Chairman Mark McCusker’s address to members at the 2014 AGM
BATA has a number of well publicised objectives, but our over-arching aim is to ensure that AT gets into the hands of those who need it.
One of the things that we are increasingly understanding is the complexity of the ecosystem that exists around the provision of AT. It can be simplified at the highest level to four components: suppliers; funders, field professionals and consumers.
BATA seeks to influence each on these groups. However, consistent with virtually every other sector I can think of, the rate of change within each of these groups continues to accelerate, effectively creating a moving target. It is worth taking a moment to look at each of these groups and consider what is happening within the group.
The supplier community, which includes developers and the distributors, is at the forefront of the technology change agenda, particularly with the explosive and disruptive growth of the mobile device market and bring your own device (BYOD).
However, there is a huge challenge with economics and profitability. Margins on hardware are falling and the supply of apps virtually cuts out the distribution channel completely.
With regard to developing apps themselves; Gartner released a report this week that said that by 2018, 0.01% of apps will make money for developers. What this essentially says is, apps cannot be profitable, and yet consumers demand them.
A common characteristic of a lot of AT is that the consumer does not pay for the AT. It is funded by a separate body, usually government. The funding of AT is no different to other funding lines and has been subject to austerity measures along with everyone else.
Suppliers are finding that their margins are being eroded and hence the service they can offer is being eroded. The market is moving towards commodity pricing for products that fundamentally are not commodities.
This is a very significant issue for BATA and something we have spent a huge amount of time on this year. We have two challenges: first to help the government funding bodies such as Student Finance England to understand that AT is not a commodity; and second to ensure that our own members understand the dangers of commodity pricing.
The challenges facing the professional community are equally difficult. The pressures on time are increasing with more having to be done for less. Parallel to this there is the almost impossible task of keeping abreast of the latest research and technology. BATA must continue in its role as a communication conduit between this community and the supplier community.
With so much going on within our world, it would be easy to forget about the consumer community, which is madness, because without the consumers, there would be no market. For AT consumers, AT represents opportunity for independence and productivity, and they quite rightly expect the suppliers to embrace and adapt the latest technologies to make new and better AT.
Personally, I think we are on the edge of a whole new world of interfaces built around gesture, brain signalling and wearable technologies.
Coupled with all of the foregoing, the legislative environment is also changing with a clear trend towards personal budgets and a lot of uncertainty about appropriate infrastructure and how this is going to play for all the stakeholders in the sector.
So, what we have is a perfect storm of disruption and hence there has never been a greater need for BATA.
Our published objectives have not changed:
- Campaign for the rights and interests of those needing assistive technology: by responding to consultations, by lending support to others’ campaigns, and by identifying issues of concern. As part of our drive to meet this objective we have completed two research projects looking at disability in the workplace and also mapping the AT ecosystem.
- Provide expert and impartial support and advice to government departments and agencies and others: by increasing our own knowledge, by making information more easily accessible, and by finding more effective ways of communicating it to individuals as well as organisations.
In order to provide advice, we need spend a significant amount of time intelligence gathering. This involves meeting with other disability organisations to cooperate and share knowledge as well as some plain old keeping our ear to the ground to hear what is going on.
- Educate and inform widely on the benefits of AT by establishing the value of the AT sector, economically and socially, and our credibility to speak for it, and actively communicating that. We have become founder members of a disability supergroup currently being formed to increase cooperation and understanding between disability organisations.
- Promote British AT products and expertise at home and overseas: by making our website a better source of information for members’ products and services; and working with UKTI and others. We have reached out to ATIA, our American equivalent body, and are very interested in the activities of International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), which is effectively a spin off from ATIA with an interest in establishing internationally recognised accessibility training qualifications and standards.
That is a very brief snapshot of where we are.
I must acknowledge the work of my fellow directors/council members. BATA is an organisation with very limited resources and it is important to understand that being a director of BATA is not just a question of turning up for Board meetings.
The meetings themselves take up to four hours and that does not include travel time. Every director is highly active between meetings and the input is measurable in days per month, not hours per month. It is also important to recognise that the directors do not claim expenses and this provides an indication of the level of commitment each one is making.
Two directors, Dave Stevens from Claro and Martin Littler from Inclusive Technology, resigned this year for different reasons. Dave wasn’t a director for that long, but I must acknowledge his contribution both in terms of his intellectual thought contributions, but also his integrity, which was apparent always.
Many of us can claim to be founder members of BATA, but for me, Martin Littler was the founder member. It was his original idea and he was the original chairman. Without his drive and determination and provision of free resources to manage and run our website, BATA simply would not exist today. Martin is a giant of the AT sector and on behalf of BATA I would like to extend our thanks to him for everything he has done for our industry.
Last, but by no means least, I must acknowledge the efforts of our Executive Director, Barbara Phillips. Officially, Barbara works for us one day per week, but I think all of the Council would acknowledge that her efforts take much longer than this. It is not easy being the coordinator of all the various activities that BATA is involved with. It is a role that requires a combination of resolve and diplomacy, skills she has in abundance.
In closing, I hope you can see that BATA is very busy and with your continued support, will become even busier. There are many areas we would like to be active in, however for the moment we must focus on the areas where we can be most influential.
Our spheres of influence are broadening and we are connecting with more and more like minded organisations with the common goal of supporting the disability community. The challenges facing the industry continue to grow, but so do the opportunities.
BATA must continue to push forward on all fronts, and I am confident that we have the determination and commitment to achieve our full potential. Many thanks for your continued support without which none of this would be achievable.