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Ashley Firth - BU graduate helping to make the web more accessible

Ashley Firth graduated with a degree in interactive media production in 2012, before building a career in digital media working for brands including Budweiser, Sky and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Having joined energy start-up Octopus Energy four years ago, Ashley’s day job is overseeing the front-end team – ensuring that the business’ website and other digital services meet the needs of its 1.5 million customers. This experience has led to a new interest in web accessibility and at the end of 2019, Ashley published his first book ‘Practical Web Inclusion and Accessibility’. He said: “The book really grew out of the work I have been doing at Octopus. I became more and more aware that websites can be incredibly difficult for people with disabilities, and that means that many companies are simply not offering an equally good customer experience to everyone. This area of work shouldn’t just be about meeting the minimum regulatory requirements, but about trying to do what we can to ensure no-one is disadvantaged.

“Working as part of an energy company, I am aware that energy tariffs and services can be incredibly complicated for people. My aim is to do what we can to simplify things and make our customer service as straightforward as possible for people, whatever their needs. Through this book I also want to help other companies do the same.”

Having spoken on the issue at the Festival of Marketing in 2018, Ashley was approached by a publisher and the book began to take shape. Ashley jokes that the project became the biggest writing assignment since his dissertation – eventually filing 100,000 words on the topic. The book has gone on to top Amazon’s web programming best seller list and has led to a number of approaches for Ashley to speak at conferences.

Ashley said: “The whole point of the web is to increase people’s access to information. It has become much easier for people to build and launch websites, which is great in some ways but it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is thinking about the different ways in which their site might be accessed or engaged with.”

The book is written for anyone who is interested in understanding what web accessibility is and why it is important. It guides you through a range of disabilities and access needs, including areas that haven’t traditionally received much coverage, such as mental health and cognitive impairments. Ashley’s aim is to make it clearer what sort of barriers users often face, and to provide practical advice on how sites can help rather than hinder.

You can find out more about the book - Practical Web Inclusion & Accessibility.