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Transcript for The Bottom Line radio programme


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(00:00) Hello and welcome to the programme, and we are examining business disability and design today, the opportunity and sometimes the cost of properly serving the market of people living with an impairment that affects their ability to carry out regular day-to-day activities. Now, the official UK figure for the numbers who are disabled is one in five, but that does use a very broad definition. For example, it encompasses almost half of the pensioner population. On narrower definitions, the figure is lower, but, on any measure, it is a large and very economically significant proportion of the population. Hence, there is a specific label given to the potential spend that disabled people and their families have, the Purple Pound. So, how purple is the pound in the UK today? I have three guests who have compelling business stories, and we’ll hear from each of them, and we’ll start by hearing how they became involved in this specific area. My first guest, Sam Latif, Company Accessibility Leader at Procter & Gamble. Sam, give us the one sentence introduction to Procter and Gamble.

(01:05) SAM LATIF: Procter & Gamble was founded by an Englishman and an Irishman who started their soap making business in the USA in the 1800s. Today we’ve got brands that live in your kitchens, your bathrooms, utility rooms, such as Fairy, Oral-B, Gillette, Pampers. We are an international company operating in hundreds of countries around the world, serving billions of consumers.

(01:35) Now, Sam, how did you become involved in accessibility, becoming the company accessibility leader and thinking particularly about disabilities?

(01:43) SAM LATIF: So I had a career in IT for 15 years at P&G and then I switched roles and took on the responsibility of Company Accessibility Leader and it was based on my own personal tensions as a consumer when I realised, you know, that many of the products that we were creating, that I was using as a mum, as a woman, they were not as inclusive or accessible as they could be.

(02:14) Do you think it helps to be disabled in some way, to have an impairment of some kind in order to appreciate that market?

(02:22) SAM LATIF: Absolutely, I think first-hand, experiencing some of the challenges that I have, gives me the insights that the company would need to understand, you know, what things that we need to improve in our products. So, for example, you know, we have made our Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner bottles accessible for blind people, or people with low vision, and that was my own personal tension that I experienced for years in my own life that then I was able to demonstrate to the company that this is an opportunity, not just only to help me, but to help the millions of blind people around the world who can’t tell quite often the difference between a shampoo and a conditioner bottle because, for the sighted person, you can see the colour, the words, the label that’s different, but for a blind person, often the two bottles feel identical. So we can’t see the words on the bottle. So by adding tactile markings, you know, we’ve got four stripes for shampoo and then we’ve got circles for conditioner that are indented in the – you know, they’re embossed on the bottle, we can independently tell them apart, and that only doesn’t help someone like me, it will help someone like you who doesn’t have a sight problem, but maybe in the shower if you’ve got soap in your eyes or if you’re not wearing your contacts or glasses in the shower, you can use a different sense of – you can sense, like your sense of touch to identify those bottles as well.

(03:58) So that’s a really interesting example, really, of the whole subject of this programme. Let me introduce my second guest, Robin Sheppard, who is the Co-founder and President of Bespoke Hotels. Just tell us what the company consists of, Robin.

(04:14) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, we operate about 100 hotels in the UK, from the south coast of Cornwall to the north coast of Scotland. The clue is in the name in that we are trying to run hotels which have individual character and a sort of local hero status.

(04:30) Right. Now, on your personal side, you had a condition called – and you’re going to help me with the pronunciation – Guillain-Barre syndrome. Tell us what it – tell us about that, and we might call it GBS, I think it’s a bit easier that way.

(04:44) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, the easy way to remember it is getting better slowly. Guillain-Barre was discovered by two French scientists as a syndrome. I got a Christmas present on Christmas Eve 2004 when what I thought was pins and needles in my fingertips and toes spread at an alarming pace. I fell over, couldn’t get up again, and over a very short period of time went from partial paralysis into being completely paralysed from the neck downwards. So not a happy time. However, it’s one of the few illnesses that you can make a recovery from. I have a level of independence and recovery which has enabled me to do something about some of the injustices I see in terms of how disabled folk are catered for in hospitality.

(05:30) Right. And so that experience has informed your management of hotels in the Bespoke chain.

(05:38) ROBIN SHEPPARD: I think it informed, but it has also shamed me into wanting to do something about it because I felt we were terrible at it.

(05:43) We’ll hear exactly how you do that, what that consists of shortly. Well, thanks for that, Robin. Let me introduce my third guest, Gavin Neate, who is the Chief Executive, Founder of Neatebox. It is a start‑up. Gavin, don’t go into too much detail yet, but just tell us roughly what your business consists of.

