Posted on

Inclusive Technology receives Queen’s Award

BATA memberr Inclusive Technology has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its success in exporting around the world.

The Oldham, Lancashire-based company, founded by BATA founder Martin Littler and two colleagues  in 1996, received the award after signing up 25,000 paying subscribers for its HelpKidzLearn online learning service.

Inclusive Technology develops accessible software for children with severe learning disabilities or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC).

The company supplies the alternative keyboards, joysticks, rollerballs, switches, touch screens and eye-gaze systems used by learners with these complex disabilities.

As well as stocking and supplying assistive technology, the firm is involved in the design and specification of technology, investing time, market knowledge and, sometimes cash for tooling.

But Inclusive Technology’s big overseas success has been the HelpKidzLearn service and its accompanying iPad apps.

For five years HelpKidzLearn was a free service attracting over 500,000 users. Then in 2012 Inclusive Technology put up a paywall round 90 learning activities and the following year added ChooseIt!Maker3 which allows teachers to create individual learning activities for each child.

HepKidzLearn contributes just over 20% of Inclusive Technology’s sales compared with hardware which accounts for more than 50%. However, HelpKidzLearn is growing much more rapidly.

“All the people who work here are ever so proud,” said Martin.” It’s fantastic, the award recognises the huge contribution that the whole British assistive technology industry has made during the past 40 years.”

Martin believes the award will broaden awareness of HelpKidzLearn especially in the US. “We can use the (Queen’s Award) logo for five years on our website and catalogues. Interest in our royalty in the US often seems bigger than in the UK.

“There are really only two nations involved in AT products: the US and the UK. We tend not to compete with the US. American stuff is really good at getting people back into employment, while we are better at the really complex end such as switch accessible software.”

Of course the US has helped us by leading the way in legislation that ensures complete access to buildings. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which grew out of the need to help veterans, served as a model for our own disability discrimination legislation.”

Inclusive Technology and HelpKidzLearn have customers in 59 countries and contacts in 149. Their strategy is to use a database of 120,000 registered contacts to engage key opinion formers and local distributors.

There is little problem in convincing people about the benefits of assistive technology, says Martin.

“When you’ve got a four-year-old who is as bright as a button, but has no means of expressing themselves and you give them that ability, no one who sees it would doubt (AT’s) usefulness for a second.”

“The problem is to understand what help the child needs in the first place.”

And Martin’s advice to other assistive technology companies looking to sell products and services abroad?

“Have something online, have something niche so you don’t have to be huge, just good. Use the web and social media to build interest and be good enough at it to attract customers.

“Inclusive Technology had to invest considerable time and money in building and maintaining its service. The initial development took a lot of money and people to do that.

“But it has saved us money too. We don’t have to provide CDs or as many printed catalogues.”

Martin says the process of applying for the award involved over 40 hours of form filling, but it was worth it.

Now his 25-strong company  faces a round of ceremonies, starting at Buckingham Palace and ending up with a presentation by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester in front of an audience of school children.

Posted on

Research will reveal the cost of inaccessible websites

A research survey to discover how much revenue UK businesses are losing due to disabled customers finding their websites inaccessible, has been launched today by industry experts.

The internet has revolutionised the way that consumers shop. However, the research will uncover just how well companies design their websites to cater for disabled consumers.

Many disabled shoppers face problems when using websites that have not been specially designed to be accessible to everyone. This may include people with sight impairments, individuals who experience difficulties when using a mouse or keyboard and people who need to use specialist software.

If businesses fail to consider these access needs when designing their websites they are likely to be difficult, if not impossible, to use. When faced with problems using a website, disabled shoppers typically take their business elsewhere.

The Click-Away Pound survey has been commissioned and designed by Brighton-based Rick Williams, Managing Director of specialist disability consultancy Freeney Williams and associate of Business Disability Forum (BDF), in partnership with IT accessibility specialist Steve Brownlow of Frabjous Day.

“As a visually impaired person, I use assistive technology, which is good, but companies need to think about how my specialist kit works with their website. They often don’t. I use the internet a lot to shop but will typically have to try a number of sites before I find one I can actually use. This means the first few have lost my business,” said Rick Williams.

“After 20 years of the Disability Discrimination Act, most high street stores understand they need to take into account the needs of their disabled shoppers. But many appear to have overlooked how to make their online presence more accessible.”

The Click-Away Pound survey follows on from the recent Walk Away Pound report by the Business Disability Forum (BDF) and the Extra Costs Commission (ECC), which found that at a cost to business of £1.8bn per month, 75% of disabled customers had ‘walked away’ from a retailer’s premises because they did not cater adequately for them.

