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| 23 minutes read

CMO Series REPRESENTS - Beyond Sight: Advancing Accessibility in Digital Marketing with Tim Dixon of Intertek

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion landscape is ever-changing, but there is one critical aspect that is often overlooked - accessibility.  

On this episode of CMO Series REPRESENTS, we are honoured to speak with Tim Dixon, Head of IT Architecture at Intertek, who has expertise in driving business value through Enterprise Architecture and a deep personal commitment to advocating for accessibility, particularly for people living with sight loss.

Tim joins the series to share his sight loss journey, discuss the opportunities for marketers to solve the challenges he has experienced first-hand, and offer his guidance for those looking to up their accessibility game. 

During the conversation, Tim shared several valuable resources. You can find the links to those below: 


Charlie: Welcome to CMO Series REPRESENTS where we discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion in professional services marketing. I'm Charlie Knight, Marketing and Communications Manager here at Passle, and I'm going to be your host today. While there's no disputing there is critical work to be done in leveling the playing field for all underrepresented communities, individuals with disabilities are still being excluded from the conversation. In fact, a report from the Return on Disability Group suggests that although 90% of companies claim to prioritize diversity, only 4% actually consider disability in their DEI programs.

Now, today, I have the pleasure of welcoming someone with a deep expertise in driving business value through establishing and maturing enterprise architecture, as well as a personal passion for advocating for accessibility. We welcome Tim Dixon, Head of IT Architecture at Global Assurance Business Intertek, to CMO Series REPRESENTS. Welcome, Tim.

Tim: Thank you, Charlie. It's great to be here.

Charlie: Excellent. Well, we're very happy to have you on to talk about all of this today. So thank you for your time. So yeah, let's kind of jump straight in because we've got lots to talk about. So you've been very active in advocating for change when it comes to accessibility and particularly for people with visual impairments. Can you kind of tell us what the driving factor is for taking on that mission?

Tim: Sure. So I was first diagnosed with a hereditary condition called cone dystrophy about eight years ago. As my sight has got worse and through that journey, I've realized that there are so many small changes that we can make that make a huge difference to the accessibility and inclusion of the world. And people just aren't aware of them. So advocating for change and making these small changes that have a huge impact is less about, for me, it's about doing it for all the others in the community. Ultimately, with it being a hereditary condition, trying to improve the world for my kids, if they should have the same condition I have.

Charlie: Thanks for sharing that Tim. So obviously, you know, it's a very personal kind of driver for this as well. But like you say, there's a massive opportunity for the, you know, for the wider community and obviously for firms to kind of make these small changes, like you say, that have a huge impact on people living with, with sight loss and other disabilities. So thanks for sharing. So I guess since that diagnosis, and you know, it must have been very difficult, what has been your experience along that journey with sight loss, and how has that impacted your career and your current role as Head of IT Architecture at Intertek?

Tim: So I consider myself quite fortunate in the respect that I've always had fantastic support from the management, my management, and their management. It's the support that is there with sight loss not being so prevalent in people's day-to-day lives. It's hard for people to know what to do, to support anything I've asked for. I even, within reason obviously, I've had the support there and it was a big concern for me. Initially, I was concerned about if I could continue to work, and what work would look like for me. Could I continue adding value to the business that I'm in? What impact would it have on my career? And spent a lot of time researching and engaging with charities and government schemes like Access to Work, which is commonly known as the UK's best-kept secret, that allow me to have the assistive technology and the support I need and develop the skills I've required to be able to continue and succeed at work.  Intertek are a fantastic company and through their support, they've helped reduce my fears and ensure that I've had a place to grow along my sight loss journey.

Charlie: Oh, that's great to hear. And, yeah, amazing that you've had that support and I'm sure, you know, some people perhaps haven't always had the support that they need. So that's brilliant to hear. I guess, you know, you've had that amazing kind of network through work and your family and things. What have been kind of external factors perhaps outside of your firm, you know, working day to day, visiting, perhaps visiting clients or attending events? Have there been any kind of main kind of key challenges that you can think of that you face along that journey that perhaps, you know, anyone who hasn't experienced sight loss might not have even considered?