(06:03) GAVIN NEATE: Yes, so I think the recognition that staff training doesn’t work and what we’ve done is we’ve totally revolutionised how staff are trained in order to interact with disabled people in any environment at all.

(06:16) Okay. We’ll, get the details on the apps, and how did you become involved in this area, Gavin?

(06:22) GAVIN NEATE: So, I’m not disabled myself yet, but I spent 18 years working for Guide Dogs for the Blind as a guide dog mobility instructor. My job was training people how to use guide dogs, so I would follow my clients into shops and I would watch from a distance how staff interacted with them and I would think to myself, well, yeah, of course they don’t know how to interact, they were trained two years before they met my client. So my client ended up training them, and I just thought there must be more a more efficient way of delivering this kind of training which, using smart technology, is very possible and, in fact, that’s what we’ve done.


(06:51) Okay. Well, we will hear about the apps. All right, well, look, let’s go into a little more detail on the kind of design aspects of products you’re involved with and the way your products work and, Sam, let’s go back to Procter & Gamble, shampoos and conditioners, you’ve given us a great example of making it easier for someone without sight to identify what the product is. Take us through some other products of Procter & Gamble where you would say accessibility has been built into design.

(07:23) SAM LATIF: So we have both physical products and digital products and then advertising and communication as well. The physical product, I gave you the example of Herbal Essences, but that’s from someone from a low vision perspective who would be able to access our bottle. We also have modified our Olay jar to make it easier to open so that people with dexterity challenges can easily open the jar. You know, the cap was easy enough to remove, it was the disc, you know, it was sucked in so hard that it required a lot of force to open, so we focused our efforts specifically on that. We worked with the engineers, with design to make that experience so much better for, not only people with dexterity or vision challenges, but as a result it’s, again, helping everyone, it’s making a nicer experience, and what we noticed was that the number of consumers contacting us about this fell by 90 percent. So it not only helped people with disabilities, it just helped us overall.

(08:36) Very, very, very interesting. You mentioned advertising, Sam, now what about accessibility, what’s the connection between accessibility and advertising?

(08:45) SAM LATIF: So many, many brands, when they advertise on TV, from a blind person’s perspective, for example, you hear nice music, you might hear a few words here and there, and sometimes the punchline you don’t even know what brand it is. So they have missed their advertising dollar—–

(09:06) To make it cool without sort of overstating it. Right.


(09:11) SAM LATIF: Yes, but when blind people watch a movie, there was this track that describes what’s going on, so it doesn’t overlap in the, you know, the voice-over or the narrative, but it quickly, in between the gaps, it describes to a blind person what’s going on and that’s a feature that you turn-on on your smart TV, you know. It’s called audio description, similar to captioning for the deaf. You turn it on if you need it. And in the advertising world, this didn’t exist. No company was creating advertising with audio description, so one of the things that we’ve done when we started in the UK was to introduce the capability to provide add-in descriptions on our advertising so that now, you know, we get the joke too.

(10:04) Right. How difficult was it to sell these kinds of thoughts to your superiors that Procter & Gamble? Was this a difficult thing to put to the board?

(10:15) SAM LATIF: No, not at all. It was very simple. I mean the business case is clear that if we intentionally, you know, serve 20 percent of the population that previously maybe we hadn’t thought about, it just makes business sense. The way we’ve done it at P&G has been, you know, opening the hearts and minds of senior business leaders who maybe didn’t have disability on their radar.

(10:44) Tell me how you did that more exactly, Sam, how you get that across?



(10:48) SAM LATIF: What we did was we engaged the company, we engaged the senior leaders and business teams to come and learn about disability and to, you know, experience disability first-hand, wearing glasses that simulate sight loss, being in a wheelchair, wearing gloves that restrict the movement in your hands and then getting them to open a pack of Pampers or tell us the difference between shampoo and conditioner and, at that point, the penny drops and they get to say, oh my God, I hadn’t realised the colour contrast was not so good or, you know, we have a big opportunity here to distinguish our shampoo from our conditioner.

(11:29) Fascinating. All right, well, look, let’s talk about hotels and accessibility. Robin, you said you were shamed with your own experience of GBS, you were shamed into thinking about much more accessibility. Well, give us some examples of things that have changed or things that are now built into Bespoke Hotels?

