It’s 2022 and FIs are still struggling to make their products accessible. Procure Access wants to change that.
- Americans with disabilities have a total of $490 billion in disposable income. Yet financial services are struggling to meet accessibility requirements, even with basic tools like PDFs.
- With Procure Access, everyone from Google to Fidelity Investments is getting involved to ensure accessibility is considered at the start of the procurement process.
One in five adult Americans has a disability. 35% of these people are of prime working age, and the total discretionary income held by them amounts to $21 billion, as the infographic below points out. Despite having considerable economic power, people with disabilities remain largely unexplored as a consumer segment.
The reasons for this are many – legacy architecture and technical debt for one, lack of representation in C-suites for another. However, one of the more complex causes rising to the fore is the unavailability of accessibility-friendly vendors.
The decision to offer more accessible services and technical support for assistive technologies aren't issues that can be settled in silos – there must be a company-wide culture change. Sometimes even more than that. These changes are harder to make if the software you buy isn’t accessibility-friendly. At first glance, it seems like the market should be crowded with such IT vendors, given the boom in the industry over the past few years. The reality is unfortunately different.
It can be quite complex for FIs, especially smaller ones, to find the right vendors to partner with. For one, it can be hard to find the right information around procuring accessible products. This is because these insights are locked inside organizations that have larger networks or prior experience in such procurement.
Furthermore, a lack of representation of people with disabilities in boardrooms and C-suites keeps these concerns from being raised where it matters most. If we think about it, when products are inaccessible, reporting their inaccessibility can also be similarly challenging. All of this works in tandem to keep the cycle of inaccessible financial products on the market going.
I have good news!
Recognizing these challenges and bringing the potential of industry-wide partnerships and culture-change to the stage, Disability:IN is a non-profit dedicated to disability inclusion and accessibility. With its new B2B initiative called Procure Access, the firm has brought the likes of Google, Merck, Microsoft, Twitter, and Salesforce together on the issue of centralizing accessibility and digital equality. The Procure Access Statement encourages companies to procure and sell technologies (as well as other products and services) that are accessible, usable, and inclusive to people with disabilities.
Perhaps the biggest motivation for such an initiative is the fact that limited access to accessibility-friendly IT vendors can hinder all and sundry – especially firms that have matured past the awareness stage and are ready to make accessibility a priority.
Having 20 industry veterans signed on bodes well for the network created by this project. It also sets in motion the idea that accessibility needs to be singularly prioritized, that people with disabilities need to be at the table, and finally, that accessibility should be central to technology design and procurement policy.
The 20 companies that have signed on include AT&T, Booz Allen Hamilton, CVS Health, EY, Fable, Fidelity Investments, Google, International Flavors and Fragrances, Intel, Merck, Microsoft, Pearson, Protiviti, Robert Half, Salesforce, T-Mobile, Twitter, United Natural Foods, Vispero, and Yahoo.
The story of how all these industry veterans came together starts with Disability:IN's Chief Accessibility Officer, Jeff Wissel, who is legally blind with a degenerative eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Prior to his current role, he led a distinguished career at Fidelity Investments. As a user of assistive technologies like screen readers for the past 20 years, Wissel has firsthand knowledge of how technology can enable or disable access. He also has unique insight into how difficult it can be to find the right product despite being committed to digitally inclusive practices within the scope of the financial industry.
According to Wissel, it was a conference that brought the likes of Yahoo and Google together on this initiative. "This was an idea that started with Larry Goldberg of Yahoo, Laura Allen and Sara Basson of Google, and Lainey Feingold of LF Legal almost two years ago. The conversation started at a conference regarding their companies buying products and software that was not accessible," he said. "The idea of working collaboratively with other companies to encourage vendors to enhance accessibility had many iterations and pivots. The Procure Access Initiative and Statement today was the result of over 15 leading companies participating in weekly meetings for almost two years."
Many hours though it was, their work has resulted in a novel collection of resources that can help banks and FIs overcome the friction in acquiring accessible technology.
How to go about it?
One quick way you can start thinking about this at your FI is by heading over to the Accessible Procurement Toolkit. This resource compiles industry-wide best practices, advisory groups, as well as a list of questions that procurement departments can start asking vendors right now.
Moreover, answers to specific queries about accessible procurement policies or involving disabled employees in the procurement process are there too. The initiative’s resources have detailed information about processes both before and after sale, which strengthens trust in Procure Access’s ability to support banks and FIs all the way through their accessibility journey.
Firms that have already signed on, like Fidelity Investments, recognize the importance of their work and the novelty of this industry-wide collaborative effort. Ronda Hendricks, Senior Accessibility Manager at Fidelity Investments, says: "It wasn’t until my involvement with accessibility-work that this language was placed in our contracts. I have drafted language, policies, educational guidelines, and training for procurement. Digital accessibility is a new space that many companies are just starting to tackle and grasp the importance of implementing. While Fidelity has accomplished much in this area, it still has a lot of improvements to make. I hope our contribution can assist others. When one wins in this space, we all win."