Accessibility can make or break your procurement strategy

Co-written by Graeme K Whippy MBE

Having easy access to what we need to do our jobs impacts us all to some extent. For example, enabling your employees to find and buy what they need, and providing them with a good user experience is vital. If you don't get this right, you will lose both productivity and eventually most likely some staff.

A supplier or organisation may have solved a significant problem through innovation, but if that solution isn’t accessible to all, not only will its value will compromised, you might be at risk of infringing equality legislation. Procurement teams across the globe are working hard to strategize their sourcing, such as re-negotiating contracts and consolidating tail spend, but this is all wasted effort if a supplier’s goods and services are not accessible to their wider buyers.

It’s also everybody’s responsibility from Procurement to the wider buying organisation to consider, for example, if suppliers/goods and services are user friendly for the consumer and we’ll cover some best practice and tips in a second article. So for the remainder of this one we’ll look into why making your procurement processes and systems accessible to all will make or break them.

With that in mind let’s say that accessibility is about making things usable and understandable for as many people regardless of any sensory, cognitive or physical limitations people might have. This creates an experience that is inclusive of everyone, and it might be a lot broader than you might think, from making a building easy to navigate using ramps, lifts or good signage, to making software, websites, apps and devices easy to use. People are the focus and removing any barriers, including those in processes and operations, is extremely important.

Some forms of accessibility to consider may not be immediately obvious, but as employees, and as humans, we all fall into one of the following categories at some stage.

According to Scope, there are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, and 36 million who are registered blind. Disabled people now make up 22% of the UK population, and of those in employment, many cite receiving adjustments as the most important thing that an employer can do to help them get into and then thrive in their jobs. This could include an employer providing an accessible car parking space near the office entrance for an employee who uses a wheelchair. Or providing magnification software for the systems being used.

ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, states that an employer must look at what they can do to reduce or remove the disadvantage for the person with a disability, of any kind – be it visual, mobility, auditory – such as:
  • Changing working arrangements, for example the employee’s working pattern.
  • Removing something from the workplace, for example bright lights above the employee’s workstation.
  • Providing extra or specialised equipment.
  • Getting someone in to help, for example a sign language interpreter.
A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and technology is playing a vital role in tearing down barriers.

Injuries and illnesses happen. And depending on the part of the body affected, day-to-day activities will often be affected, including work. Something as simple as a commute to work can become extremely complicated with torn foot ligament, for example, but it isn’t just about getting to and from work. When at work, problems can often be caused by the way workstations are set up or an inability to stand or sit in the same position for long periods.

Again, employers should take every measure to ensure that any employee with an injury is still able to work. This could include:
  • Adjusting and altering working hours, maybe flexible start or finish time, or more frequent rest breaks or part-time working.
  • Changing the place of work, maybe working from home part of the week.
  • Providing special equipment or software.
Environmental or situational
A key consideration at present is around our working environment. Not only examples such as sunny days making it difficult to see laptop screens, or having to commute for meetings making it hard to hear or concentrate, but cultural differences. In the case of procurement in many organisations, for example, English may not be the primary language, making a set of processes across technologies inaccessible. And as we stated at the very beginning, accessibility is about creating an experience that is inclusive of everyone.

One of the most important keys to the success of any process or system is also based around accessibility - the ability to gain organisation-wide adoption by making it easier for employees to order what they need, managers to review and approve those requests, and department heads to see the impact of spending on their respective budgets. No matter what their technical capabilities, any software needs to be accessible to every relevant member of an organisation – and beyond. We have already established that language barriers need to be considered, but you should also focus on how easy it is for suppliers to use.  If a system is too complex to use, or is inaccessible, it will fail to reach its full potential.

It is clear that it’s of universal benefit to make working environments and systems accessible to all - whether that's making a building easy to navigate or making software, websites and apps easy to use. You don’t need to be an expert, just mindful of the requirements of others when you are evolving your procurement strategy or processes.

In part 2, we will look into the accessibility questions for procurement to help source more accessible goods and services, and enable wider buyers to do the same.

About Graeme Whippy
Graeme Whippy is a disability consultant and agent of change. In 2009 he was awarded for Outstanding Contribution by an Individual at the UK Financial Sector Technology Awards, and in 2010 he was a contributing author on BS 8878, a British Standard on Web Accessibility.

He was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to people with dementia and disabilities.