Callum Gamble & Caren Launus-Gamble
This is a story about a mother and son who decided to take matters into their own hands in the face of adversity. A story that starts with a first-class university degree, an ignorant employer and a humiliating job dismissal and leads to a passionate mission for web accessibility and digital inclusion.
From Proudest Moment to Deepest Despair
Wearing his graduation gown with pride, Callum posed for his photos, beaming with confidence. It was the summer of 2019. He had graduated with first-class honours in Creative Media Technology from Leeds Beckett University and already had a job lined up at one of the big digital agencies in Leeds as a Frontend Web Developer.
And this is where the “fairy tale” ended. Only three weeks later, Callum had to leave this job, discouraged and distressed. Despite disclosure, his line manager had refused to make any reasonable adjustments for his autism. He gave him a performance warning instead and humiliated him in front of his colleagues.
Feeling like a useless idiot, Callum thought that his career dream as a web developer was over. After licking his wounds for a few days, he sat down with me to talk about what to do next. We decided there and then that something had to be done about the ignorance and misperceptions surrounding autism in the workplace.
Bad Experience Equals Positive Opportunity
Recognising a positive opportunity, we agreed to lead by example and set up our neurodiverse web development agency KreativeInc Agency. The focus was initially on highlighting the talents of different thinkers like Callum. We wanted to demonstrate how, with individual adjustments, people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other neurodivergent conditions could be allowed to shine and use their enormous talents to become significant assets for their employers.
And then came Covid-19…
In March 2020, our fledgling business was hit badly as clients cancelled planned projects, panicked by the early stages of the pandemic.
We had to sit down once again at the drawing board and resolved to utilise the quiet months to adapt our business model to the new situation. With people now working from and being isolated at home, website accessibility and user-friendliness had become vital. However, the state of web accessibility in the UK was dismal. More than 70% of websites are not accessible to people with special access needs, such as the blind, motor-impaired and other disabled and impaired people and had severe user experience issues. Through Callum’s struggles with perceiving and understanding web content, we already knew how bad the situation was. Now was the time to do something about this.
Setting out on our Accessibility Mission
Initially, we felt like swimming against the current.
In a digital landscape where most business owners and even web developers had never heard of web accessibility or thought about digital inclusion, we had to create the demand first before selling our services.
Today, most UK websites are designed and developed without giving any thought to people with access difficulties. It is unknown what these access difficulties are and how the existing barriers affect people personally or their impact on businesses that ignore a valuable customer base.
A Few Examples of Special Access Needs
Blind and physically impaired people use assistive technology to navigate the web. If a website’s code is incompatible with this technology, it is useless to its disabled site visitors.
Dyslexic, autistic and other cognitively impaired users struggle with reading certain fonts or text colours, too much text, unstructured paragraphs and ambiguous messages.
People with low vision or neurological conditions such as colour blindness cannot see small text or low colour contrasts.
The deaf and people that are hard of hearing or have a speech impediment cannot contact a business that only states a telephone number as a contact option.
We set out to publish the reviews of affected website users to make web accessibility tangible and personal; to make businesses aware of the impact website barriers have on real people. The term web accessibility has been around for over 20 years, but people don’t understand its meaning. We want to change this.
The Business Case
Most business owners are unaware that UK businesses lost £17.1bn in 2019 when frustrated site users clicked away from a sale because they could not get to grips with a site. A BBC study in 2017 has estimated that the ‘Purple Pound’ is worth £249bn a year to the UK economy. And with nearly £14 million disabled people in the UK, businesses ignore one in five potential customers by having inaccessible websites. The commercial impact of this is enormous.
The Legal Case
Under the Equalities Act 2010, companies with inaccessible digital platforms are also unlawfully discriminating against the disabled. Again, most businesses aren’t aware of this, as there are currently no lawsuits forcing the issue in the UK. In the US, web accessibility litigation has soared since 2017.
Accessibility is a Process, not a Tick-Box Exercise
Web accessibility is not a tick-box exercise but a continuing process. Anticipating the special access needs of a target audience, implementing them in the design and development of websites and inviting user feedback should be part of a business’s policies as it widens its reach and ultimately promotes growth.
At KreativeInc Agency, we create accessible websites that comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and cater to individual access needs. We conduct web accessibility audits and help other web agencies, developers, and companies with in-house digital departments create digitally accessible products.
Support our Mission!
We want to make the UK digitally inclusive by 2025, and we cannot do this on our own. We need all the support we can get from our UK business community and other digital agencies. Get in touch at [email protected].
Here are five of the most valuable lessons Callum and I have learnt since setting out on our mission to change the status quo:
1. Always look for positive opportunities, even in the bleakest of situations. Fight adversity with positive action, do not let bitterness take control.
2. Nobody can put you down if you know your strengths and trust in them. If somebody calls you an idiot, then they haven’t tried to get to know you. The fault is theirs.
3. Trust your gut instinct, even if it means that you must swim against the current. You will be in the right place at the right time eventually.
4. Don’t take it personally if people let you down. You are not the centre of their universe. Eighty per cent of people in this world are inconsistent and unreliable. Stick to your principles and rely on people that have the same values as you.
5. Never give up! The sun could be shining just around the next corner.
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