Why accessibility should be front of mind during this summer of sport

Posted on: September 6, 2016 by Neil Milliken

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games are just days away, and there’s already heightened interest in watching Parasport, with adverts such as “We’re the Superhumans” from UK broadcaster, Channel 4, ramping up excitement.

With such a spotlight on the talents of individuals with disabilities – whether physical or cognitive – now is the time for organizations to ensure accessibility and inclusion are front of mind. Here, I explore the business importance of accessibility and why organizations needn’t see it as a complication. I’ve also highlighted some of the exciting new developments that are set to shake things up in the accessibility arena.

Why accessibility is being pushed up the agenda for business leaders

Thanks to medical advancements and improvements in lifestyle and wellbeing, we are all living longer – 33 countries in Europe and Asia already have more people over age 65 than under 15. While one in five of us are set to experience some form of disability in our lifetime, the fact that we will retire later means more of us are now likely to have a disability while working.

Many organizations are put off by the perceived costs of making adjustments in the working environment to accommodate people with disabilities. However, a study by Fortune found that the cost accommodating the access needs of employees was 40 times less than the cost of replacing and training workers. At the same time, employing a diverse workforce ensures organizations have access to as wide a talent pool as possible, giving them the biggest competitive advantage. Individuals with disabilities face challenges in everyday life and learn to develop coping strategies as a result. They spend their lives thinking outside the box, which is why for an employer who embraces innovative working, these individuals can be incredibly valuable.

While the benefits of making inclusion and accessibility core to an organization’s business model are clear, there are some considerations for leaders to keep in mind:

  • Don’t differentiate between basic workplace technologies and assistive technologies; all technologies are designed in some way to be assistive – instead focus more on personalization, and how individuals can be empowered to consume products and services in the ways they need to
  • Think about issues outside of your control – you might have a really accessible building, but what about the supporting infrastructure? If the routes to your office are inaccessible, individuals might not be able to get there

New innovations in accessibility

There are some exciting developments entering the market that are helping to address accessibility issues.

Smart glasses for instance, could be used to send reminders to individuals with cognitive issues who struggle to remember lists or actions. Elsewhere, wearable devices are being developed that alert friends and family of individuals’ whereabouts, which could prove to be incredibly important for those with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Under London’s streets, beacon technology is being embedded into stations on the tube network to help visually impaired people navigate their way around urban environments. This however, also has the potential to be used by individuals with neurodiversity, who often have difficulty in reading maps or abstract diagrams in buildings. As someone living with dyslexia who regularly gets lost leaving my own home, I am personally very excited about these developments!

As the Paralympians take to the world stage, I’m really looking forward to seeing Parasport on mainstream TV again, and witnessing how the legacy of the Games can further challenge people’s preconceptions of what is possible. My hope is that organizations see this as an opportunity to engage and attract a diverse workforce and offer an environment that is accessible to all.

Look out for my next post over the coming few weeks where I’ll highlight my upcoming trip to Rio to discuss the work we are doing in accessibility and digital inclusion at the IPC Inclusion Summit (15-16 September).

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About Neil Milliken
Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion and member of the Scientific Community
Neil Milliken is Global Head of Accessibility for Atos. His role is to deliver better technology for customers and employees, embedding inclusive practice into the processes of the organization, which has thousands of employees and an annual turnover of billions. Neil delivers strategy and services working with a wide range of clients helping them to develop policies, processes, and technology solutions to meet the needs of their staff and customers. He is the Atos representative on the Business Disability Forum Technology Task Force Neil is also an invited expert for the W3C Cognitive Accessibility Taskforce & member of the Atos Scientific Community & Atos Distinguished Expert . He is co-founder of AXSChat Europe’s largest twitter chat with a focus on Accessibility & Inclusion. Neil was named in the top ten of the Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 list in 2018 and was named D&I practitioner of the year in the 2019 Disability Smart Awards.

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