(11:49) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, I think one of the issues I had when I was trying to get better was being in a wheelchair. You discover the golden rule which is that thou shalt speak to the person pushing your wheelchair, not to the person in the wheelchair. So, first of all, how you are received at a reception desk has to be more heightist. So you should have some concession to accept that some people will have an issue in terms of being simply able to see over a reception desk.

(12:18) But, look, I want to drill down a bit here, Robin. So you need to make a reception desk where you can be talking to someone in a wheelchair as well as you’re talking to someone who is standing at the desk, but you also need a reception desk where the staff can put their things down and work effectively. How do you do that? Just give us the kind of the detail here.

(12:40) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, with the new hotels that we are developing and opening, we have created a sort of three-stage approach. One is a much lower desk for someone who feels comfortable to rest who is sitting in a wheelchair can be welcomed at their height, rather than yours. Then a more conventional desk, but also our more recent hotels where we’ve given an iPod checking-in system so the member of staff is entirely mobile and can walk around the desk—–

(13:10) Right.

(13:10) ROBIN SHEPPARD: —–rather than the formality of a checking-in that you will remember from the Fawlty Towers scenario.

(13:15) Typical hotel check-in. What about the rooms then, Robin?

(13:22) ROBIN SHEPPARD: I think this is where we’ve perhaps focused most of our attention in that, for many guests, going into a disabled room was a punishment, particularly if you were able bodied, the sense that you’d been relegated or marginalised to the last rooms. There was a sort of compliance issue in terms of hoteliers thinking, well, I need to have a number of my rooms which are disabled compliant, but I don’t see any joy that needs to be attached to that, therefore so long as the functionality is adequate I pass the test and I can operate my hotel safely. What that meant, in practical terms, is those rooms feel over medicalised, quite often they’re next to the lifts with very limited views, humdrum decor and no sense of style. A number of the things we’ve been working on is, A, to put some style and some swagger into the look and feel of the bedrooms and a much more joyous sense of colour and verve, secondly, particularly with a company called Motionspot and Heavy, as suppliers, we put in much more exotic grab handles and equipment in and around the bathrooms so it isn’t seen as something that only a disabled person will feel comfortable in. Any able or disabled person would feel comfortable. Ultimately, the aim has to be to have all hotels with the new level that it’s become a non-issue, it’s just normal, it’s just the way it is.

(14:48) It’s a really interesting one, isn’t it, as to why a room designed for accessibility should be worse for someone who doesn’t need the grab rails or the extra room—–

(14:57) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Yes.

(14:57) —–or the wide door, all of which are perfectly – don’t make life worse for anybody. Let’s talk to Gavin about your app. So, Gavin, I know you’ve said your app is designed to help the staff. Just talk us through at least one of your products. I know you’ve got more than one.

(15:15) GAVIN NEATE: Well, there’s one massively important one that I want to talk about today, but I’m going to put a bit of a spanner in the works right now and if we have the most accessible building in the entire world and we fill it full of products that are incredibly accessible, but then our security guard says, no, mate, you can’t bring a dog in here, then you are not getting inside that building. And that could be any building, from a job centre to a hotel to a fast food restaurant, and the truth is that unless staff understand how to interact with disabled people and the needs of disabled people, then all of these services and products are going to be absolutely useless or a hell of a lot less use than they could be. You need to train staff, and staff move over, especially in hospitality and tourism. The turnover rate is massive. So WelcoMe is the product. The M and the E in WelcoMe are in a different font and because of the me. This is about the disabled person being an individual–

(16:11) Right.

(16:12) GAVIN NEATE: —–and needing to have support.

(16:14) And what is the app? Tell us how it works, what it does?

(16:16) GAVIN NEATE: So, yes, it’s so simple. It’s a free app. The disabled person downloads it. We cover 28 different conditions. Yesterday somebody said, “Could you add Parkinson’s?” We’ll add that in a matter of no time. The person fills out a very, very brief profile and they then say they want to go to one of the venues that’s on the system. As soon as they say they want to go, the people in the venue get a message to say they’re coming, but they also get tips on how to interact. So the first point of contact when you walk through the door, somebody knows exactly how to interact with you. So you can imagine aphasia, ataxia, acquired brain injury, schizophrenia, epilepsy, dyslexia, diabetes, you name it, any condition is covered on this system. So a staff member, who might have been trained two years before, gets trained two hours before the person walks through the door.

(16:58) Right.

