's a really good thing to make your product more inclusive. Like I say, you have to be innovative. We, Thoughtworks love being creative, helping our client to be creative, thinking outside the box. It's a good thing to do, it makes the product better, increased customer base, and so on, but also it attracts good people to join Thoughtworks.
[00:15:02] Karen: That's a great example with the captioning. Are there any other initiatives that Thoughtworks have underway that you can think of? I personally know we've been migrating our website recently. I don't know if you've been involved in that at all. Have you?
[00:15:19] Matthew: It's amazing that the top one million websites are not accessible, which is shocking. Only something like, I think 98% of the top one million websites are not accessible, and that included Thoughtworks, but we are doing something about it. It takes time and we are going to make all of our public website accessible, but not just that. We are also making all of our tools adjustable, renewed all the third-party tool to regularly check if we are compliant.
There are a lot of tools that we can use, but one is a very good one called Lighthouse, which is a really good one but I have to tell anybody, "Please, please, do not rely on third-party tools to assume that you are 100% accessible. You need real people, you need real disabled end-users to test your product." Some make assumptions because I know perfect examples of somebody say, "I'm going to blindfold it myself and I'm going to try and navigate the website."
Fine, but you do need a person with visual impairment because that person has to have a screen reader. They should know something that we don't realize. People say, "Oh, Matthew, those captions are great. I can read them." I live and breathe with captions. I read it, and if it's not really accurate, I have to work really hard to work it out, "What are you trying to say?" Put this in, a missing word or misspelled together to work it out. My brain's overprocessed. I get very pretty tired or I get behind. That's a difference, that's a slight difference. Please do not base on the caption alone and do not base on the third-party tool alone. You must have real people testing your product. That's what we're doing.
[00:17:33] Karen: Thank you. That of course makes so much sense. In your mind, what does great look like? What would you like to see businesses doing to build in accessibility?
[00:17:47] Matthew: Accessibility, it's essential rather than a nice to have. Like I said before, if we counted accessibility early, it's not an extra cost, and create inclusion and it often benefit for everybody, not for people with disability. I know it's not really digital, but the beautiful photograph of a ramp. It's a very elegant ramp with a handle.
You get rid of the stairs, you get rid of the lift, but you provide a beautiful ramp, elegant ramp for everybody's use so people with a pram could push it. Everybody could walk on the ramp, it's just a very gentle ramp and it's so beautiful. That's just one example to simply see it can be very beautiful. From a personal view, from a selfish point of view, I would love to see caption everywhere. Everywhere in theaters, in public places, railway station, airport, cinemas. Are we able to walk in and it's captioned?
I think that will happen one day. It is my big dream, and I really think the world would become more inclusive because the tech is there, the tech is ready, the tech can be sure so there's no reason to make the digital world more inclusive.
[00:20:07] Karen: That feels like such a simple thing that companies could do.
[00:20:09] Matthew: Little steps that make a big difference.
[00:20:12] Karen: Yes. Do you have any final words or thoughts you'd like to leave us with, Matthew, before we finish up our podcast today?
[00:20:22] Matthew: Like I said, we are on a journey and I would encourage people to go people to go on training courses to understand how they can think about accessibility and encourage our clients to think about acceptability right from the start. Like I said, the physical world, we cannot be included because we've got the mountain, the sea, land posts and so on but in the digital world, like I said, the tech is there, it's ready, sure so there's no excuse to make our digital product inclusive. It's the right thing to do, it's a nice thing to have and it’s benefits for everybody.
[00:21:14] Karen: That sounds like a fairly clear message for organizations. Matthew, thank you for your time today, and thanks to our listeners for joining us for this episode of Pragmatism in Practice. If you'd like to listen to similar podcasts, please visit us at thoughtworks.com/podcasts. Or if you enjoyed the show, help spread the word by rating us on your preferred podcast platform.