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June 13, 2006

DDA COMPLIANCE: Accessibility v Creativity

Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is a not a niche topic, it has massive implications for the whole of marketing, but most companies are still unaware of just how far reaching this impact is. For example, within events, companies are too focused on improving physical access to their conferences and exhibitions, without realising that the softer elements of their event planning strategy, including marketing, need to be accessible to drive visitors and delegates in the first place.


Grant Kennedy, chief executive of Direct Enquiries, which helps companies target marketing and advertising campaigns to those with special needs, believes this issue is more important than most marketing managers and business owners seem to appreciate. “While improved physical access is vital,” he explains, “both to drive revenue and meet legal obligations, there seems little point in going to these lengths without communication; and what is the point of communication if your audience can’t appreciate the message?”


Part III of the DDA came into force in October 2004, bringing with it the usual raft of confusion, fear and misconception associated with any new legislation. Kennedy agrees there is an awareness problem and more people need to improve access, but he feels it is more than that. “For disabled people and companies to mutually benefit from Part III of the Act, there needs to be a shift from being purely about the physical to all elements of the business and event mix, including adverts, invitations, websites, even emails and invoices," he says. "Creating a website or new marketing campaign around an event is a waste of time and money if millions across the UK can’t appreciate it.” 


Worryingly for event delegates and visitors, Direct Enquiries and disabled access groups are having enough trouble persuading companies about the business case for improving access to their premises, so trying to improve event access is likely to be a step too far for many.


As the first decade of the the new millenium sees the move away from traditional marketing to new media, particulalry in terms of delegate management, many of us take the internet, email and text messaging for granted. But there are still barriers to access. For example, with regard to internet-based registration and invitation processes, badly designed websites can be a nightmare for people with visual impairments, and although the Disability Rights Commission has just launched new guidance on accessible design, compiled by the British Standards Institute, that will, like the DDA, take time to filter down.


Darren Cook, head of health and safety at entertainment giant Gala Group, comments: “Having just completely re-worked our website to include online gaming, we have seen first hand the challenges of combining not just creativity, but also security with accessibility. We have an ongoing commitment and plan to constantly improve access, but it is not something that can be fixed overnight. However, by working with the right partners from the technical and access fields we can provide the best possible experience.”


There are many areas where improvements can be made to ensure event marketing material is more accessible. In August 2005, Boots launched a service through Direct Enquiries’ Alternative Formats, allowing customers to call a dedicated number for copies of leaflets and marketing material in their preferred media. This includes anything from large print to audio or Braille. “It’s important that all our customers know that they will be treated with fairness and respect,” says Boots DDA programme manager, Steve Goss. “While we are obviously making every effort to ensure that all our material is as accessible as possible, there can sometimes be a conflict between creativity and clarity. Alternative Formats gives us a way of providing every customer with the information they need in the format that is best for them.”


Making absolutely every element of the marketing mix totally accessible is unlikely ever to be a reality as creatives strive to better each other, competing for brand recognition. That doesn’t however excuse the need for event marketers to review everything they create and at the very least ensure the message is available to all. Apart from anything else, accessibility makes good business sense and no marketing manager is going to last long if they ignore the UK’s 10 million disabled adults – worth an estimated £80 billion.


Ultimately, the whole issue was perhaps best summed up by George Bernard Shaw long before marketing was a profession and the internet was even dreamed of: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Contact details:

Direct Enquiries – http://www.directenquiries.com/

Gala – http://www.galagroup.co.uk/

Alternative Formats – 0845 0708 090

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