The Click-Away Pound survey represents the next generation of research designed to inspire positive change among UK businesses as they shift more and more to selling goods and services online.

Rick Williams is now using his personal and professional expertise to show to business what they are missing out online. He added:

“Of the websites assessed by Freeney Williams over the past 5 years, over 70% have been assessed as ‘red’ on our traffic light system. This means they expose the business to significant reputational and legal risk – not to mention losing customers!

“We will use the research findings to persuade business this is an increasingly important issue for them. If the law doesn’t persuade them to do things differently and think about disabled shoppers, perhaps the bottom line will.

“We want as many disabled online shoppers as possible to go to the website www.clickawaypound.com and take part in this survey. We expect the results will play a key role in improving business’ approach to this issue.”

Susan Scott Parker, Honorary Vice President and Founder of Business Disability Forum and now CEO at Business Disability International said:

“This is one area many businesses seem to struggle with. This survey will demonstrate what we’ve known for many years. Businesses ignore disabled shoppers at the risk of their bottom line and damage to their PR. Why would anyone do that?”

In developing this research, Freeney Williams is being supported by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Business Disability Forum, Business Disability International and the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Posted on

Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference

Removing Barriers to Learning and Work is the theme of a new conference supported by BATA and with discounted conference entrance and exhibition packages available for BATA members.

Called the Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference (ATEC) the event will; take place in Oxford on May 17.

Aimed at disability professionals involved in post 16 education and the work place, ATEC brings together up-to-the minute developments in assistive technology and the latest thinking about what accessibility means.

Barclays is the conference sponsor and Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclays, is delivering the first of the key note speeches. While there are legal obligations and a social imperative to make products accessible, there are also sound commercial reasons.

With an ageing population the number of people with disabilities is growing year on year and it is estimated that this segment of the market has a disposable income of more than £500bn in the UK alone.

Paul Smyth recently ran an event called Living in Our Customers’ World which brought together Barclays senior managers and a cross section of disabled people.

Standing in their customers’ shoes motivated these business leaders to make changes. Barclays has introduced award-winning talking cash machines, hi-visibility debit cards and advances in using voice biometrics for telephone banking security.

The Business Disability Forum (BDF) has been advising businesses for over 25 years and has worked with major companies including Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and HMRC.

Lucy Ruck, manager of BDF’s Technology Taskforce, is delivering a workshop called, The Accessibility Maturity Model – how it will help you to become more Disability Smart within your own business, for your employees and your customers.

The Accessibility Maturity Model is a commonsense approach to accessibility. It is a self-scoring review that lets a business assess how far along the accessibility route it has come.

The model is accompanied by best practice guides and case studies to help companies move on. “Accessibility is getting more sophisticated,” said Ruck. “The goalposts are changing all the time and so they should.”

Accessibility often consists of making adaptations to meet the needs of individuals but many students and workers can be helped if barriers are removed at the initial planning stage.

Universal design is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn. Kerry Pace of Diverse Learners supports students and practitioners in health care settings and works with health trusts to support workers with disabilities adapt to a new environment and deal with the expectations of their employers and co-workers. Her session will look at using different approaches to make learning more accessible.

Sometimes with assistive technology users prefer a quick and dirty solution to a more sophisticated answer. At other times specialist assistive technologies are essential.

With funding restrictions it is imperative that professionals in education, healthcare and commerce understand why some solutions prove to be popular while others are left to languish.

Abi James of the University of Southampton and the British Dyslexia Association’s  New Technologies Committee will be leading a discussion called Got the tech, but do they use it? It will focus on the factors that make a difference to the successful adoption of assistive technology.

What some call a disability, others see as a gift, especially when it comes to dyslexia. Despite an unhappy time at school, Debra Charles has constantly striven to stand out from the crowd so her keynote Why the word ‘normal’ should be taken out of the dictionary reflects her own stance.

Debra had the skills and determination that led to a successful career working with Apple, followed by a post at Westinghouse in robotics. She is now CEO of her own smartcard technology firm Novacroft – the company behind the Oyster Card and the Ucan-do-it rewards and recognition scheme.

She wants schools, colleges and businesses to identify and make the very best use of young people’s hidden talents. Hopefully ATEC will encourage others to take a more open and creative approach to recruitment and retention.

The full rates and discounts that apply to members of BATA are as follows:. Conference delegate £70.00 with a BATA discount: of £10.00. Exhibitor only: £890 with a BATA discount of £89. Exhibitor and workshop package:  £1170 with a BATA discount of £117. For further information please contact Reeza Awoodun at reeza.awoodun@techedmarketing.com.

ATEC is on Tuesday, May 17 2016 at Jurys Inn, Oxford 30 Godstow Road, OX2 8PG http://www.ateconference.com/conference-agenda/