Atos, a leading player in the global digital services market, heads a number of firms backing the British Assistive Technology Association by providing invaluable assistance in developing our website www.bataonline.org.
The company, which counts the BBC and the Department of Health among its portfolio of UK clients, has put its 14-strong accessibility team at BATA’s disposal to research and advise on the best way of building its site.
They join members that have assisted BATA’s web effort including the Digital Accessibility Centre whose disabled testers have advised on web accessibility and literacy software company Texthelp, which is providing its Browsealoud accessibility tool.
“We want to support the continuing professionalisation of AT and to ensure that BATA is an organization that is welcoming to large corporations in order to ensure that disabled people have more fulfilling lives,” says Neil Milliken, Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion at Atos.
Neil and his unit provide consultancy and AT services to Atos colleagues and Atos’s customers. They oversee the delivery of software remotely but also go on site to support individuals using a range of AT products such as JAWS and Dragon NaturallySpeaking. They test and audit clients’ systems for accessibility and write scripts for assistive software.
“I believe we need to work with the supply chain to deliver the best quality of assistive software and services to our staff and customers” explains Neil. “BATA, as the organisation representing professionals, is the best way of engaging with those people involved with assistive technology.”
Neil is keen to help assistive software companies adopt licencing practices that are big company friendly involving less paperwork, less disruption for users and that avoid complex licensing mechanisms that often don’t work in controlled enterprise environments.
Atos is one of a growing number of companies that has appointed a Chief Diversity Officer with a remit that covers disability inclusion. However, accessibility and inclusion in the workplace is an issue that has still got a long way to go, says Neil, even if it has come on in leaps and bounds over the last ten years.
For example, Atos and the BBC are working on a joint project to challenge unconscious bias and assumptions about age, race, gender and disability.
“People are realising that we have an ageing population where wealth is in the asset owning elderly cohort, who are the people most likely to be disabled. As the workforce becomes older, accessibility will soon become an even greater issue for employers, so it’s vital to take steps towards greater inclusion now.”
Atos has developed an AT apprenticeship scheme as part of its diversity programme. And the company is working with the Tech Partnership to develop a national standard for AT apprenticeships. “We need to grow the number of people with these skills, so we don’t keep stealing people from one another,” Neil points out.
In a further move to boost AT skills, Neil is working with Southampton University to adapt its massive open online course (MOOC) with the aim of making the training material available to people in business to learn about accessibility. Topics such as alt text and accessible captcha authentication will be available in bite-size chunks on the learning platform.
Hiring disabled people is also a key objective for Atos, especially younger ones who are outnumbered by older workers. To make its recruitment more inclusive, the company is trialling blind hiring where facts such a person’s age, gender and disability are initially taken out when sifting applications.
The company is also experimenting with work trials where an applicant works for a period before the company makes a decision on whether to hire them, an approach aimed at recruiting more neurodiverse employees.
Neil has many outside interests. He is the Atos representative on the Business Taskforce for Assistive Technology which has members across industry and government. He is a member of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines Working Group He also runs www.AXSChat.com, an AT forum on social media.
“I am very driven by an urge to make the world a more inclusive place. I am involved with research projects about dyslexia and I am about to become a board member of an international charity,” he explains.