How digital inclusion can boost your brand

If data is the oil of the internet, then a company's brand is the currency of the commercial world – and post-pandemic has never been more important.

I’ve been reflecting on what makes a good brand.

Values are key, and companies spend thousands aligning their brands to specific ones. However, what matters is whether those values truly align with the values of your customers – and that’s been amplified by Covid-19.

Big brands embrace the digital divide

Image shows the word branding and underneath it "identity, logo, design, strategy, marketing".Covid-19 has highlighted global inequalities and inequalities across the UK. Specific to AbilityNet’s mission of creating “a digital world accessible to all”, it has focused on closing the digital divide.

We’ve supported a range of initiatives to get laptops, tablets and tech into the hands of previously disenfranchised groups, including those with Learning Disabilities, the Basildon BAME community, and video-conferencing initiatives to support isolated older people.

Importantly, the DCMS initiative supporting people with learning disabilities provide connectivity as well as devices.

Telecomms companies tackling the digital divide

Images shows graffiti on a fence. Picture of a computer and the words "stay connected".We’ve seen Telecomms companies stepping up in a bid to close the digital divide. For example, BT offers low-cost broadband to those eligible for Universal Credit – a scheme more likely to benefit disabled people.

Vodafone has made a public commitment to “end digital poverty” with many initiatives, including partnering with the Trussell Trust. Specifically, it will offer a household free connectivity for up to a year for every Vodafone Together Household under a Buy One Give One Scheme. It is also encouraging individuals and businesses to donate unwanted technology under The Great British Tech appeal.

Virgin Media O2 and Good Things Foundation have launched the National Databank providing free mobile data to people in need.

Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG

Companies genuinely want to close the digital divide, but they’re launching these schemes because they’re good for their brand reputation.

A 2021 report by Deloitte found that 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns, while 32% of consumers are highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.

Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal is a great example of an initiative that ticks the Environmental and Social boxes of ESG (the G stands for Governance). Taking back tech means fewer devices going straight to landfill. Getting it into the hands of people who can’t afford it has a social benefit.

There’s clearly overlap with Corporate Social Responsibility whereby companies go over and above what’s necessary to deliver social, economic, and environmental benefits to anyone affected by their business and its activities.

A digital world accessible to all?

AbilityNet’s mission is a digital world accessible to all. Sadly, disabled and older people are disenfranchised by access to tech and inaccessible tech.

For example, the number of older people online has significantly increased during Covid-19 (Citizens Online), yet they cannot do what they want or need.

A report by YouGov and TextHelp found that 31% of older people struggled to know what links to select online, and 63% found the visual design and layout of websites confusing.

Similarly, many websites remain inaccessible to disabled people. For example, a survey by WebAIM found that 98% of the million most-visited web pages didn’t conform to international accessibility standards (WCAG).

Schemes that target the digital divide are welcome and increase the possibility of more people going online with specific needs or lacking digital literacy.

Digital inclusion is good for business

There are untold opportunities for embracing digital inclusion.

Many are waking up to the potential of embracing the so-called grey pound. The International Longevity Centre claims that the neglected opportunities of ageing could add 2% to UK GDP. By 2040 older people will be spending 63p in every pound spent in the UK, up from 54p in every pound in 2018.

Banks and finance companies should note that 85% of older people use online services to manage their finances during Covid-19, according to the YouGov and TextHelp report.

The added values of AbilityNet as a partner

AbilityNet takes pride in the charity’s values of integrity, inclusion, innovation, and collaboration.

We are a Disability Confident Leader and communicate openly and act with honesty, building relationships based on trust, respect and caring with our staff and partners alike.

Inclusion is at the heart of our mission for a digital world accessible to all. Our charitable FREE services provide support to individuals helping disabled and older people through a network of 300+ volunteers and a suite of digital tools.

We also provide support for the workplace and in education.

These activities are supported through our paid-for accessibility services, which enable others to ensure that their websites and apps are accessible to all.

In terms of innovation, we’re always exploring how to move the digital accessibility agenda forward, culminating in TechShare Pro, the UK’s largest accessibility show, which this year has a range of tech sponsors, including Microsoft as its Gold Sponsor having recently made a five-year commitment to accessibility.

Plus, we’re now partnering with Be My Eyes to support blind and visually impaired clients.

Finally, we’re proven collaborators and love working in partnership with charity partners and our clients.

Through Covid-19, we’ve provided tech support to enable people living with PTSD through an NHS partnership, support people with Learning Disabilities and Difficulties in partnership with the government and other charity partners and more.

Our charitable and paid work shares that common mission of a digital world accessible to all. By working with us, you can be sure you have a partner with shared values that’s helping to improve the lives of disabled and older people.

How AbilityNet can Help