A series of embarrassing online access fails has again left a high-profile campaign facing accusations that it allows businesses to parade their supposed commitment to accessibility and inclusivity, while failing to put those promises into practice.
This week saw the sixth annual Purple Tuesday event, devised and run by the organisation Purple, which aims to be a “celebratory day, promoting accessibility and inclusivity”.
But the event has long faced concerns that it allows businesses to secure cheap publicity by pledging their commitment to disability equality, without actually implementing those promises.
The apparent failure of events such as Purple Tuesday to have an impact on disability discrimination was demonstrated this week by new figures secured by Disability News Service (see separate story) which show that nearly three-quarters of all discrimination-related enquiries to the government-funded equality helpline have come from disabled people, with this proportion rising every year for the last five years.
The concerns about Purple Tuesday were highlighted this week when a string of Purple Tuesday supporters posted their backing for the day on the social media platform Twitter* but attached photographs and other images that failed to include “alt text”, which allows disabled people using screen-reading software to listen to a description of the picture.
Among them were businesses and other organisations that are supposed to focus in their work on disability and accessibility.
One of the organisations that posted inaccessible images was Suffolk Growth Partnership, which invited the public to “the launch of Accessible Destination Suffolk”, before adding an inaccessible image.
Many shopping centres, including the Queensmere Observatory in Slough, Houndshill in Blackpool, The Broadway in Bradford, The Meads shopping centre in Farnborough, and the Stratford Centre in east London (pictured), also highlighted the “celebratory day, promoting accessibility and inclusivity”, before attaching inaccessible images.
None of them responded to requests to comment this week.
Meanwhile, National Paralympic Heritage Trust claimed in a post: “At the Heritage Centre, we’re committed to inclusivity every day of the year.”
It then added an inaccessible image without alt text.
The trust declined to apologise, or comment on Purple Tuesday, but said: “As a small charity, we endeavour to make all of our work accessible.
“We will ensure that alt-text is included on our social media images from now on.”
Royal British Legion Industries encouraged “everyone to join us in raising awareness” about “the challenges faced by disabled consumers”, before attaching an image without alt text.
Passenger Lift Solutions took the opportunity to celebrate “the global movement for disability inclusivity”, while adding an inaccessible image.
Among the most surprising access fails came from Tourism for All, a charity which describes itself as “the voice of accessible tourism in the UK”.
It also failed to comment this week.
Recruitment agency Marmion highlighted the work of the “global social movement” Purple Tuesday, before tweeting an image without alt text.
Janet Mclaughlin, its founder and managing director, said her company used an agency for its social media work, but she accepted responsibility as she had approved the tweet, and she apologised for the error.
She said: “When someone raises something like that to me, I take it very seriously.”
Asked if she understood the criticism of Purple Tuesday, she said: “I do understand, and I feel that I have failed.
“I can’t speak for other business… I don’t know everything, and I need to learn. We will do better.”
Less impressive in its response was Wingham Wildlife Park, which – when asked about the decision to tweet an image of a wild animal without alt text – attacked DNS for raising concerns about its post.
A spokesperson for the park highlighted the steps Wingham had taken to improve accessibility at its facilities, including using alt text on its website, and said he was “incredibly disappointed and upset” by the criticism.
He said the failure to use alt text on the image posted on Twitter was “uncharacteristic” and a “genuine anomaly”, but he also said he and his colleagues had not been aware of the existence of the alt text facility on Twitter.
He said the concerns raised by DNS were “causing as much harm to accessibility as the companies who are using this as a chance for purple washing”, and he added: “So for us as a company I absolutely do not accept your criticism of what we are doing.”
Among disabled campaigners highlighting how many companies were supporting Purple Tuesday through inaccessible tweets was journalist and author Rachel Charlton-Dailey.
Another was journalist and researcher Jess O’Thomson, who told DNS: “It is deeply concerning that, apparently motivated by potential publicity and profit, several organisations have attempted to take part in the Purple Tuesday campaign without even a basic commitment to accessibility.
“A shocking number have failed to make even their marketing about the day accessible to disabled people, by not providing alt text.
“Many criticise Purple Tuesday for ignoring that organisations should be accessible to disabled people every day of the year.
“This shows that, in practice, many who seek to benefit from Purple Tuesday do not even make the effort on that single day.”
A spokesperson for Purple Tuesday said: “Purple Tuesday as an organisation has clear accessibility policies and practices that we implement and share with others, including our partners.
“We have no control over what other organisations put out but we are clear that everyone is on a journey in terms of accessibility.
“We have seen a significant rise in commitments in this area.
“We continue to raise awareness and understanding for all about being a disability inclusive organisation.”
*Currently known as X
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…