(17:00) GAVIN NEATE: And, of course, with 80 percent of disabled people having hidden conditions, they would have to self-declare if they wanted to get any kind of specific training. Imagine that when you go into Starbucks and you go up and say, “Hi, my name is Gavin, I am living with schizophrenia, I’d like a flat white and a Danish pastry.” Well, they don’t have to self-declare because they can let the staff – the important staff know before they walk through the door, and that’s what WelcoMe does. It’s staff training and awareness-raising before the disabled person walks through the door, and the important thing being that it empowers the disabled person to be the one who says this is what I need.

(17:32) Right. So, effectively, it’s an app that sends advance notice of your arrival with advance notice of any special requirements that that entails?

(17:41) GAVIN NEATE: Yes. Yes, and we are working with Robin, but we’ve also got 138 different venues and sports venues and everything now.

(17:46) A hundred and thirty-eight. So if you’re not going to one of those 138, the app is probably not going to be helping you at the moment as a disabled person.

(17:55) GAVIN NEATE: However, good point you raise there. The disabled person can request a venue. So if it isn’t in a venue, they request it, it comes straight through to us, we contact the venue, we say, “Hey, this is £30 a month, do you fancy training all of your staff in all disabilities to make sure that no disabled person ever gets discriminated against?”

(18:13) Mmm. All right, well, look, we’ve got an idea of the way in which you’re all thinking very hard about accessibility and design. I wonder, Robin, maybe you can help me on this, there must be situations where there is a conflict of interest between the disabled customer and the non-disabled customer where the design works for one, but not the other. You know, you’re going to put the sink at a low level for one kind of customer, and there’s another kind of customer who needs it at a high level and you can’t satisfy everybody at the same time.

(18:48) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, you can deal with that by installing equipment which is fully adjustable. We, in our latest project, for instance, in Manchester, we have partial interchangeability in terms of the heights of grab rails and support bars and so on. So they can either be taken away, they can be raised or lowered, but you’d have to go to Denmark, I think, to really find an understanding of how to make desks and other items fully adjustable. Whether we’ll ever reach those sort of heights, Nirvana in this country I doubt, but, right now, if we’ve got a level of interchangeability, I think that allows you to adjust your act according to what you believe are the needs of that individual customer coming to see you.

(19:34) Sam, do you ever find that there is a conflict between designed for one kind of customer and another, or maybe, Sam, an increase in the cost of the product to make it more accessible so that the nondisabled customers would, frankly, rather a non-accessible, cheaper one?

(19:52) SAM LATIF: No, not at all. So what we find is that when we are designing from the beginning, from the outset, when you build inclusion into the product design, then there is no added cost, but it’s actually helping to build the business because we are bringing in innovation that not only helps the person with disabilities, but it actually is improving the experience for everyone. So, but if you try to build it on at the end, then, of course, there’s going to be a cost.

(20:30) So, yes, if you build it in and think about it, it’s not normally adding much cost.


(20:39) SAM LATIF: No, it’s not adding much cost, but it’s actually allowing a greater number of people to experience or use your products.

(20:49) Sam, what is the legal position at the moment? I mean, there is an Equality Act 2010 and it does set out obligations on companies. What is the legal position as regard product design?

(21:00) SAM LATIF: A lot of legislation already exists to make products, or even websites, accessible, but, unfortunately, 90 percent of websites are not accessible for blind people, for example, today, and they should be. And it really is – it’s not hard if the companies were to build it in, we can make websites that are accessible. You know, one example on our Herbal Essences website is we built accessibility from the outset into our Herbal Essences website and it just required a few simple things, like describing the images in words so that someone who is blind could see the picture in words. We made it keyboard only so that someone who could not use a mouse would be able to access it and, you know, small, little things that made our Herbal Essences website accessible, but it’s really sad to see that, despite legislation, 90 percent of websites today are not accessible, which means that we can’t do our online shopping or browsing online, which everyone else, quite frankly, takes for granted.

(22:14) Yes, that’s very frustrating. And, Robin, there are legal requirements on hotels and ramps are just the first point of that, aren’t they?

(22:24) ROBIN SHEPPARD: They are. I certainly would like to evangelise on behalf of putting an aspiration to excellence beyond statute. Now, that can happen because the people in the industry want it to happen, but it wouldn’t half help if coming up behind was some sort of ruling that said you can attain a higher status, you are a gold status hospitality venue because you’ve made the extra effort. So, that would be Nirvana for me.

(22:50) Mmm-hmm. Let me ask you this, are you in it for the money or are you in it because it is the right thing to do because I guess a question is is this Purple Pound, is it a business opportunity or is this a civic responsibility, a corporate civic responsibility? Gavin, what do you see as yourself as doing, is this a business thing or a good behaviour thing, good citizenship thing?