Tim: Yeah, so there's a lot of challenges that you face day to day, like even reading the menu in a restaurant or finding a building, just even travel needing to depend on things like passenger assistance on train journeys that require pre-booking and pre-planning. You've got to plan ahead, you've got to be much more prepared and things do go wrong and you've got to be able to take a step back and realize that it it doesn't matter. You can't be in as much as a rush and uh be as responsive as you may want to be. So, one of the main challenges that I faced is actually me. So it's like most things in life. You realize that your biggest barrier and to progress is often yourself. So it was coming to terms with sight loss, knowing that I needed to ask for help. Going through a grieving process, which is cos I've got gradual sight loss. It's like a continuous grieving cycle. Every time you realize you've lost a bit more sight, you go through the same grieving cycle again of losing it. So the loss of sight and what you might not be able to do now. And so the emotional side and tackling it yourself is, is one of the big areas and being in a supportive environment is meant that I've been able to ask for the help that I need. It's not easy to ask when you're a very independent and person. Anybody going through a journey that's restricting their capabilities or they need to ask for a small change and it might be super minor and people like, yeah, it's fine. There's that mental barrier of I'm asking for something different. I'm asking for something special. In reality, it isn't, we're just asking for it to be equal access. So there's a big challenge in yourself and then there's also a high level of frustration when things aren't as accessible as they easily could be as you're going through. So like meeting people for the first time, you've got to, there's a personal emotional journey you go through, in telling somebody that you've got sight loss and then they're in a position where if they've not encountered it before, they've got to go through the process of what do I say? I don't want to offend somebody. How do I approach this? You can see that level of discomfort from them. So it's uncomfortable for you because you're being vulnerable to somebody you don't know. And then it's uncomfortable for them because, most of the time people haven't come across it or know what to say or how to help. So there are either people that are really helpful and go too far. So like just grabbing your arm and trying to cross the road or there's the other end of the spectrum where you ask for help in the shop and they go, it's over there and point and obviously you've got no idea where it is. So really there's a lot of challenges in life and we all face challenges. It's how we tackle that. And that's why I say that the main challenge for me is, has been me, it's getting used to being able to tackle that, used to being able to say yes, I need help and getting people to engage. Another example is my white cane. So for long enough, I knew I needed to use a white cane for guidance. So I would use it at the shops and then when I got to near my house, I would pack it away because I didn't want neighbors seeing it. There's that… you've got all of that emotional side of becoming comfortable with who you are and the disability that you've got. And once you get there, it's super easy and forget how hard it is. But looking around the community, you see people in lots of different stages of acceptance of who they are.

Charlie: Yeah. Absolutely. That's really interesting and you a few things that are kind of picked up on. So, you know, there's the practical and the kind of logistical challenges that you talked about, which I think most people would, you know, they're the things that will come to mind about, you know, navigating new places and meeting people. But actually I imagine that kind of emotional and that mental kind of rollercoaster that you talked about and that grieving process is actually probably harder in some respects and having to kind of go through that cycle again and again when you meet new people and you know, as you mentioned, you know, that must be very difficult and something that perhaps lots of people haven't considered so much about.

Tim: Yeah, it's difficult. I don't want it to come across as, you know, my life is terrible or because it isn't, it's far from it. It's fantastic. But these are things that I've had to learn, you have to build a resistance up to. I'm going to have to tell people at least say three or four times a day that I can't see and that brings back the trauma of being told that the first time, but you get used to it and you have that resistance and that gives you, it gives you more of an understanding that for me, it's given me a lot more of an understanding that there's lots of people that are going through these things. We don't see what's going on in people's lives. We don't understand, unless we get to know people, we don't understand if the person behind us in the queue at the shop is suffering from severe anxiety or they've just lost a family member or anything like that. And it opens you up to be taking a step back when you're in these environments and going while that behavior or what's happening or how they're behaving might not be something that I appreciate. Maybe there's something going on for them and being more tolerant of what they're going through in life.

