Is tech doing what we want it to?

December 15, 2022
Tim Heywood


View profile

I am a big fan of the potential for new technologies to improve many aspects of our working lives.

It can streamline laborious, repetitive processes or entirely remove the need for people to get involved in them at all (except at the coding stage and perhaps to check and account for outcomes).

Lots of now-familiar software tools and services make life easier for us all.

Or do they? Do we all benefit equally from them?

Well, no we don’t.

Thankfully, I am able to use most of these tools and services without too much difficulty (apart from having to learn how the things work!). But the same is not true for all our colleagues, is it?

Some colleagues already have to handle their busy workload despite having poor eyesight or colour-blindness, for example. Others produce fabulous work, despite having dyslexia. They are constantly having to adapt their working practices and to manoeuvre around barriers that just don’t exist for the majority.

More often than not, the technology, far from removing those barriers, simply adds to them. The tech simply has not been designed with them in mind.

Questions about accessibility only seem to arise once the product has already gone to market and after it’s been adopted by the purchaser and the user training has been completed.

Who raises the issue? Well, of course that chore falls to the long-suffering  colleague who already has to work with poor eyesight, colour-blindness or dyslexia (and, now, some poorly designed technology).

Having to put your hand up and announce “this doesn’t work for me!” is no easy task. It takes guts. We all want to fit in, don’t we, and we don’t want to be perceived as difficult or negative.

So why are employers putting so many staff in that invidious position? I don’t know, but it needs to stop.

It seems to me that, just as the data privacy community came up with the idea of ensuring “privacy by design”, the tech community (and, importantly, its customers) should adopt an “accessibility by design” approach to tech solutions of all shapes and sizes.

Accessibility is a universal concept. It doesn’t just apply to one small section of the workforce.

So shouldn’t tech providers be designing their products so that accessibility is a given?

If I’m an employer who is about to purchase a tech- based solution shouldn’t I be specifying “accessibility” as the norm? If I’m not doing that then I am guaranteeing that some of my staff are going to feel ignored;  confronted with barriers to effective working and forced to put their hands up and say “this doesn’t work for me!”.

I wouldn’t want my colleagues to feel like that. If I am going to purchase any tech for the workplace, from now on I’m going to specify  “accessibility by design” and by default.

Tim Heywood, solicitor, FRSA is a technology, privacy and procurement  law Partner at gunnercooke llp he is also a member of the Law Society’s Technology & Law Committee. The views expressed here are his own, not necessarily those of the firm or the Law Society,