8b. ATOS – International IT Services Company

Neil Milliken

Neil Milliken

This case study has come about thanks to the support of Neil Milliken (Head of Accessibility and Digital Inclusion in ATOS).

Over the last two years Neil has been developing the strategy and policies needed to embed a rolling programme of accessibility across all areas of the work undertaken by ATOS, a large international information technology services company based in Europe but with a global reach.   The following comments are a summary of a discussion that took place on August 5th 2013.

Atos china website

Many parts of my job have to be run in parallel with others, as we have a national identity but need to use tools and systems that work across many very different countries and cultures in order to raise accessibility standards across the company on an international basis.  It could be said that a dual approach is necessary – that of ensuring good practice in the UK whilst accepting that there may be different entities of our services and products due to other national and international legislative frameworks, languages and settings.

It is important to speak to the needs of each country’s representative using their working terminology.  So for instance a procurement director in France is not going to be interested in the legislative requirements of the UK,  so when presenting the case for accessibility requirements around procurement the language may be in French and English and the subject of interest will be on process and issues around individual products.

As will be seen from the slides above many of the toolsets used to guide the development of accessible IT services and products are US centric such as W3C WCAG 2.0 and ISO 9241.  They provide a useful framework from which to work when considering accessibility and localisation in an international market but the US VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template) is often used to tell the international market how accessible a piece of software may be in terms of US 508 compliance (Section 508 Of The Rehabilitation Act) rather than showing those in procurement where there may be issues for their users.

ATOS have taken the W3C WCAG 2.0 ‘POUR’ principles for all their procurement to ensure services and products are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust and have put together a Global Design Portfolio for Accessibility which provides a central set of standards from which each country produces their own national guidelines based on their own legal system but adhering to a centralised standardised model.

German 'Handicap' Magazine cover - man in a wheelchairThese are peer reviewed by all the nationals with check lists and supporting materials which will contain a wide range of terminology that may feel inappropriate in some markets.  For example in one company it may be Assistive Technology users and in another it is those with ‘special requirements’ or those requiring reasonable adjustments – in Germany it is still common to talk about ‘handicap’ as can be seen in “Handicap – Das Magazin fur Lebensqualitiat” and in Spain one may be incapacitated (incapacitado).  This localisation of terminology results in interesting differences in terms of social media use for instance on Twitter English speakers use #a11y to denote accessibility in Spanish speaking countries it is #a11d – Many of us may be missing the latest accessibility news due to hash tag localisation!

One of the new challenges facing ATOS is the ‘zero email’ approach that means that the company will be using social media across the world for internal communication.   In the past each part of the company in its own country had an internal focus – the openness of the social media platform means that people are having to learn to interact with each other in different ways.  There are still accessibility challenges and although the language of business is English there are some that are using their own language.    In the IT world most people can speak English but there remains the debate about how individuals address each other, what is appropriate to post and how to manage the information.  From an accessibility point of view it is possible to develop an accessible framework for the forum but impossible to always ensure user generated content is accessible such as attachments, links to external web sites and use of images.

Neil’s final comments were around his hope that with the Global design portfolio accessibility will be incorporated into normal working practices especially when bidding for new projects – all the teams can use the same language and methodology.  Accessibility is mapped against the project life cycle so that at all stages this is included in the deliverable from initial design to testing and review.  There are also operational acceptance criteria before projects and services can go live – A  few simple overarching questions are asked – Is your product or service accessible and does it work with AT?  and Who is responsible for each element?  This means accessibility is no longer an after thought but is part of the main business process.

Neil is also a member of the Business Disability Forum in the UK which offers all businesses the concept of the Accessibility Maturity Model (AMM).  The Business Disability Forum website states:

Through shared learning our members have defined a common business language about accessible technology.��Our ‘Accessibility Maturity Model’ (AMM) self-assessment tool enables businesses to identify and plan key policies for accessible and usable technologies. The tool can be used to develop a robust policy for accessible ICT with reference to existing disability, flexible working and other relevant policies.

The AMM scorecard is freely available for download as a Word document.Accessibility Maturity Model scorecard