Direct Access celebrates 20 years providing world-renowned accessibility services

A group photo of the full Direct Access Team at the grand opening of the office. A yellow banner ready to be cut is stretched across the door.

This summer, Direct Access is delighted to be celebrating twenty years of providing world-renowned accessibility services across the globe, from Nantwich, to Florida, to Riyadh. 

Reflecting on the past and looking brightly forward to the future of Direct Access’, Steven said “As we mark the commencement of our 20th year with Direct Access, I fondly reminisce on our remarkable achievements. It has been a truly remarkable journey, driven by our dedication to international expansion, our collective embrace of the core value of ‘creating access for everyone,’ and the exceptional team that breathes life into Direct Access today. While my personal tenure within Direct Access may not span the next two decades, I am certain that Direct Access will persist in its noble pursuit of making the world a more inclusive place for all individuals, now and in the future, wherever they are in the world.”

From our humble beginnings in the bedroom of our current CEO, to now having offices in four different countries (and counting), the past twenty years has witnessed the company grow at an accelerated rate. But most importantly, it has seen us make a considerable difference to the lives of disabled people, who like us, deserved better than society could give us. Such was the dream of our founder, Steven Mifsud MBE, who first envisioned and registered the company in 2004. 

In this blog, we will be reflecting on crucial moments from the past twenty years that placed us on the road to our current success, as Direct Access looks forward to another generation of existence and even further growth as a team of disabled access experts and advocates.

The early years (2004-2007)

Coming off working as an in-house access consultant for Chester City Council, where he advised on the accessibility of locally managed properties, our CEO Steven Mifsud MBE wanted to provide the same high-quality service to as many people as possible. Born as a profoundly Deaf individual and having grown up in a world that did not cater to his personal requirements, Steven’s frustrations with the inaccessibility of places that many of us take for granted, such as schools, public transport, housing, retail parks and museums, proved to be the spark of inspiration that would set the course of the next twenty years, and allow us to change the lives of disabled people for decades.

Shortly after Steven left CCC, and a brief stint as a Consultant for Turner and Townsend, Direct Access was first registered as a business. Following on from that fateful day, we quickly landed our first contract with retail giants John Lewis, for whom Direct Access delivered our first accessibility audit at one of their key locations. 

Back then, Direct Access operations were done in-house in Oxfordshire (and quite literally in Steven’s residence, due to Direct Access not having enough money for an external office at the time). This was soon followed up a contract with by the FA Football Association, who engaged Direct Access to advise on the accessibility of their website, as well as our first public transport client in Jacobs, who engaged Direct Access to be Access Consultants on key projects such as the Tottenham Court Road Refurbishment. These initial contracts eventually lead to our access appraisal projects for the London Underground, ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

Little did we know that by the time our twenty year anniversary rolled around, the team as a whole, which began with one person, would expand and carry out accessibility audits on literally thousands of built environments, heritage sites, council housing estates, and privately owned businesses – with independently operated Direct Access offices in London, Dublin, Florida, Boston, and Dubai. 

Despite the continued growth, Direct Access has never left Nantwich, with our head office situated in the centre of the historic market town, which today is the base of operations for over 15 staff members and counting.

Continued expansion (2008-2017)

After landing the aforementioned contracts, Direct Access would spend the following decade improving accessibility and inclusivity across each of the industries Steven originally envisioned, building a diverse portfolio of clients from across the United Kingdom.

During this crucial formative period, Direct Access would hit several milestones, including landing our first UNESCO World Heritage site contract, our first ever Museum client, and the delivery of over 1000 accessibility audits to different primary and secondary schools, an achievement which we are still immensely proud of that we would eventually go on to double the following decade.

Direct Access would also hire its first employees during this period, which helped the company deliver County-wide audits of public housing estates and facilities for several UK Councils, including Hertfordshire Council and West Lancashire District Council – as well as over ten different housing groups.

