Around 450,000 people in Australia are blind or vision impaired; Blind Citizens Australia’s mission is to inform, connect, and empower that community – ensuring that people can live full and productive lives.
Besides supporting individuals, Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) also runs broader advocacy programs – such as the campaign that resulted last year in both the ABC and SBS introducing audio description to their public broadcasts.
While the not-for-profit has a great track record, it has not always had the most accessible digital solutions.
When Emma Bennison was appointed as CEO, she struggled with some of BCA’s technology – and particularly the CRM. The only way for Bennison and other blind staff members to access information was to first export information to an Excel spreadsheet. It wasn’t the most secure or efficient way to operate says Bennison who quickly made digital transformation and accessibility a priority for the organisation, which has a significant cohort of blind, vision impaired and disabled employees.
“This was literally about us making sure that everybody on the team has the same access to information. For an organisation with our values that was critical,” she says.
Accessibility for all
When Rocco Cutri started to lose his sight about seven years ago, he became first a member of BCA and then a volunteer director of the organisation. In his day job Cutri works on technology enablement in KPMG’s Management Consulting team.
It meant he was able to introduce the organisations when BCA was seeking a more accessible CRM – and for colleagues at KPMG he was able to share his unique understanding of the challenges facing blind and vision impaired employees.
Cutri was always confident that Dynamics 365 would meet the technical requirements to manage BCA’s member data collection, but he also needed to determine whether it could be made accessible. During a volunteering day held at KPMG, Cutri was able to stand up a prototype, and then working with BCA’s General Manager, Projects and Engagement, Sally Aurisch, went on to create a demonstration system that proved an accessible Dynamics CRM could be built to meet the organisation’s needs.
The system design was shaped by interviews that KPMG and Aurisch conducted with BCA staff, and the user interface design was tested with them as well.
Aurisch explains that; “The main things that we needed were to make sure that the database wasn’t just accessible, but that it was functional as well.” That means that someone navigating a system using screen reader needs to be prompted when they arrive at a field that can be edited.
“We also needed the ability to search and filter the information in various ways. If we only want to send things to people who are over 65 who want Braille and who don’t have an email address, we can do that without any fuss, and that’s been really handy in being able to tailor our communication to make sure that it meets the needs of the individual member.”
The solution also needs to be accessible through mobile devices as many BCA staff work remotely (both before and during the pandemic) using mobile devices with built in assistive technology such as voiceover.
According to Aurisch; “Once we’d finished working with the team at KPMG, and we had the database up and ready to go and we’d transferred our information into it, it was a pretty quick process to get staff using it.”
BCA supported personnel with two levels of training – first to support people according to the sort of technology they use in the workplace – for example magnification programs or screen readers – and, second to support people based on their specific roles and how they use the information in the CRM
“Everyone can now access the database, and everyone is using it in their day-to-day work to find member communication details, to check information, to update member details, to be able to put notes in,” says Aurisch.
“It’s working really well. Everyone on the team can access everything that they need to for their work and they can access it without any assistance, any concerns about security, it’s been great.”
Dynamics CRM has established a single source of member information for BCA that is up to date and accessible. It also tracks interactions between members and BCA to ensure a consistent and valued experience for the member, with no loss of efficiency for BCA staff.
It is also far easier for BCA to get a granular understanding of its members and their needs, by age, by location, by personal preference in terms of how they like to receive information.
During the recent COVID related Victorian lockdowns, it meant, for example, that BCA was able to reach out to members who may have been isolated thanks to an ability to segment members by postcode and understand how they liked to receive information. Previously that would have involved a cumbersome and time-consuming process.
According to John Munnelly, partner, management consulting KPMG; “On face value what BCA is able to do with its CRM sounds quite straightforward from a technological point of view. However it is how it has been able to do that which is so impressive.
“Rocco brings a unique perspective and understands that accessibility is not a nice to have, it’s an essential for BCA and indeed for other organisations which want to support a diverse workforce. This project has demonstrated that Microsoft solutions such as Dynamics can leverage accessibility features to truly level the playing field ensuring everyone can be efficient and productive.”
Bennison says that this burnishes BCA’s reputation as an exemplar of a more inclusive workplace.
“We can go to other employers and say, ‘Look, we’ve done this. You can, too. It is doable.’ We share these sorts of things regularly with our members, so that they can be empowered to go and say to potential employers, ‘Look, Blind Citizens Australia has done this. Why don’t you go and have a chat to them and see how they’ve done it’.
“It’s not just good for us. It’s good for our members and for people who are blind or vision impaired who are looking for work, because we are living proof that it’s doable. I think it has a huge impact more broadly beyond us.”
BCA has already shared its learning with the Australian Federation of Disability Organizations, which is working on a project to implement a customer relationship management system with other not for profit peak disability bodies.
Cutri said that the experience has also built confidence at KPMG in terms of its ability to design and deploy accessible solutions for clients, and to use an array of Microsoft solutions and accessibility tools for that purpose.
“Teams is a really good example of a product that was released day one, fully accessible to people who are blind.”
Bennison says she has been impressed by the accessibility of Teams and that BCA may adopt the system in the future to support communications and collaboration. BCA already uses Office 365., SharePoint and One Drive.
BCA is also planning to extend its use of Dynamics says Aurisch, particularly to help manage and report on individual advocacy work, and to “Make sure that all of that information that we are legally required to collect and maintain is done so in the most efficient, and safest and most appropriate way.”
It is also considering Dynamics capabilities in areas such as grant submissions and donor management.
Technology opportunity however has to be considered alongside the risk of change fatigue, says Bennison.
But she adds that in terms of the newly accessible Dynamics deployment; “I think I’ve rarely been as excited about a project in my working life. It’s just been really, really special to me, to get this done in the way that we have.”