Accessibility: are you accidentally excluding 18.4 million UK citizens from your contact centres?



Accessibility: are you accidentally excluding 18.4 million UK citizens from your contact centres?


The need to ensure that contact centres and customer services departments are accessible to all is increasingly clear. Fundamentally, there’s a strong moral imperative, as it’s simply the right thing to do. But there’s also the legal case for being more accessible, and of course the commercial case (did you know that companies are losing millions of pounds each year due to their lack of accessibility?)

Most organisations would agree that accessibility is important. But, frankly, many of them are not yet aware of the sheer scale of the challenge.

More than 20% of the UK population suffers some form of digital exclusion, because they lack access to digital devices or the internet or lack digital skills. At the same time, more than 1 in 4 of the UK population lacks some form of accessibility skillset that makes it difficult for them to access customer services effectively.

Not doing more to improve accessibility means potentially locking out over 18 million people from your customer support services. Yet too many organisations still don’t fully understand how accessible they really are.

Government disability figures don’t tell the whole story

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, 12.7 million people in the UK have some form of physical or mental health condition or illness that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or more, and which reduces their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

However, accessibility is about more than official definitions of disability or impairment. It’s about having the skills to access services. For example, to use a contact centre effectively you need to be able to speak and hear on the phone – or use a text-to-speech device. You must have a good memory and the ability to understand text or verbal directions and respond to them within a time limit. You need to be able to articulate your needs clearly, and be able to type on a keyboard, keypad, smartphone, or tablet.

To do all this, you need to be able to hear, to speak, to have a certain amount of dexterity for typing. You also need a functioning memory, intellectual processing capability, linguistic ability and language comprehension.   

So what about UK residents who have settled from other countries, for whom English is not their first language? Many of them have limited proficiency, which is a clear barrier to effective communication with most UK-based contact centres.            

Government statistics on disability also don’t include people over 65, meaning they underestimate the likely total number of citizens with accessibility skills gaps by anything up to four million people.

When you add all these groups together, the total number of UK citizens with accessibility skills gaps reaches 18.4 million – or more than 1 in 4 of the UK population.  

The moral case for increasing contact centre accessibility

According to the Good Things Foundation, 10 million people in the UK lack even basic digital skills – that’s almost 15% of the population. What’s worse, 14.9 million people have very low digital engagement. That’s more than 1 in 5 (22.1%) of the UK population who are currently suffering from digital exclusion.

The Good Things Foundation also explains that limited users of online services are four times more likely to come from low-income households, eight times more likely to be over the age of 65, and one and a half times more likely to be from a BAME background.

At the same time, removing accessibility barriers for those with hearing or visual impairments and other accessibility skills gaps is simply the right thing to do from a moral and ethical standpoint.

The legal case for increasing contact centre accessibility

Organisations have a legal obligation to accommodate those with accessibility issues under the 2010 Equality Act. Companies should be able to identify customers with accessibility challenges and make reasonable adjustments to allow them to access services. 

On top of this, the UK’s Essential Digital Skills Framework is designed to be used by all private sector and public sector organisations in the UK involved in supporting adults to improve their essential digital skills.

The business case for increasing contact centre accessibility

According to Purple – the UK’s only non-profit organisation dedicated to reducing levels of inequality between disabled and non-disabled people in relation to employment – UK businesses are losing huge sums by not focusing on accessibility. The estimated value in lost business due to people abandoning online shopping because of accessibility barriers was £11.75 billion per year in 2016. By 2019, this had risen to £17.1 billion per year.

Looking more closely at some essential services, we find that UK banks and building societies lose a total estimated £935 million per year, while energy firms were losing an estimated £44 million per year – and that was before the current energy crisis.

How to improve your CX accessibility

The first step towards improving accessibility is to understand it, and then to assess where your organisation is on its CX accessibility journey.


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