This article by Jane Southward, Managing Editor at Company Director was originally published in Company Director Magazine and features Centre for Inclusive Design CEO Manisha Amin
If ever there was an argument for inclusive design, it’s the outcome of a 2013 legal case between Graeme Innes AM GAICD and RailCorp. Innes, who is blind, took RailCorp to court for refusing to commit to a timetable to improve train announcements so that passengers who could not see would know where to get off. At the time, Innes was Disability Discrimination Commissioner. RailCorp was found to have discriminated against blind and visually impaired passengers and a court declared $10,000 in damages to Innes in a case that cost RailCorp more than $400,000 in legal fees.
For Manisha Amin MAICD,it is an example of the need for boards to ensure their products, services and experiences are truly inclusive.
“Inclusive design is about making the invisible visible,” says Amin, CEO of the Centre for Inclusive Design (CfID) and a former director of ADHD Australia. “Boards and senior management need to be equipped to have different conversations about inclusion from a governance perspective to reduce risk and meet the needs of their stakeholders and customers. The opportunities to grow organisations with an inclusion framework are often overlooked.”
The key is to consider the range of human diversity — which includes ability, language, culture, gender and age — in the delivery of products, services and customer interactions before the design process begins. Royal Commissions into misconduct in banking, aged care and the treatment of people with disabilities have highlighted the need for stronger governance and a closer look at the often-unintended consequences further down the line when such governance is lacking, she says.
On the flipside, Amin, who was director of marketing and fundraising for Barnardos Australia from 2011–16, says there are benefits beyond minimising legal and strategic risk. Enterprises can reach a broader range of customers, boost sales and improve their brand reputation by applying basic inclusive design principles.
Three principles for effective design
Audio description services
In a bid to reach a wider Australian audience, ABC and SBS launched the audio description (AD) service in mid- 2020 to enhance the viewing experience for the blind and vision-impaired.
The process began with interviews with blind or vision- impaired people and then a marketing strategy to promote audio description services. An expert advisory group was created to monitor the progress. Sighted people who are not necessarily looking at the TV can also now listen in and know what is happening through the audio description.
The 1800RESPECT service is run by Medibank in partnership with five not-for-profit organisations. It introduced services for blind and deaf people, including the National Relay Service and the sign language Auslan, and designed a free app (Sunny) specifically to increase access for people with disability services to report and learn about dealing with domestic violence.
Hannah Taylor- Civitarese, a social worker who is Medibank’s national partner manager for the project, says people with disabilities experience barriers to many support services despite numerous studies finding they experience higher than average incidences of violence. She says key to the “disability pathways project” was to involve people with disabilities in the creation of the websites and app — as well as regular reviews of the information provided.
A 2019 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development study found one in five Australians has “very low literacy”. National Australia Bank, with nine million customers, approached the Centre for Inclusive Design to help with an easy to understand guide about the fee-free, everyday personal transaction account and information on how to use it. The bank now has a guide for customers who experience low literacy, including dyslexia, which it says complies with the Banking Code of Practice that aims to ensure banks “take extra care with customers who may be vulnerable”.
Benefits of inclusion
CfID is a social-impact enterprise that is yet to make profit, according to Amin, and offers consultancy services to many organisations. It is governed by a board of five directors, which includes chair Ian Roache, who has had the role since 2012.
A 2019 PwC report commissioned by CfID found that based on the number of people living with disability and the elderly alone, five million Australians are vulnerable to exclusion.
The Benefit of Designing for Everyone report shows these groups have more than $40b in annual disposable income, a significant portion of which is untapped due to design exclusion, according to report leader Jeremy Thorpe, PwC economist and partner. The report says 18 per cent of Australians are living with a disability, 28 per cent live in regional and remote areas, 20 per cent are living with a long- term health condition, and 14 per cent are aged 65 and over.
Examples of products designed to solve a problem for a small market and taken up for general usage are electric toothbrushes, designed for people with limited motor skills; subtitles, created for people hard of hearing and now used widely; and dropped curbs and ramps designed for wheelchair users, but gratefully used by parents with strollers and travellers with suitcases.
The report says that inclusive design can bring financial, economic and social benefits. It estimates that by including people living with a disability and seniors it can help reach three to four times the size of the intended audience in the retail, education and financial services sectors. However, millions of Australians are also vulnerable to exclusion due to their location, gender, ethnicity or financial status.
$40b Annual disposable income of Australians living with a disability
Diversity and the board
As the push for diversity increases as an issue for boards, directors need to also apply an “inclusion lens”, says Amin. “Much of the conversation about inclusion and boards is related to board diversity and representation. When looking at some of the systemic issues and challenges facing organisations and their boards today, the issue is broader than that of the representation on the board itself.”
Amin says every stakeholder wins when designing for everyone becomes standard practice. It’s an issue for directors, as design that is not inclusive can damage brand reputations through complaints, legal challenges, planning delays and costly retrofits as a product or service matures.
“I would argue that as a board member, if you want to make sure your organisation is robust, nimble and not going to get into trouble for doing the wrong thing, it’s important to be aware of who your product will impact on positively as well as negatively,” she says.
“When directors put the efficiency lens on and the effectiveness lens on, they also need to look at the inclusion lens and then make decisions that are robust from those perspectives. Our view is that the board is the place that defines; that actually leads, not just from a governance perspective, but also leads the culture in terms of what is really important and what isn’t.”