Charlie: Yeah, 100% definitely kind of, I imagine makes you a lot more empathetic to those kinds of challenges and more aware. And I guess that's the other thing that I picked up on is that a lot of this is about kind of building that awareness and that education piece. So people, you know, perhaps can respond to you when you meet them and not feel so uncomfortable. And that's about kind of, you know, learning about these challenges themselves. So I guess to look on, you know, the optimistic side and, and you said, you know, you've got a great life and what have the opportunities been, you know, what opportunities have opened up as a result of all of these experiences? And are there any kind of wins or successes that you're really proud to have been part of?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. In a lot of respects, my life is much richer and fulfilled than it ever has been. So the first example that comes to mind is Intertek as a company joined the Valuable 500. The Valuable 500 is a collective of 500 global organizations that have agreed to put disability inclusion on their agenda. So over the past two years, I've been able to be part of the task force within um and made significant progress in raising awareness within the company and the services we provide to help our customers become more inclusive. So that opportunity to really influence and raise awareness, not just within my colleagues, but knowing that then goes on to our customers and supporting them and that has a cascade in effect. It is really very rewarding. And in that time, we've been able to roll out internal campaigns to raise awareness. So we've had video interviews with different colleagues with different disabilities, sharing their stories, sharing what life is like for them, through to presenting tips on how to be more inclusive in meetings and how to improve our marketing, what our marketing teams can embed into their processes to be more accessible and what the best practices are. So at Intertek we launched Access Check, which helps the hospitality industry become more accessible and are working with many parts of the Intertek business now to identify opportunities to support our clients on their disability inclusion journeys through the services that we provide. From a personal perspective, I've been able to join as a trustee of the Lincoln and Lindsey Blind Society. I've been a trustee for four years. I'm about to become the Chair of the Board of Trustees and that's helped me because it brings my experience. I'm having a direct impact on other individuals with sight loss in my local community, but also growth and being able to be the experience of being part of a board and the governance and developing my skills and considering joining a charity board wasn't something that I'd ever considered before losing having sight loss and losing my sight so really that opened the door on being able to give back to the community. But also from a very selfish perspective, it's given me an opportunity to be sat on a board to see what the governance is like. Improve my skills, bring the skills I have from business into a local charity that helps them grow and support the community. Lots of good things there.

Charlie: Yeah. Fantastic. Amazing what you can fit into your busy day, Tim as well as your job. And I guess, you know, we'll share the links to, to things like the Valuable 500 the other programs you talked about there, we'll make sure we share those links when this is published. But I guess from your perspective, Tim, and this is a bit of a two-part question, I guess what are the things for farms and businesses often get wrong when it comes to being like truly inclusive in regard to their digital marketing efforts? We can talk about this in a moment if you want to answer the first part first. But also I was thinking about, is there a distinction between what is accessible and what is inclusive from a consumer perspective?

Tim: They're both great questions. So taking the first one, I think from a marketing perspective, there are some very simple omissions that are made by even the biggest brands out there today with their marketing materials. So there's what I would class as three easy to fix key areas. So when posting on any social media or your website, making sure you have alt text on images. So alt text is alternative text or image description of the other terms it's known as and that describes the image in words for a visually impaired person or a screen reader user to um to be able to understand. So a screen reader is software that will read the screen to somebody in audio format. So when it gets to an image, if there's no alternative text, it just says image, hence the importance of putting the alt text there, there's a benefit from the marketing side because alt text is seen by search engines and gives you a boost from that perspective. So there's from a business perspective, it really makes sense to add alt text on images, there's also from a design perspective, poor contrast. So making sure there's a good contrast ratio, there's some guidelines called um the web content accessibility guidelines. And while it's a started off about websites, it applies to the concepts and they can apply to printed media and marketing in general. And there's sections around there and how you can make sure or or what level of contrast you need for it to be easily visible to somebody. So a good example is making sure there's enough contrast between say a gray background and black text. So if the the gray background's too dark, it will be hard to read the black text on it. Yellows and whites are obviously another good combination.

The final or not the final, but the the other key piece that's often missing is for the deaf community and that's making sure that you have closed captions or subtitles as you may know them on videos and audio content, having a transcription available. So having the spoken content in in text format that can be read separately to the video. Hopefully, that gives three fairly simple areas that you can think about and making sure they're part of the processes in marketing. The small steps that once you get used to it's daunting and the first time you do anything, it's like, am I doing it right? But when it comes to accessibility, it's a journey doing something and doing it wrong and learning and improving is better than being too scared to do anything and putting anything out there. 


