inclusion perspectives Uncategorized

Building an accessible world, one brick at a time

bricklayer adding a new brick to a wall

I’ve worked as an accessibility professional for over a decade. Teaching others how to both code for and care about accessibility requires a rare blend of technical and people skills.  Great accessibility experts are resilient and resourceful, they’re passionate and persistent. They teach and preach accessibility, recognising it’s both a team sport and a marathon.  Often though accessibility professionals struggle to sustain the skill and will over time to push for radical cultural change in an organisation and let’s face it – change is social. The harder we push for change, sometimes it feels like the harder the organisation pushes back. As we enter 2022, there’s a  growing awareness of and commitment towards social justice, equity and disability inclusion, often led by and demanded from younger generations of society.  I think we as accessibility professionals need to be more bold, more committed and more hopeful to  move faster towards an accessible world for all. But how?  

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself”


Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there were three bricklayers,  all doing the same task. When the first bricklayer was asked “what are you doing?”, he replied “I’m building a wall”. The second bricklayer was asked the same question and they replied “I’m building a house”. Finally, the third bricklayer was asked what they were doing and they replied “I’m building a cathedral”.  The three bricklayers were all doing the same task but what was different between them was their passion, pride, perspective and sense of purpose.  The first bricklayer viewed their task as a Job, the second bricklayer viewed the task as a career and the third bricklayer viewed the task as their calling. 

But what if this story involved three accessibility professionals? I imagine three accessibility experts, working side by side. If the first one was asked what they were doing, they’d say something like “I’m creating a compliant website to reduce the legal risk of my business being sued”. This is a good starting point but we can do better. The second accessibility expert when asked what they were doing would say “I’m building a better website – one that gives a great experience for a greater number of customers”. They’re enthusiastic and  understand the real business benefit of striving to go beyond minimum legal levels. But what about the third accessibility professional? I’d like to think that when asked about their work they’d say “I’m building an accessible world. One without limits or labels. Where we remove barriers, improve lives and unlock human potential so that everyone can fully participate and contribute to society,  enabling everyone to go as far as their talents take them”. The third accessibility professional is who we all aspire to be. Someone optimistic and articulate – who paints a picture of a fairer future as the world should be rather than one of what the world is. As a big picture dreamer, they convince themselves and those around them that this future accessible world is a world worth fighting for and a world worth building, brick by brick. 

The world is changing. Successful brands and businesses are those who are responsible and sustainable – solving society’s problems profitably rather than profiting from the problems of society. This new world needs more of the third kind of accessibility professional – who  truly understand and celebrate how their work enables and empowers disabled people to achieve more and ‘be’ more.  

Don’t forget – passion is about finding ourselves whereas purpose is about loosing ourselves in the pursuit of and service towards something ‘bigger’. When your personal passion and purpose collide you will find yourself doing what you love and loving what you do.

All views in this article are my own


Business benefits of accessibility

 For those who don’t know me, I lead the digital accessibility efforts at Barclays – ensuring we incorporate inclusive design and accessibility into our digital services and culture. Over the past few years of helping lead the bank’s accessibility agenda, I’ve seen a shift in how some organisations like Barclays are reframing accessibility – from something that “legally you have to do” to instead something that “commercially and morally we want to do”.

This mind-set shift creates a culture of inclusion – enabling us to build better products and not just compliant ones. Organisations used to perceive the accessibility agenda as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) do-gooder activity but as times passed and thinking has matured, some organisations who embrace accessibility would perhaps call it Corporate Social Innovation. i.e. why wouldn’t you want to drive innovation, improve engagement with customers and with society at large?

The benefits of accessibility have been known to organisations and businesses for some time now- improved customer experience and reach, more engaged and productive colleagues, bolstering brand and mitigating risks. Read the business case for digital accessibility W3C guide I contributed on for further  details.

However we live in a world where I believe many organisations aren’t actively tackling the topic and instead stay complacent in giving it lip-service and covering their minimum legal obligations. Leading organisations need to help educate and encourage others on what accessibility means, why it matters and how it’s both good for business and good for society.

Let’s be clear. Legislation increasingly demands accessible technologies, consumers increasingly expect accessibility in their personal devices and the world around them and many businesses are waking up to the multitude of benefits it brings. In short, accessibility is of benefit to more people and of interest to more organisations than ever before.

We need to find new ways to build inclusive cultures and workplaces by educating heads, inspiring hearts and enabling hands on the topic.

At Barclays, we wanted to hear from real-world disabled customers and colleagues telling in their own words and way the real positive human impact that accessibility has on their independence and their world.

Barclays accessible reality – the human impact of accessibility

As a disabled person and accessibility leader, we can agree that we live in a time of great change and challenge. What I do know is that the accessible world of tomorrow will require collaboration, legislation, imagination, determination and participation from everyone.

We need to teach digital teams to both care about accessibility as well as how to code for accessibility.

All views in this article are my own


Next blog- coming soon