Disabled customers to be assigned industry representatives

simon chandler
By Simon Chandler

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THE Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have announced that 11 "sector champions" are to be given the job of representing the needs of disabled customers to businesses.

From today, these 11 champions will act as liaisons between commercial organisations and disabled people, striving to tap into a market that's reportedly worth as much as £250 billion a year.

They've been selected from the sectors they'll work with as representatives, yet it's still not entirely clear what formal links if any they'll have with disabled people and charities.

As such, it's tempting at this early stage to assume that they're more about representing the interests of businesses to disabled groups, rather than the other way around.

'The purple pound'

Given that the official press release from the DWP mentioned the estimated worth of the disabled market, it certainly seems this way at the moment.

The release said, "There are currently more than 11 million disabled people in the UK and the spending power of their households - 'the purple pound' - is almost £250 billion".

As a public advocate for accessibility, these champions will help businesses realise the value of disabled consumers and the importance of catering to every customer's needs
Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Disabled People

At a time when Brexit is still asking questions of the UK economy, it's understandable that the Government and business would want to make sure that as much of this sum as possible is released into circulation.

This was made clear by the DWP, who went on in their announcement to add, "But many businesses are missing out on this potential customer base by having everyday products and services which aren't available to disabled people".

In order to avoid such missing out, the Department will therefore be appointing the 11 representatives, who are listed below:

As can be seen from the list, all of them currently work within the business sectors to which they'll be representing the needs of disabled people. Jo Twist, for example, has been the CEO of the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment since 2012, before which she was a Channel 4 commissioner.

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However, while this might suggest that she and the other representatives have a more intimate understanding of the needs of businesses, a select few have considerable experience of working exclusively with accessibility and disabilities.

Suzanne Bull, for example, is the CEO of Attitude is Everything, a campaign organisation dedicated to improving the access of deaf and disabled people to music events.

Speaking of her involvement, she declared, "I'll be making a solid business case for accessibility and will be sharing best practice and innovative ideas, many of which ... demonstrate that ways of working can be adopted by other industries with a high degree of success".

With her presence in the group, it's clear that it won't be entirely or even mostly one-sided, and that disabled people will have at least one or two genuine champions on their side.

And even with the inclusion of mostly industry figures, many of these nonetheless have a longstanding record of working on accessibility. Trudie Hills, for instance, is the disability manager at Lloyds, who like other high-street banks have long been ahead of companies in other sectors when it comes to making their services accessible.

Formal frameworks

Nonetheless, even though the representatives generally have the necessary credentials, the Department for Work and Pensions still aren't spelling out just how they'll represent disabled customers.

We asked a spokesperson for clarification on this point, but at this moment in time all they could do was to direct us to the press release.

In particular, they and the DWP have provided no concrete detail on which disabled individuals and groups they'll be working with, on how closely they'll work with them, and on how they'll determine what exactly those with particular needs want from businesses.

Because there's no formal framework as to how they'll truly be the "voices" of disabled demographics, the worry once again arises that the representatives will be more in touch with businesses than with the people they're supposed to serve.

In turn, their work may become as much about promoting the "responsibility" and "inclusivity" of banks or hotels than about increasing their actual responsibility and inclusivity.

Still, because the ultimate aim is to capture as much of the "purple pound" as possible, businesses may very well soon find that the only way they can do this is by genuinely making themselves as accessible as possible.


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