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Celebrating Digital Inclusion on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

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Shaun Hodge using a computer with a headset on

Yesterday marked the 13th edition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, dedicated to emphasising the significance of accessibility and inclusivity. While some organisations may view accessibility as an afterthought, it’s crucial to recognise that for the 1.3 billion individuals globally living with disabilities, obstacles in both the physical and digital world are a daily reality. Hence, prioritising inclusion is so important.

We recently caught up with Shaun Hodge, Product Owner at SSEN Transmission, to deep dive into digital inclusion, why it is so important within the utility industry, and what organisations can do to do more.

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your job role as a Product Owner at SSEN Transmission?

I’m Shaun and I am the Product Owner for the Customer & Stakeholder department at SSEN Transmission. My job is to work with our IT colleagues to build new software that improves service, information and data handling, supports our stakeholder engagement activities, and ensures we’re working as efficiently as possible. I’m also focused on making it easier for our people to do their jobs well.

We loved the video you created last year for GAAD 2023. Since creating that video, have you had any feedback on the Recite Me tool & how it has helped users on your website?

Yes – we’re very focused on removing any barriers to engagement which means we want to be easy to deal with and for the information we provide about our projects to be easily understood. We’ve received encouraging feedback about Recite Me – many people still don’t know that accessibility tools like this exist, so we’re delighted to promote the service, especially on Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

Being a Product Owner within the customer and stakeholder department, you must hear a lot about the struggles of those using your digital platform. Are there any barriers that pop up more than others and why do you think this is the case? 

I’m pleased to say that we don’t receive much negative feedback about our website and this is because our website is constantly in focus – it’s our ‘shop window’ – and we work hard to make sure it’s straightforward to use and that our web pages are easy to navigate. We did receive some helpful feedback about our interactive map which shows how our projects are presented. In response to this feedback, we’ve recently revamped our map and map guide, making it much clearer and easier to understand. We made these changes as part of 40 recent website improvements – we’re always challenging ourselves to do better and are very pleased with our latest enhancements. We hope our customers and stakeholders enjoy them just as much!

Digital inclusion is a marathon & not a sprint so what has SSEN implemented to maintain and monitor accessibility across your website now and in the future? 

To meet the needs of customers and stakeholders, we must seek their feedback and act on it, to make incremental improvements. We have a range of feedback channels that allow us to check we’re meeting people’s needs. We’re very good at sending frequent surveys and I have a fantastic relationship with our Community Engagement and Customer Experience Teams. Anything they notice that can be improved is quickly highlighted to me to progress and take action on. In my role, it’s important to stay close to customers and stakeholders. We try to make incremental improvements rather than trying to resolve everything at once – this lets us provide value to website users faster too! Social media channels and face-to-face engagement are also great ways for us to understand improvement opportunities.

Mock-up of the Recite Me toolbar being used on the SSEN Transmission website.

As we touched on before, Recite Me and SSEN have worked together on Global Accessibility Awareness Day and have done so for many years now. But what does GAAD mean to the SSEN? 

We’re a stakeholder-led organisation which means we work with stakeholders, for stakeholders. We’re working with different groups of people, from all walks of life, and with varying needs. Therefore, GAAD is our chance to shout loudly that we recognise this and are proud to respond in a meaningful way, by investing in digital solutions that remove barriers and improve our accessibility. GAAD is a celebration of all the different people we have relationships with!

GAAD often sparks a lot of attention towards digital inclusion and there might be a lot of readers who have just started their accessibility journey this week wondering where to begin. Do you have any advice you could share with them on this? 

Yes – accessibility has historically, and wrongly, been considered by businesses to be costly or inconvenient to implement. This is a myth. If you make yourself accessible to everyone, you’ll meet everyone’s needs, so, if you’re a sales business, this could mean more sales from a wider customer base. If you’re a public service, being more accessible could mean increased self-service and reduced operating costs. Being accessible has benefits not only to your customers and stakeholders but also to your business – and it’s never been as important than in today’s digital world.

Introduction to Accessibility and Digital Inclusion

In celebration of GAAD, we have launched our free course an ‘Introduction to Accessibility and Digital Inclusion.’ This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the principles and practices of accessibility and digital inclusion, covering topics such as web accessibility standards, assistive technologies and designing inclusive digital experiences. 

An instructor talking through 3 powerpoint slides

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