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


Inclusive design 101

Let’s face it, the word “inclusion” can be quite fluffy and misunderstood by many but everyone knows what the word “exclusion” means – left out or left behind. One of the best ways to understand inclusion therefore is to pay attention to who’s being left out or left behind from using the product or service you’re building. Read on for a simple explanation of what Inclusive Design is and how it helps us to cater for the needs of over-looked and under-served minority groups whether this be disability, gender, ethnicity, age or sexuality.


  • Universal design is a term coined from building architecture, involving building a product or environment that can be accessed and used by the widest range of people possible without the need for any special adaptions. Think building ramps or lifts. This is about “One size fits all”.
  • Accessible design was born out of disability rights and focuses on the extra attributes that when incorporated make a digital or physical experience open to everyone, including disabled people. It’s a profession and practice that increases the likelihood that people with disabilities can participate too. Think “One checklist for most”.
  • Inclusive design was born out of person centred design. It’s a methodology that enables and draws on a full range of human diversity. In particular, the inclusion of and learning from people with a wide range of perspectives. It’s not just about the product made but rather the contributions and involvement of excluded groups.  Think “One size fits one”.

Inclusive design in action

Let’s imagine that we are building a new product – a building lift. We’re deciding where to place the lift button. Usually businesses and product designers do a thought experiment and think about what their typical customers need. We can make some educated guesses that people are so short, so tall, etc. and place the lift button at a height that in theory works for all. So thinking about the diversity of people in the population whether this be disability, age, culture, etc. we’ve built a product that works for most but not everyone. The “lasso of inclusion” here shows that our product as things stand work for most people but some are excluded. We can and should do better.

The population of people are spread out with most clumped together in the centre representing the average. Our inclusion superhero has thrown a lasso of inclusion over these people but there are a few other people excluded around the edges representing minority groups.

So we’ve considered customer needs but fallen into the trap of thinking about average customers. We can improve on this by now consulting with real-world people who have previously been excluded around the edges, asking them what more we’d need to do to tweak our product so that it could work for them too as well as everyone else. For instance, in our example, a super tall person needs a second lift button placed higher, a wheelchair user may need some hi-tech proximity sensor that automatically presses button for them, a blind person may need audio alerts to find button in the first place, etc. This is the essence of Inclusive Design – a One Size fits one approach of paying attention to excluded groups which often leads to making your product better for everyone. The lasso of inclusion here widens as we adjust our product or service to work for more and more people. We end up with more customers, and more customer satisfaction – hurray!

Our inclusion superhero has  thrown the lasso of inclusion over not just the average customers bunched together in the centre but starting to extend the lasso to include a handful of the previously excluded people around the edges.

Third and finally, if our staff building products and services in our organisations are diverse (-whether this be backgrounds, age, disability, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), they won’t make assumptions or be bogged down by biases, meaning that they’re better at throwing the lasso of inclusion over more potential customers to start with. This leads to better products, bigger profits and making a real difference to the communities we serve. We need all of our workforce to be inclusion super-hero’s and to be consciously conscious of expanding their lasso of inclusion to include everyone through their actions and decisions.

The impact of inclusive design

So what’s changed by purposefully considering accessibility and Inclusion?

  • Previously excluded minority groups can also enjoy and use our products. Think disabled, older and vulnerable customers or staff.
  • It changes us. When you pay attention to excluded groups you see it everywhere in society and design choices. From the bathroom tap sensor that doesn’t turn on for you and your skin colour (-a poor design and real-world example!), the toilet flush sensor that’s difficult to find for the blind person or the spinning corporate office doors that are difficult if you’re left-handed. Don’t worry if you’ve never thought of these because most people probably haven’t either!
  • So by practicing inclusive design, we change things for the better for historically excluded groups, we change ourselves and we change society’s attitudes – who see excluded groups and the values and contributions they make for the first time. Lots of changes here but this is Diversity & Inclusion in a nutshell.

We change from what we have seen and when we are seen.

Diverse workforces and inclusive workplaces are good for business –helping to develop engaged, productive colleagues who reflect the rich diversity of the customers we serve and communities we operate within. Now go be an inclusion superhero!

To find out more about inclusive design, I’d highly recommend reading Mismatch: how inclusion shapes design by Kat Holmes


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