HR October 15, 2019

Mike Adams OBE, founder of Purple Tuesday, on why inclusivity makes business sense

Mike Adams OBE, founder of Purple Tuesday, on why inclusivity makes business sense

Last year, a new initiative trended at #4 on Twitter, generating 325 pieces of broadcast and print coverage and achieving more than 11 million views online alone. It’s a huge achievement for any launch, made all the more remarkable because its central issue typically struggles to reach the public consciousness.

Purple Tuesday is an international call to action to change the customer experience for disaMike Adams OBE Purple Tuesdaybled people and raise awareness among businesses of the value of the ‘purple pound’ – the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families. In the run up to 12 November, Purple Tuesday 2019 organisers are working hard to exceed the 750 organisations who participated in 2018, reaching over 825 million impressions. By signing up to Purple Tuesday for free, businesses can learn how to commit to actions that will improve the customer experience for disabled people.

Mike Adams OBE was inspired to found Purple Tuesday after a stressful Christmas shopping expedition. In 25 out of the 28 shops he went into, staff either ignored him altogether or solely addressed his non-disabled partner. This spurred him to create Purple Tuesday as part of his disability inclusion consultancy business, Purple.

“It wasn’t prejudice so much as fear that was causing shop assistants to swerve me,” Mike says. “Fear caused by unintended ignorance, lack of understanding, and perhaps worry about causing offence.”

Disability as a commercial opportunity

Purple Tuesday hopes to change the connotations of ‘disabled’ away from welfare and support, and reposition disability as a commercial opportunity. It’s certainly breaking new ground.

So why is inclusivity so important for businesses? Globally, the Purple Pound is worth an astounding £2.25 trillion, yet fewer than 10% of businesses have a plan to access this market.

In the UK this amounts to £249 billion, rising by an average of 14% each year, representing the UK’s 13.9 million disabled people - 1 in 5 of the total population. The latest figures for the online purple pound equates to £11.9 billion per year. That’s a lot of revenue for businesses to be missing out on.

Understanding hidden disabilities

So what’s the solution? Improving the customer experience for disabled people handily improves the experience for everyone, making the ROI an easier sell. But Mike accepts that it’s a complex issue.

Many impairments – up to around  80% – are hidden, and businesses don’t really have a handle on this. It’s not just about putting ramps into shops. One shocking example is that only 15% of retailers have hearing loops for customers with hearing loss.

“We know that 75% of disabled people, or their families, have left a shop or website due to poor access, so businesses are losing money at the door,” says Mike.

Some estimated 2 million people in the UK have a visual impairment so for them, accessible website design is critical. But for the 3 million colour blind people in the UK (around 4.5% of the population) a trend towards using colours for navigation, without any corresponding tags or words, is a huge step back and means they’ll be exiting a commercial website before making a purchase. 

Most of the functionality for accessibility already exists, but companies aren’t necessarily using it or are simply unaware of the need for this functionality in the first place. For example, blind people often use screen readers which automatically interpret capital letters as acronyms - a web page full of sentences using capital letters makes for a poor user experience.

Accessing Purple Tuesday’s “feel-good” factor

As well as leveraging the purple pound, businesses can grow their brand by championing inclusivity through Purple Tuesday. Mike cites the ‘talking menu’ from the Fuller’s chain of pubs as an example of an idea that will help many order their meal in a chain of pubs. But he says that in terms of brand loyalty, it’s hugely symbolic about what the company stands for.

“Nothing this complex changes overnight. But by many businesses taking some small steps and having a consistent approach to good customer service and experience, and considering what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable, change will come.”

Small steps and practical action is the premise of Purple Tuesday, with companies committing to one activity or changing one aspect of their operations. Companies can access a range of free resources through Purple Tuesday, including first steps to making a website more accessible, which in turn will help a business increase their sales.

Mike has ambitious growth plans for Purple Tuesday. He’s in discussion with shopping centres and businesses in Australia and Dubai, and the retail giant Westfield has just signed up 30 of their shopping centres across continental Europe to the initiative.

“Whoever we speak to, wherever they are in the world, everything around accessibility applies in the same way, so we want this to be a global initiative,” explains Mike.

“Being surrounded by visionary people really helps”

Mike credits being a member of Vistage with helping him reach his goals.

“Being a CEO is a lonely place. We’re trying to turn an issue, disability, into a value proposition, which is a huge thing to do. Being surrounded by visionary people and hearing how they’ve achieved success in all sectors and different ways has been absolutely vital to me being able to distil my vision into actions.”

“Vistage has given me a mandate that what I’ve envisioned can be done. I need to influence business leaders, so understanding their priorities and perspectives is almost like an ongoing focus group for me.”

Making accessibility the norm

Mike cites the Body Shop’s Anita Roddick as an inspiration, explaining that 25 years ago no one would have believed we’d be living in a time where you couldn’t sell your products without labelling them with their environmental credentials.

“I’m hoping that in 10 years time companies won’t consider selling products without considering accessibility. It’s about achieving a cultural shift,” he says.

With inspiration and practical support from Purple Tuesday, it’s up to business leaders to instigate a sea change and make inclusivity the norm. Mike challenges: “With half of the UK having a relative, or someone in their close family network, who lives with a disability, I’d ask business leaders if they’d want that person to be disadvantaged by coming into their shop?”

Find out how you can support Purple Tuesday 2019 on 12 November and use Vistage as a resource to help support cultural change in your organisation.


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