Direct Access would hit other major landmarks at this time, including signing our first large-scale transportation contract, becoming the Access Consultants and Advisors for Virgin Trains. 

Direct Access would also kickstart our longstanding collaboration with the NHS Trust, providing accessibility audits of several sites – starting with the Parsons Green Health Centre.

Panoramic wide angle view of Warkworth Castle in Northumberland.

Our team would then go on to become Access Consultants for Nottingham Trent University, the Museum of London, McArthur Glen’s Cheshire Oaks retail outlet, and work on the £460 million Woking Town Square refurbishment. 

Around this time, Direct Access attracted interest from several big name brands. This included collaborations with large chain restaurants such as Subway, Nandos, McDonalds and energy providers such as E-on, for whom we audited each of their UK facilities and offices.

Steven Mifsud holding his MBE medal on the grounds of Windsor Castle on an overcast morning.

International Renown & Products Division (2018 - 2024)

The following six years proved to be be incremental in the journey of what Direct Access would eventually become; a international team, and a world-renowned accessibility consultancy. 

In 2018, Direct Access first set its sights on international expansion. During this period, Steve Dering joined the team – and Direct Access looked to the Department for International Trade North West for guidance on how to successfully expand outside of the UK.

The catalyst for our growth overseas came in the same year, when Direct Access successfully won a bid to become the Access Consultants for the then upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai. We would also go on to work with EuroStar in the same year, and later worked with the United Nations on their new International Organization for Migration building in Geneva.

Direct Access went on to quickly win their first major award for International Trader of the Year 2018 by the Chamber of Commerce & Industry and opened their first international office in Dubai South.

However, our team’s success grinded to a complete halt when Expo 2020 Dubai was postponed until the following year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After working on Expo for two years, Direct Access was forced to completely reassess what accessibility meant for the postponed event, which was to become one of the most attended World Expos ever with over twenty four million visitors, many of whom were disabled and likely vulnerable to the disease.

But this did not stop us; Expo 2020 Dubai eventually did happen, and the event was a resounding success, cementing Direct Access’ credibility on the world stage. After Expo 2020, we would begin working within the United States, establishing two new offices on the East Coast and delivering accessibility audits to local municipalities in states such as Vermont, Massachusetts and Texas on key community aspects such as public parks, facilities, and housing associations. 

Steven would shortly thereafter be awarded an MBE, for services to International Trade in the Queen’s 2021 Birthday Honours list.

In 2022, Direct Access would return to the site of Expo 2020 Dubai at Expo City, providing additionally accessibility consultancy on the site ahead of hosting the COP28 Conference, which gathered world leaders from across the globe to discuss climate change strategies. Fittingly, the theme of the event was  sustainability – a concept fundamentally linked to accessibility and inclusion.

Around the same time, Direct Access’ roster of consultants and accessibility experts was expanded even further in order to keep up with the incoming work. The new recruits included a brand new Managing Director for the UK, Peter Brassington – as Steven retired from the role to expand the company’s reputation on the world stage as a CEO, overseeing all of the global operations.

In addition to new accessibility consultants, the company also introduced an entirely new team and division in the Direct Access Accessible Media department, who work out of the Media Innovation and Centre in our hometown of Nantwich, UK. Here, the Accessible Media team creates innovative new products that go beyond the requirements of legislation and compliance to offer best-practice, truly inclusive experiences. 

Today, its roster of accessible media services include the creation of website accessibility audits, sign language and audio-described content, and products such as 3D Tactile Models. 

The Department’s signature product is the Direct Access Tactile Map Board, an inclusive multi-format map board designed to be used for visually impaired and neurodivergent individuals, as well as Sign Language users.

And the rest, as they say, is history! Happy 20th anniversary to us!

A graphic made in celebration of Direct Access' 20th anniversary which reads 'Direct Access 20th Anniversary Celebration. Founded 2004" coloured in lime green and black against a white background.

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