Why everybody’s talking about accessibility

Karren Brady accessibility

On 12 November, Purple Tuesday will urge business to serve disabled consumers better – and so unlock their spending power. Leaders explain why they’re backing the campaign…

BARONESS KARREN BRADY OF KNIGHTSBRIDGE (main picture), vice-chairman, West Ham United Football Club

Equality is at the heart of everything we do at West Ham United. It flows from the board’s agenda through all facets of the club. Ensuring that we are accessible to everyone is an embedded way of thinking throughout the organisation.

West Ham United’s disabled supporters’ board (DSB) – whose meetings with the club I chair along with two supporters representing both wheelchair users and ambulant supporters – has led the way on this important subject since we moved to London Stadium in 2016. Dedicated and driven, the DSB regularly challenges the club to keep making improvements for disabled supporters. The mission is to work together to provide them with the best possible services and facilities.

I am also proud that we’ve joined the Valuable 500, a group of employers committed to putting disability inclusion on their leadership agendas.

More subtle ways in which we improve accessibility include providing basic training for the club’s staff in British Sign Language (BSL). I took the course myself and found it enjoyable and inspirational. I believe there’s great value in learning BSL, not only for communication purposes but also for gaining a deeper understanding of the everyday challenges facing deaf people.

On Purple Tuesday last year we invited a group of students with a range of disabilities to our stadium store as part of a work-experience partnership. We have also introduced initiatives to improve the store experience for all customers. These include training for the staff in how best to serve disabled shoppers; improving the accessibility of its lift, toilets and till points; and offering a mobility service between the store and Westfield Stratford City.

We’ll proudly support Purple Tuesday again this November. We’ll soon be announcing our plans for the day, which will continue to raise awareness of this great campaign.

To other business leaders who want to make a difference, I would advise embedding equality, diversity and accessibility as part of your culture. Get your staff to think about accessibility subconsciously, without needing to be prompted, across every function, from operations to marketing.

If you can do this, your organisation will start the journey to continuously improve accessibility – you won’t get it right first time, all the time, but even the smallest steps in the right direction can help individuals in more ways than you will first realise.


Chris Jay accessibilityCHRIS JAY, founder and managing director, Bascule

Bascule provides disability-awareness training, covering aspects such as communication techniques, appropriate language and how to create an inclusive workplace. This may sound self-serving, but I think training is important.

I was born with cerebral palsy and I’m a wheelchair user. I would much rather shop online, particularly when “accessible” changing rooms and toilets in stores are still being used as stockrooms, for instance. And I still hear the odd horror story, such as that of a woman with multiple sclerosis who was refused service in a pub. She was told: “Sorry, we don’t do disableds.”

While we have to do more for disabled customers, we must also consider our colleagues. The disability-disclosure rate among employees of large companies is significantly lower than 20 per cent – the estimated proportion of the population with some form of disability. There is a fear that something negative will happen to any individual who reveals their disability at work. The answer to all this is very much about education and cultural change.

Chris Jay is a member of IoD Advance


Caroline Hill accessibilityCAROLINE HILL, head of sustainability, Landsec

One of Europe’s largest real-estate companies, Landsec has a £13.8 billion portfolio that spans 2.2 million sq m of commercial and residential property. We’ve taken a number of steps to ensure that our retail spaces are as welcoming as they can be to guests with autism. We provide sensory toy bags at a number of sites, for instance, and this year we’ll be making these available at all our destinations, for which we’re also developing autism-friendly guides.

We’re looking at other ways to make shopping a more inclusive activity as well. Our concierge staff at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth are British Sign Language users, for example, while at the White Rose in Leeds we have partnered the Changing Places scheme to offer toilet facilities for people with profound and multiple disabilities. Each toilet provides enough space for two carers and is fitted with specialist equipment such as a hoist and a changing bench.

We’re always happy to share our ideas with other firms to spread best practice. We have also found that creating our own internal disability forum has been very helpful in challenging the business to do better.


Mike Adams accessibilityMIKE ADAMS, CEO, Purple

I think Purple Tuesday has captured the imagination of businesses because it’s a safe and effective way to help them improve the experience they offer disabled customers and so open up this huge market.

When businesses consider disability, they often think: “Ramps and lifts will cost a lot of money.” But disability is not simply about wheelchair users. The reality is that 80 per cent of the 13.9 million disabled people in the UK have a hidden impairment. They will walk into a shop or restaurant without anyone knowing that they have additional needs.

There are ways to improve accessibility at virtually no cost. For instance, what we did on Purple Tuesday last year was use the phrase: “Hello, can I help you?” We suggested that all front-line staff say it, so they didn’t have to guess whether a customer had any extra requirements. A lot of retailers also taught their staff how to say hello and goodbye in British Sign Language. I am looking forward to seeing some more good ideas this year – and I’m hoping that more organisations will improve the accessibility of their websites.

Mike Adams is a member of IoD London


Judith Everett accessibilityJUDITH EVERETT, chief operating officer, The Crown Estate

The Crown Estate’s ambition is to create brilliant places that are welcoming and accessible to all. A fifth of people in the UK have a disability, so we know that, unless our places are where everyone is able to shop, work or spend time, we aren’t serving the whole community. Accessibility also makes commercial sense: the purple pound is estimated to be worth nearly £250 billion a year. This is why we’ve spent the past two years learning about accessibility and working to improve the experience we offer people with disabilities.

It’s important to remember that this issue is all about people and that every one of us can play a role. Our customers have shared some brilliant stories with us about the welcome and thoughtful support they received when visiting our places. Those stories always remind me that what might seem like a small act can have a massive impact.

Yet we know that there’s still so much more for us to do. My advice for other businesses starting to make accessibility improvements is: be prepared to listen and commit to taking action, as the opportunity to make a real difference is huge.

About author

Ryan Herman

Ryan Herman

Alongside his work for Director, Ryan has written for SportBusiness International, VICE Sports, Populous, Audi and Gallop Magazine and was previously editor of Sky Sports Magazine.

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