(23:19) GAVIN NEATE: So, as far as when I started I wanted a charity, but then I realised that, actually, greater than that was the need to grow a company that was, not just sustainable, but high growth because then you had growth. Now, our stuff doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. So if I have any aspirations to be in South America or North America or China or wherever it might be, my company has to grow and grow and grow. And that means bringing back fantastic returns on investment without taking advantage of the disabled person who, in the past, has always been the person who pays for any kind of evolution in service or provision or product. So mine is very much connected and I don’t know if I coined – I definitely didn’t coin this phrase, but social capitalism is where I am. I want capitalism where investors go, I’m going to make money out of good stuff, things that are changing the world. Yes, the corporate social responsibility is important, but no business is going to really see that as a priority. Their priority is making money, and if you were saying 20 percent of the people who walk through the door aren’t going to walk through the door, you’re not making money.

(24:21) Sam, are you in this for the money, commercial opportunity or is it just the right thing to do?

(24:28) SAM LATIF: We are a company that serves billions of people around the world every day. You know, we want to make small and meaningful changes to their lives and we see this as our duty. We want to be both a force for good and force for growth, so we want to do both.

(24:48) Yes, I guess you do. Robin, what about you?

(24:51) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Well, it started off as a philanthropic ambition for mine, and, over time, I don’t see it as being anything other than a seamless blend between what’s morally right and what’s commercially right.

(25:04) In terms of revenue per room, if you are being a hard-headed hotelier, do these rooms, which are more spacious, because they’re more accessible, do these rooms earn their keep on a commercial basis in a hotel?

(25:19) ROBIN SHEPPARD: Where ourselves, but particularly other companies, have invested heavily into the quality of their disabled facilities, there is a significant return on capital. One particular example, we refurbished a hotel in Dorking a couple of years ago called The White Horse where we’ve invested in the disabled facilities, we are earning a net profit in excess of £7,000 more per bedroom than we would do for an able-bodied room. So that’s a significant figure if you add that up over a period of time.

(25:46) Mmm. That’s just the general refurbishment return, as opposed to the specific disability refurbishment?

(25:53) ROBIN SHEPPARD: It’s comparing the return out of an individual room which is disable provided versus one which is not. So that’s the supplement that it’s achieving because it’s been done well.

(26:06) Right. I’d like to get you each to give some tips to businesses who have thought about this less than your own. What should they be doing right now, listening to this programme, to start on a path to thinking inclusively about disabled customers and the design of the product or the services that they’re offering? Why don’t you start us off, Gavin?

(26:38) GAVIN NEATE: So, number one top tip, employ more disabled people, that’s the top thing I could say. But then I would say, because obviously I’m working in customer services, actually ask your staff members about disability and what they know. And then constantly ask them because you can’t just train somebody, tick a box saying you’ve trained them and then expect that they’re going to remember it forever. I would say put staff training in place, but look at evolutionary or revolutionary systems and go, well, look, there’s innovation out there that can actually help us.

(27:11) All right. Sam, what would be your tip?

(27:14) SAM LATIF: My tip would be just do something and don’t feel so nervous, and the first thing that you can start doing is asking consumers with disabilities, the different type of disabilities, so cognition, sensory and dexterity, to see them use your products, you know, invite them in and watch and observe how these people are experiencing your product.


(27:42) A focus group, effectively, and just see how they interact with it and learn about it?

(27:47) SAM LATIF: Yes, that’s the easiest thing you can do next week, you know, and then you can, you know, do something, take the next step after that.

(27:55) Well, when you’ve seen, you’ll learn something from that, I’m sure.

(28:00) SAM LATIF: Yes.

(28:00) Robin, what would be your tip?

(28:04) ROBIN SHEPPARD: I think any business organisation should try and appoint a champion of access. So whether that’s at head of department level or board level, it should be on the regular weekly, monthly meeting, it should be minuted and someone should be an evangelist on behalf of improving accessibility in the business. And I don’t think that needs to be something that is a legal requirement, I just think it’s something that should happen because businesses are taking the subject seriously. So please appoint an access champion.

(28:33) We’re going to leave it there. Let me thank my guests, Sam Latif from Proctor & Gamble, Robin Sheppard, Co-founder of Bespoke Hotels, and Gavin Neate, Founder of Neatebox and we heard him describing the WelcoMe me app. Thank you to them. Thank you for listening. The Bottom Line is made in partnership with the Open University.