Direct Access in 2023 – A Year in Review

A close up of a crisp white, 3D, tactile bust of a bald eagle on a black table.

First, the challenges.

Life working at a small business always presents its challenges. In 2023, Direct Access experienced more of these challenges than we possibly have ever felt in our nineteen-year existence. Even as we anticipate celebrating twenty years of Direct Access in 2024, our well-oiled machine providing accessibility expertise –  based on our lived experience as disabled people – saw what we could only describe as ‘growing pains’ over these past twelve months.

At Direct Access, we strive to provide only the highest quality accessibility consultancy, whether it’s site audits on a small community centre in Cumbria, to new-build consultation on some of the most ambitious construction projects ever conceived in the UAE (like the Diriyah Gate development), we only wish to offer the best service – but this year saw an enormous surge in clientele for us, much more than we would have ever anticipated. And to accommodate, we did everything in our power – including adding seven new staff members to our international arsenal.

Accessibility for us is not just about helping organisations comply with the law, or even providing high-quality accommodations in built and digital environments, it is also about delivering our services and products with a swift turnaround. Delivering what we do quickly is of vital importance to us, because accessibility is about providing people with what they need when they need it, and not later. Truly creating access for everybody.

Though we have not missed any deadlines outright, the pressure of getting to that finish line has been felt by all corners of the company. In response to these pressures, we foresee not only hiring even more staff in 2024, but also providing further training to existing staff, increasing knowledge of world-leading accessibility standards, and encouraging innovation far beyond them.

Additionally, Direct Access launched our Accessible Media department, a sector of the business that allows us to create accessible products for disabled people, by disabled people. This was not achieved without learning some lessons along the way. Thankfully, our staff managed to rise to the occasion, and in doing so, we have provided Braille, Large print, and sign language services to clients across the UK – with aims to take this young department even further next year.

Second, the many successes!

Despite the influx of logistical issues that come naturally when a business grows, Direct Access managed to hit a milestone this year that many small businesses dream of attaining, which is that we have become a medium-sized business, with both a drive and capability to expand further in 2024.

Internationally, 2023 saw Direct Access welcome a breadth of new clients in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East regions – the majority of which are new-build construction projects that under our close guidance will be ambitious and innovative in their approach to accessibility, drawing inspiration from world-leading accessibility guidance and the increasingly diverse experiences of our disabled team.

So, what were these important projects?

A photograph of a middle aged man wearing a white polo shirt and a hidden disability sunflower lanyard smiles and poses for a picture. His arm is resting on a large structure which reads #COP28UAE

In Europe, Direct Access signed a deal with the United Nations to provide universal design and accessibility consultancy services for the new International Organization for Migration Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the UK, Direct Access worked with the Royal Armouries Group of Museums. A commission that saw us deliver comprehensive accessibility consultations of the White Tower in London, Fort Nelson near Portsmouth, and the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, to increase museum access for people with different types of disabilities. We also worked with several UK public authorities to bring public facilities and buildings up to a world-class standard in Cumbria, Monmouthshire, the Isle of Man, and many more.

In the Middle East, we were the accessibility consultants for Expo City in Dubai assisting them with the hosting of COP-28, undertaking international accessibility standard benchmarking for best-in-class accessibility and providing a point of call for all accessibility queries from all departments. Aside from this, we have signed contracts in the region for projects that we are not yet allowed to speak publicly about.

In the United States, following on from our work for the City of Allen in Texas and Bethel in Vermont, we signed further contracts in McKinney Texas and the entire State of Vermont to ensure the accessibility of public parks, and sports centres, and deliver ADA-compliant accessible housing programmes respectively.

Our list of clients aside, what I as a Director have taken away from 2023 most, however, is the resilience and capability of my team – which at any given time now spans three different continents. It’s a far stretch from our beginnings, where the company employed just two people. To me, it is a testament to our staff’s belief in the core mission of Direct Access, the importance that accessibility and inclusion represent in our world going forward, and their passion for what they do that we have made it this far. I couldn’t be more proud of them.

Of course, none of it would be possible without our clients, whom I would now like to personally thank for believing in us and what we do. I truly hope that anyone who entrusted our team with the responsibility of helping them accommodate people’s differences had a wholly positive experience with us. You were a vital part of our journey in 2023, and a vital stepping stone for what we hope to achieve in 2024 – for ourselves, and people with disabilities all over the world.

We wish all our team members, clients and friends a very happy holiday period.

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