Why it’s important for your business to be inclusive.

Design for Disability is such a passion project of mine and has been for so long. Even with societies greater attention to accessibility and inclusivity, I am still not surprised by the puzzled looks business owners give me when I speak of the subject.

For many, design for disability conjures up the usual ideas of large print text, non-clashing colours or audio translation. They are right of course. These are good design for disability practices. But true design for disability is so much more.

When it comes to running a business, everything we do is a design, whether its intentional or not.

The branding on our stationary.
The customer experience and journey.
How we communicate our message.
How we order our desks and offices for productivity.
How we treat and grow our staff.

Everything we do in our business is a design we have created to deliver an expected outcome.

Where business tends to go wrong however, is in the designing of that design. Let me explain what I mean.

Not too long ago myself and a small party of friends decided that we would go on a day out to a leading theme park. In this party of four adults included:

– A dyslexic (me)
– 2 who experienced anxiety
– Someone with chronic fatigue (who experienced fatigue randomly)
– 2 on the Autistic Spectrum

None of us required a carer. Only one of us had proof of disability.

As potential customers we weren’t looking for preferential treatment in any way, just a fun and stress-free trip like any other paying member. For us, there were two important factors to making our trip a success. The first was making sure we took the easiest route to help avoid any additional fatigue for our friend. This included avoiding any steep hills if possible and knowing where there were some quiet stop areas to sit and catch our breath. The second was to help our friend with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, where sometimes noise and crowds can trigger anxiety. I wanted to know which day would be a ‘quiet day’, were there parts of the park which were busier or louder than others, did they offer a quiet room or was there a place where it was easier to sit and relax.

Like many types of entertainment based businesses, they offered a disability access page with downloadable booklet. As I landed on their access page I was confronted with a migraine. Neon pink background with white text. The whole thing was a blur. The rest of the page; a clash of rainbow and noise. As another member of our group with Autistic Spectrum Disorder my senses became overloaded and I was overcome with anxiety. An excellent start. I moved on to the downloadable booklet in the hope I would get some of the additional information I required.

Upon opening it I was so disappointed and bemused that I wrote down the following questions in the event that I ever got to meet their marketing manager:

– Are you aware that colour can be a trigger to those with some disabilities? Why have you made your access page so bright and full of triggers? Why have you made it so unreadable for those with visual impairments or dyslexia?

– Why is it that you class disability as solely an impairment of movement? What about mental health? What about neuro diversity? What about learning disability? What about pain and symptom based conditions?

– Why is the type in your disability guide so small and compact?

– Why is your guide on par with the length of a novel? Why is it so overly technical?

– Why does your map not have route times on it? Why does it not show quiet areas? Why does it not show inclines or accessibility areas?

In the defence of this particular park, this is nothing out of the ordinary. There is a massive and widespread trend to offer a ‘catch-all’ disability guide. Some of it is down to resources, much of it is down to ignorance. When most people think of disability, they think of someone in a wheelchair. This comes through heavily in many accessibility guides and practices. It is often overlooked that the UK Disability Act of 2010 covers:

– Cancer
– Multiple Sclerosis
– Severe Disfigurement
– Audio & Visual Impairment
– Chronic conditions, such as Fibromyalgia or Rheumatoid Arthritis
– Progressive Conditions, such as Motor Neurone Disease or Dementia
– Conditions which affect certain organs, such as Asthma or Heart Disease
– Learning Disabilities (including dyslexia or dyspraxia)
– Autistic Spectrum Disorder
– Mental Health Conditions
– Impairments to body or brain

When this particular park sat down to design their accessibility design, they figured that the only two real issues for their guests were access for wheelchairs and access to disabled toilets. They also make it apparent that they want proof of disability in order to get extra support on rides – something many disabled people do not have. Their intentional accessibility design was flawed by the very fact that they did not consider many other types of guests and their needs.

This isn’t of course unique to this type of business. I see this type of rotten design day-in and day-out as both a web designer and as a customer. Even now I sit reading through some over-complicated literature which I’ve been sent by a financial company. Sentences have double meanings and their intentions are not 100% clear to me. Plus their glossy, carefully thought out advertising material means nothing to me.

I once attended a conference on Adults with Autism. As we sat waiting for the next speaker, the overhead TV played a variety of adverts. One that came up was for Galaxy Chocolate.

I remember this moment quite well because of the blank expressions around the room. Having come from a creative background I understood that the advertisers were trying to portray elegance and escapism in the advert. But more and more studies show that those who have neuro diversity do not see the subtleties of advertising. They will overlook the glamour and ‘facade’ and instead focus on the facts.

Galaxy Autism

Now I understand its not commercial sense to make variants of TV adverts. This is just an example of how different kinds of minds interpret things differently… and funnily, even though I’m sure my Facebook profiling is very aware that I have ASD, I never get ASD friendly ads. Is it that this is completely overlooked by advertisers? Quite probably.

Design for disability is so important. There are 11 million people in the UK with a disability and 1.3 billion globally. Whether you run a café, a theme park, a bank or a hedge fund, its so important to think about better design for disability… For customers AND employees.

Just today I logged on to BBC News to find a headline story about a mother suing a UK theme park because of their lack of suitable changing facilities for her disabled son. Whether she is right or wrong I am not sure; but what I can say is that I am seeing more and more of this type of headline. As a Society we are becoming more and more accepting of difference. This is obviously fantastic and how it should be. Where we fail is in the design of those services and processes which makes those with disability feel like an equal and wanted customer.

This is where we want to help change things.

Using a network of highly skilled disabled consultants and entrepreneurs, we ant to help your business communicate more effectively with both your customers and your staff. We believe the UK can be a leader in modern accessibility through effective design.

We want to help you go from this:

Typical User Journey

To this:

Better Journey

Is your Company going to help lead the design for disability revolution?

What can we help with?

– Visual Design and Communication for differing types of disability, including web and app design, marketing and promotional materials, copy writing, packaging and targeted disability packs.

– Customer Experience: Consultation and Feedback on the customer journey, re-designing new ways of accessibility and inclusivity.

– Staff Experience: Consultation and Feedback on the staff journey and experience, re-designing new ways to help eliminate unseen anxiety and stress.

We are very happy to have a no-obligation chat and are offering the very first few companies who reach out to us a free audit of their accessibility. Let’s start making better design decisions today. Together.

Email Emma at emma@emmareilly.co.uk

Emma Reilly is an Award Winning Entrepreneur and Winner of the Prince’s Trust Ambassador of The Year. Emma is both an advocate for disability and mental health and has volunteered with both The Prince’s Trust, National Autistic Society & NHS to help improve diversity in business.