Charlie: Yeah, they're all really great and kind of tangible pieces that people can take away and implement kind of straight away I think for, you know, all marketers, I think it seems very obvious and very simple. But actually, you know, people do skip over some of those things like text and, and perhaps because they're not sure what it's used for, or, you know, what benefit it could be, but by spending a few, you know, it's only a couple of extra minutes to kind of do that what a big difference it's gonna make to someone who has got sight loss and equally for the transcripts and, and the closed captions, you know, for the deaf community as well. So just I guess moving on to the second part of that question, you know, would you say there is a distinction between accessibility and being inclusive for consumers?


Tim: This is my personal view. I think there is. So for me, I distinguish accessible as being something that somebody can get access to. So for example, I need to print out a report, I can do it, but it takes me say 20 keyboard shortcuts to be able to print it out. Whereas society user may be able to just use a mouse and do it. Whereas inclusive to me is meaning that it's it's more equal. So it would take me one keyboard shortcut and that's the equivalent of somebody be clicking a mouse button and doing it visually to get the same report. So inclusive to me  is about equity and being able to experience it in the same way. So often you'll see, I've come across software that's apparently accessible, and technically, it is technically, I can access all of the features but it's not usable. Inclusive to me is making sure that every user or consumer of content has the same, not the same experience cos you can't, you can't have that but they uh it's equal as equal as you can get. So making it inclusive. And obviously inclusive, it is much broader than just disability, sight loss and disability and it's about being inclusive to everyone. So you're talking about gender and racism and really inclusive should mean everyone, we should be putting things out and making sure our content is available to everyone and being respectful of everyone.


Charlie: Yeah, thank you for explaining it in such a clear way, and it kind of makes sense that difference between what's accessible and actually what's inclusive, like you say, it's kind of the ease of which you can, you know, and the equity at which you can access something. And as you say, you know, perhaps the experience isn't gonna be, you know, it's not gonna be the same, but it shouldn't be more of a challenge for those who have got additional needs. So, yeah, thank you for sharing those. I guess moving on kind of from that and I guess you've covered quite a few in the last question around the alt text and transcripts, et cetera. But are there any kind of other key actions that our listeners can take back to their firms to improve their services? And kind of help reduce the exclusion for people, particularly with sight loss.

Tim:  Yeah, so obviously, I mentioned a lot of the key things there. One that may be not so understood is PDF documents and sending screenshots and images to people. PDF documents are not always accessible. It's something that you need to put a bit of effort into making PDF documents accessible. And obviously, as marketers, PDFs are ideal for getting your brochures out and you know, you've got control of how they look. So if you're using InDesign or other publishing tools, there are guides from Adobe and others on how to make sure your PDF documents are accessible, how they can be used with a screen reader. So obviously putting alt text in and the color and making sure the text is clear and that is a great start, but I have come across PDF documents where people have done all of that. But then the screen reader, the software that reads it out to me just can't read the PDF. It's all over the place, the sequencing is all over the place you jump from 0.1 to 0.10 and and back. So spending a bit of time in understanding how to make sure your PDF documents are accessible and there's things that you can do quite easily to be able to test and see. So not just assume there's a lot of resources out there that advise you on how to test with screen readers. And you've got a screen reader built into the device in front of you today, whether you're on an Apple Mac or on a PC on an iPhone or Android phone, or tablets, they've all got voice and screen readers built in. And they're easy to turn on and it will be easy to turn it on, just flick through your PDF document and see what it appears like to somebody who's got no who's using that technology and then turn it off again. So it's quite easy for you to do those checks and make sure that the experience is what you want the experience to be.

Charlie: Thanks. And that's a really good point and something I think many of our listeners can kind of perhaps haven't thought about. And are there any, you've kind of mentioned some of the resources, you know, Adobe and other things that you'd recommend to marketers and fans to go to for support where with kind of making their services more inclusive. Are there any kind of key ones that are doing a great job of kind of helping people to do that?

Tim:  Yeah, there's, I mean, this is one of the challenges I've found. It's a journey for everyone. So if you listen to this and you're thinking, well, there's so much, I don't know. This is daunting. How do I, how am I ever gonna do this? How do I fit this into my day job? Please do take a step back and think I'm just gonna look at one area, maybe alt text or the PDFs and I'm gonna make one small step improvement and that small step improvement will have ripple effects and you'll see the benefit from it and you'll get the motivation to do to do more and find time and realize it's not as daunting as it as it seems. So because there's so much content out there and it's so hard to understand what's good content and what's helpful. I have actually put an article together that's published on Passle site, And I've got lots of articles on there about disability inclusion, great resource for you to get broad awareness, but there's one specifically that I recommend that's called Where Do I Start with Accessibility? And in there, I've got links to lots of resources from a Microsoft free training course on accessibility through to guides on how to um how to test for accessibility in PDFs.  And in general, awareness. There's lots of great resources there and if you find any more, I welcome them being sent my way so I can add it on and keep that resource fresh for everyone.

