Accessible IT and assistive technology need to be ingrained in the DNA of the organisation, according to executives from the Royal National Institute for the Blind, BBC and Natural Resources Wales - to enable those working in tech with a disability and to give CIOs a greater understanding of user requirements.

CIO at Natural Resources Wales Martin Britton and Rohan Hewavisenti, Group Director of Resources at the RNIB overseeing finance and IT, also called on vendors to make strides with accessibility, and suggested CIOs see the area as a procurement requirement.

Britton said: "It's a CIO's responsibility to ensure the ICT across the whole enterprise - both internally and externally facing - is accessible to those who use the multitude of assistance software.

"It is key that every time we consider a new system, we look at its compatibility with the assistance software that's available and also make sure it meets W3C standards - this is particularly important for intranet and internet sites. We make sure that accessibility impact assessments form part of every solution design review and software procurement - indeed we consider all nine protected characteristics not just disability."

Embedded accessibility

Neil Heslop, the RNIB's Managing Director of Solutions who sits on the charity's senior management team, said that it was important to "integrate accessibility thinking into the DNA of their organisation such that in all that they and their staff do the subject is an integral a consideration as security, compliance or technical training".

"Assistive technology had already played a massive role in making a vast array of previously impossible things now possible," Heslop said, who lauded the embedded accessibility of mainstream Android and iOS devices which enables the RNIB to deploy the same phone for a blind or sighted member of staff.

"This is an obvious benefit to an IT department and how it manages support. But the most important benefit is that a blind or partially sighted member of staff can access the same applications, functionality and do their job just as easily as the sighted member of staff as they now have the tools to do this."

Britton, who also has responsibility as assisted user champion and LGBT champion at NRW alongside his role as CIO, said that assistive technology has made a significant difference at the organisation.

"People who otherwise would perhaps be unable to work, can continue in their roles effectively. It is quite easy as someone without disabilities to be ignorant of the both the requirements and the contributions those with disabilities can make.

"However, a much better approach is to put yourselves in the shoes of those who require assisted software, after all it could quite easily be me - or you - one day. I would like to work for an organisation that provides its staff with the tools it needs to do their jobs, whatever their requirements, and that is what we strive to be."

Procurement requirements

While the Discrimination Act of 1995 and Disability Discrimination Order of 2006 have a closer focus on the employers in providing equality in the workforce by carrying out "reasonable adjustments" to business systems and tools, both Britton and Heslop challenged enterprise technology vendors to build more accessibility into their systems.

Britton said: "We often go to market and find vendors are short of the mark, not just on accessibility issues, but also on bilingualism too. As we make it a clear requirement of procurement on both counts, we often end up pushing vendors down this route if they wish to do business with us. Typically, I think the public sector leads the way on this and private sector companies should be doing a lot more with regard to this issue."

Heslop added: "It is absolutely vital that Oracle, SAP and all vendors not only understand their legal responsibilities to provide equalities compliant products and services, but that they truly embrace the business opportunity and social obligation of providing accessible offerings both for customer-facing applications and for back-end support staff to expand employment choices for the disabled.

"There are internationally approved standards out there for vendors to work to already and many are just not following them, or even aware that they exist. For example, ISO 9241-171, the international standard for software accessibility and for web delivered products, WCAG 2.0, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is now also an international standard (ISO/IEC 40500).

People with a disability at the BBC

One public-funded body making a serious accessibility and diversity commitment is the BBC, where Director General Tony Hall has seconded Diversity Editor Elonka Soros to the Director-General's Office to lead and support the development and delivery of the organisation's strategy.

Hall's goal is to create "an internet-first BBC, which belongs to everyone and where everyone belongs", and Diversity Sponsor Hall made a commitment to accessible IT and assistive technology in the institution's Equality and Diversity Report earlier this year.

"We have now completed the accessibility risk assessments for over 80% of our IT systems. This assessment will also feature in the procurement of new systems," the former Royal Opera House chief executive wrote.

Hall's views are shared throughout the organisation, with BBC Disability Access Service Manager Richard Southorn saying the Beeb has a "culture of accessibility and a senior commitment to disability". Soros and Toby Milton (top image with BBC Disability News Correspondent Nikki Fox), the BBC's Diversity and Inclusion Manager, both said at a BBC recruitment day for people working in the technology sector with a disability that the organisation's only concern was getting the best people, and that this was only possible if they were able to hire from the broadest possible pool of talent.

Disability targets

The BBC has gone a step further and set targets for disability representation across the organisation, with Soros commenting that "whatever gets measured gets done".

The organisation's target is to have 7.5% of staff in its technology department with a disability by 2017, with a cross-organisation target of 5.3% and a BBC leadership target of 5%.

The new combined BBC Digital department is also an exception being the only internal 'vertical' with a target for female representation - 30% by 2017 with a current figure of 24.1% of employees previously in the 'Future Media' department, and 21.5% from the former BBC 'Technology' department.

The government estimates that around 16% of working age adults in the UK have a disability, with those significantly less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people.