Richard Bearman is the Managing Director of Start Up Loans, a government-backed programme that launched in 2012 to provide loans to new and early-stage businesses throughout the UK who might struggle to access finance (up to £25k) elsewhere. Last month, the programme announced a new partnership with The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
Entrepreneurs face a number of challenges on their journey to becoming successful business owners. These challenges range from obtaining funding to acquiring the necessary skills to successfully market a business. However, for too many, a lack of accessibility hampers their dreams of becoming a business owner before they have begun, preventing individuals from saying ‘yes’ to starting a business. Our new partnership with the RNIB is a step towards reducing accessibility barriers for aspiring visually impaired entrepreneurs from all walks of life.
Over the course of my 20+ year career, accessibility has increasingly become an integral part of the external facing agenda of the business landscape. In fact, there has been a growing appetite among the current generation of business owners and leaders to increase accessibility, both internally and externally. These people are taking necessary steps to improve the accessibility of their businesses by adopting measures such as ensuring website and advertisement translation is readily available, or providing transcripts and captions. Without a doubt, these developments have increased the accessibility of loans and ultimately, business ownership.
The process of change isn’t rapid or always smooth, however, and often requires a recognition of one’s own limitations in understanding a specific issue. This is one of the primary reasons we decided to partner with The Royal National Institution of Blind People. Just as many budding entrepreneurs approach Start Up Loans for expertise on starting a business, we recognise the value of partnering with the RNIB for their unique expertise on improving accessibility for blind and partially sighted people. By working alongside the RNIB we have the assurance that steps we take to help break down barriers to the business world for people with sight loss will have a positive impact.
Research from the RNIB shows that only one in four people with sight loss of working age are in employment and that there are 11,000 people with sight loss in the UK who are actively seeking work. Our partnership has grown out of insights like these, which highlight the difficulties faced. We hope to create a fairer business landscape and ensure that blind and partially sighted people considering starting their own business won’t fail to do so simply because our support is inaccessible to them.
We see equality not only in the increase in employment of blind and partially blind individuals but also, in the ability to choose a future, whether that be paid employment or business ownership. By working actively to reduce accessibility barriers to the financing and mentoring necessary in starting a business, we hope to position business ownership as a viable option for more and more people.
The partnership is twofold. As a first step, the RNIB will produce Braille, Audio, and Large Print versions of existing Start Up Loans documents and will support the Bank in providing accessible journeys across all of its customer-facing channels. This will involve changes to the Bank’s websites and its Start Up Loans application process, as well as the provision of training to staff. Secondly, to improve accessibility within our own recruitment process, we have become the first organisation to have passed part one of the RNIB’s Visibly Better Employer Framework. This quality standard helps employers to become more inclusive and will help us to increase the number of people with sight loss who apply for job opportunities and become employed by the organisation.
Ultimately, it takes bravery to leave paid employment or to put your money into an idea and see if it lands. That’s why we want to remove the accessibility barriers that make people think ‘I won’t’ or ‘I can’t’ so they can have their ‘yes’ moment and begin the journey to becoming successful business owners.