Charlie: Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. We'll make sure that link’s included in this post as well for everyone to go and have a read about. So, Tim, finally, we're getting to that point in the podcast where this is the kind of last question and this is a two-part question again for you. So sorry about that. But firstly, what's your one piece of advice for professional services marketers looking to improve accessibility in their firms? And I know you've mentioned lots of things, but if there's just one thing that you would say. And then secondly, what would your one piece of advice be for professionals experiencing sight loss or coming to terms with a disability?

Tim: Great questions. The first one, I think we've had all the practical advice, but the one thing that has really stood out to me as Intertek as we've rolled out the Valuable 500 task force and got people involved is start talking about disability. Everybody's afraid you will say the wrong thing to somebody at some point I do today. And I read a lot about disability inclusion. Everybody does. It's about being respectful learning and trusting. If you start talking about it, you'll realize that you've got colleagues who may be partially deaf and you've never was never aware, they're colour blind. There's a lot of lived experience in your own department and in your own company that you're not even aware of and having those conversations, not only will you build better relationships with your colleagues, you'll get better understanding and their experience will help you as marketers, understand your potential client base, who your target audience is and what challenges they may be facing. So that that would be my number one thing. Start talking about it, raise the awareness, gather understanding and it will motivate change, not just in the organization and the marketing you're doing, it will have a ripple effect. And then two, people that are starting on their sight loss or disability journey. I would love to say it's an easy journey. It isn’t, it’s a tough journey. And you can't always see what the future looks like. You can't imagine what it looks like. Certainly, when I was first diagnosed, it's like, how am I ever going to use a computer if I can't see the screen? And it's about being kind to yourself fundamentally. There's a lot of support out there. But as I found it in the early days you focus on logical things you can do. So, oh, I'll go and start using a screen reader and a magnifier and it's very overwhelming. A lot of new things that you're trying to learn at the same time as trying to come to terms with sight loss and trying to do your job. And I'm still learning today. There are lots of things I'm still learning today to prepare myself as my sight deteriorates. But I had to be kind to myself. It took me at least two or three years before. So I'd go through the motions of getting a screen reader, I'd have it installed, but I won't be using it and you put things off. And you've got to allow your time to yourself time to process it. It's an emotional journey. It's not a logical, hey, we can just fix this. So be kind to yourself. Realize that there's support out there do speak with others, do find others with similar disabilities. And if it takes you three years before you reach out to somebody that's fine except it be kind to yourself. Really don't rush it, don't push. Don't think, oh, I should be doing better. There's always somebody who's got more skills in the disability arena and you think, wow, I look around the community and that it's, wow, these are fantastic people. I could never do any of that. Not everybody's the same. You just have to be comfortable with yourself and kind to yourself.

The last thing is really to be able to leave your expectations of being able to do things as you used to do behind things are gonna change. You won't be able to do all the things you did in the way you did them, but the vast majority of things you can do, you just have to do them differently and that's hard to accept. But when you do, it's super empowering.

Charlie: Fantastic. Thank you, Tim, some brilliant words of wisdom there for, I think, everyone to take away, to be honest. So start talking about these issues and be kind to yourself. They're very kind of powerful messages that I think everyone listening can kind of take away, and I guess also, you know, be empathetic to others as well alongside that. Thank you for joining us today, Tim. It's been so enlightening and insightful to kind of hear your experiences and your journey along this path and you know, some of those really practical things that marketers can take away from this and implement in their firms today. So I hope it's been valuable to our listeners as well.

Tim: Thank you very much for having me. It's been fantastic. And I hope this really helps listeners get a different perspective on sight loss and the things that we as a community can do to support everyone.

Charlie: 100%. That's great. And we'll share all of those links that we talked about throughout the podcast on the post. So anyone listening to this can go away and find those resources as well. So, thanks again, Tim and we'll speak to you soon.

Tim: Thank you.


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