Steven Mifsud interviewed for the 20th anniversary of Direct Access

Celebrating 20 years as Director of Direct Access, Marketing Executive and Accessible Media Consultant Michael Miller interviewed our Group CEO Steven Mifsud MBE about the company’s history which now spans a generation, and what the future holds for the award-winning accessibility consultancy.

Hi Steven! Firstly, congratulations on Direct Access finally hitting twenty. How does it feel, after all this time, to have shepherded the business from your old bedroom to a team with several offices across the world?

Honestly, I’d stop to pinch myself if I had the time! But we’ve been so full-steam ahead since going international, as you know. So…who knows when I’ll stop to actually process it all? I never would have imagined getting an MBE, let alone Direct Access endure for as long as it has, yet here we are.

What are your business priorities for this year and next? 

Our primary business priority has remained the same since we started, which is to provide accessibility expertise rooted in the lived experience of people with disabilities to the broadest possible amount of people.  

In terms of what that might look like this year and into next year, we intend to build on our recent successes in Europe and the Middle East to expand our international portfolio even further. 

Along with that, we hope to hire young, talented accessibility consultants and auditors within these territories who are familiar with local practices, which will help us keep our finger on the pulse of local best practice and deliver the highest-quality consultancy service that we possibly can.

What’s your ultimate ambition for your business? 

Direct Access is proudly a DOBE (Disability Owned and Operated Business Enterprise). We wear that as a badge of honor, because we want to create a better world for people like us. 

Whereas 20 years ago, our ability to achieve that goal was limited by a lack of manpower, meaning we could only deliver accessibility audits on a local level, we have steadily started to grow internationally – we also offer other key services, including designing, manufacturing, and delivering accessible products, which we believe have the power to change lives for the better.  

Looking at our current team, I see no roof in terms of what Direct Access can achieve. I certainly envision, (and of course, hope) that we will become synonymous with accessibility consultancy as more and more businesses begin to pay attention to what their customers want, which is an inclusive, welcoming experience in every environment, be that in a physical space or the digital realm.

What are the key things you’ll need to achieve your ambitions? 

As alluded to earlier, achieving our goals means hiring the best talent we can find to create our products and deliver access consultancy. Having a strong team behind me is ultimately what has made Direct Access the company that is today, so I certainly see us hiring more staff to accommodate the growing demand for our services.  

And believe it or not, doing that is easier said than done. What Direct Access does is very niche and specific, since not everybody has such a profound understanding of trends in accessibility, the capabilities of technology to be used in service of creating inclusion, or even just the history of legislation surrounding what we do. So to get that on an international level with all the nuances of local cultural norms in places like the Middle East will be required.

What are your people priorities for the next 12 months? 

Direct Access makes it our business to improve the social perception of disabled people, so bringing on more disabled people to our team is an active consideration and priority for us.  

As part of what we do, we also like to encourage clients to provide adjustments to the workplace that suit the needs of disabled people, normalizing the consideration of their unique perspective.  

We also ensure that employers are not biased towards or against disabled people, and offer services such as inclusivity training to staff, which makes disabled people feel safe applying for jobs they may otherwise not consider because their needs might not be met or understood.  

We are all about people at Direct Access, it’s in the DNA of what we do, so making sure our current and future staff are well-equipped to do their jobs remains one of our main priorities.

Are you looking for funding or considering M&A over the next year or so? 

At the moment, we are not looking at merging or making acquisitions of other businesses, but never say never. My focus at the moment is making sure that our day-to-day practices and client portfolio expansion remain a well-oiled accessibility machine. That might change at some point, but that’s not a current goal of ours. 

Do you have any priority sustainability initiatives within your business this year? Or any long- term commitments? 

Well, when a company works with Direct Access, we always try to enable organizations to take vital steps toward meeting their social, economic, and environmental impact goals. 

Sustainability is ultimately at the heart of Direct Access and everything that we do. Our accessibility consultancy and services provide the requisite deliverables to achieving SDG #4, #8, #10, and #11 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, drawing on the principles of universal design as well. 

So in summary, we want to prioritize economic growth, inclusive and equitable quality education, promotion of life-long learning opportunities, reduce inequality for minority groups including disabled people, and work to make built environments inclusive, safe, and sustainable.

What do you do to ensure innovation in your organization? 

Innovation is necessary in our line of work because accessibility is ever-flowing and ever-changing. What counted as accessible fifty years ago doesn’t necessarily meet requirements today. But we see that as a good thing because it speaks to a growing understanding of people with disabilities and our challenges.  

In terms of innovation, we are always trying to push our clients across that boundary to consider what is best practice, not just what your local legislation demands of you.  

For instance, we recently introduced an entirely new team and division of the company in the Direct Access Accessible Media department, who work out of the Media Innovation and Centre Here, the team creates innovative new products that go beyond the requirements of legislation and compliance to offer best-practice, truly inclusive experiences through the power of technology. 

Today, that division’s roster of accessible media services includes 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 DA 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. We’re incredibly proud of it.

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