IN FOCUS6-8 min read

Investing in accessibility – for workers and consumers

To mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we consider how companies can be more inclusive of employees and customers with visible or invisible disabilities and health conditions.

18/05/2023
People on a train on their phones.

Authors

Vicki Owen‎
Content writer, Schroders Group

“Technology is a wondrous thing. With a quick search, we can find all the information we need on anything we want. We can order dinner, research a new topic, listen to a podcast and more,” says Claudia Buffini, a corporate responsibility adviser at Schroders. But, she says, “if you happen to be blind, deaf, or impaired in some way, then it’s not uncommon to find technology to be more of a burden than a blessing.”

Today is the 12th Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), focused on digital accessibility and inclusion.

According to Claudia: “This hugely benefits people with impairments including by making workplace adjustments such as arranging meeting rooms so those affected can see everybody clearly and be able to lipread better. In terms of online accessibility, the GAAD campaign provides recommendations on how we could remove barriers for those who are blind or visually-impaired, with reading or cognitive difficulties and fine motor challenges.

“But GAAD is also about making technology accessible to everyone. Additional areas of focus include individuals and communities who have general impairments associated with ageing, or, for example, from breaking an arm in an accident or having a bad back.

“Businesses must pay attention to how they can better serve their customers and create a supportive environment that allows their employees to reach their full potential,” Claudia explains.

But what has this got to do with investing?

Why should investors encourage inclusive practices at investee companies?

Kimberley Lewis, Head of Active Ownership at Schroders, says: “An inclusive culture is a critical aspect of human capital management, and this should include interventions to support employees with impairments”.

Meanwhile Katie Frame, an active ownership manager focused on social issues, says: “There is evidence that diversity across multiple dimensions brings a valuable range of outlooks and opinions, and when paired with an inclusive culture, can lead to higher-quality work, better decision making and problem solving, and greater team satisfaction.

“Inclusion is what allows diversity to thrive. We encourage the companies we invest in to create inclusive cultures, as well as seeking to ensure products and services are inclusive and consider feedback from diverse consumer groups.”

Kimberley adds: “We have identified human capital management, essentially staffing issues, as a priority issue for engagement with holdings. This is because people in an organisation are a significant source of competitive advantage and effective human capital management is essential to driving innovation and long-term value creation.”

Schroders’ expectations of investee companies in terms of human capital management, as set out in its Engagement Blueprint, include that clear and trusted mechanisms for worker voice are in place in corporate governance. It is suggested regular employee feedback channels are established and that companies can demonstrate action is taken because of feedback.

At the same time, under the theme of diversity and inclusion, Schroders engages with companies on diversity and inclusion across the spectrum of their value chains, from board and executive team composition to the wider workforce, to how companies are supporting diverse suppliers bases and encouraging inclusive products and services.

What is Schroders doing to promote accessibility and inclusion?

James Peck, Institutional Client Service Manager at Schroder Investment Management North America, sets up and leads Schroders’ employee resource group WorkAbility, which aims to ensure those with impairments are treated fairly and to make the workplace more accessible for everyone.

He says: “At a bare minimum, companies need to ensure reasonable accommodations requests are legally satisfied, though the desire is to go beyond that. Reasonable accommodations requests being taken seriously confirms to employees that they are valued for the work they do and in turn brings many benefits to the firm, from increased productivity and increased retention to increased morale.”

Melisa Fung, Inclusion and Diversity specialist at Schroders, says: “Following employee feedback, WorkAbility spearheaded the development of an accessibility toolkit – an intranet resource built with the help of those who have previously requested accommodations for those who require accessibility support. We’re excited to be launching this on GAAD and hope this empowers our people to break down environmental barriers in the workplace.

“We believe people are disabled by their environment, not by their conditions. One in six of the world’s population identify as having a disability. Being accessible by design is key to not leaving behind the largest minority group in the world.”

Liz Cummins, Head of Digital Marketing Experience, who is a key contributor to the initiative, says: “Accessibility is something I have always been passionate about personally. What I do professionally is about creating digital user journeys with our customers’ needs in mind, but improving accessibility requires a collaborative effort. It involves all departments of a business and a genuine commitment to creating inclusive experiences. To create valuable digital experiences, access needs to be possible for all, regardless of the tools used to do it. It’s not about just meeting minimum standards, we want to do better than that.”

Important information: The views and opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) on this page, and may not necessarily represent views expressed or reflected in other Schroders communications, strategies or funds. This article is intended to be for information purposes only and it is not intended as promotional material in any respect. The material is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument. The material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, accounting, legal or tax advice, or investment recommendations. Information herein is believed to be reliable but Schroders does not warrant its completeness or accuracy. No responsibility can be accepted for errors of fact or opinion. Reliance should not be placed on the views and information in the document when taking individual investment and/or strategic decisions. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results, prices of shares and the income from them may fall as well as rise and investors may not get back the amount originally invested. Issued by Schroder Investment Management Limited, 31 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7QA, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. For your security, communications may be taped or monitored.

Authors

Vicki Owen‎
Content writer, Schroders Group

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