AAT brings British Sign Language to Accountex in UK-first for accessibility

15 May 2024

Group image of attendees at the Acountex London event

In a UK-first, the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) will sponsor British Sign Language interpretation at the world’s largest accounting industry event taking place in London this week.  

The interpreters are part of a new collaboration between the qualifications and skills provider and event organisers that sees AAT named Accountex’s first-ever ‘Accessibility Partner’.

Each year, more than 10,000 accountants, bookkeepers, finance managers and in-house finance professionals from all over the UK descend on East London’s ExCel convention centre for the two-day networking and learning expo. Among them are thousands of small business owners and leading industry vendors, including global software giants such as Xero and Sage.

In addition to a strong CPD and speaker line up, this year’s event will include fiscal heavyweight and former Chancellor of the Exchequer to Theresa May, the Rt Hon Lord Hammond of Runnymede. Thanks to support from AAT, Lord Hammond’s address and the contributions of dozens of other speakers and panellists will be live signed for BSL users – on stage and in the audience.

According to RNID, there are at least 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss –at least 1 in 5 adults. In a new report released just last month, 49% of BSL users reported negative interactions with their colleagues in the last year.  

Accountex panel
Accountex event
Accountex event assistant animal treats group photo

AAT named official Accessibility Partner 

“We are so proud to work with AAT as our first-ever Accessibility Partner on this incredibly important initiative at Accountex. We are thrilled to be able to offer BSL in three of our theatres in London this year, with a view to making more improvements and developments in the future,” said Caroline Hobden, Accountex Portfolio Director.


Caroline Hobden

AAT and Accountex have been working together to identify the accessibility measures that can be implemented this year, including BSL interpretation and refreshment stations featuring water bowls and treats for guide dogs and other assistance animals to be set up away from the crowds. 

Hoben said the organisers have been proactive in previously offering closed loop relay systems for those with hearing aids and will now also be making captioned videos of all presentations available to attendees following the event, in another first for inclusivity.

AAT’s chief executive, Sarah Beale, said she was delighted with the partnership because it was an opportunity for the charity to put its values of openness, inclusion, and accessibility into practical action – making sure AAT and the accounting profession is relevant to all. 

“This new partnership with Accountex brings the first of what I hope will be many more important accessibility measures to come, all with the aim of opening up this incredible, world-class event to our whole professional community in all its wonderful diversity,” said Beale.

Sarah Beale Accountex

“We want to send the message that this is a sector for everyone. What more powerful way to speak up for inclusivity than by helping to ensure those in the deaf and hearing-impaired community who rely on BSL can come along to participate, debate and engage at the world’s largest accountancy event?,” asked Beale.

AAT is the leading professional body for accounting technicians and bookkeepers globally. The charity is one of the UK’s largest providers of accountancy qualifications and skills training, with 70,000 people studying towards AAT’s qualifications and short courses at any one time. AAT is also the voice of more than 50,000 professional members who collectively serve more than half a million small businesses in the UK.

View from the community: Rachel Harris welcomes ‘amazing support’ for BSL

Rachel Harris is a leading figure in the world of accountancy. The entrepreneur built her seven-figure practice alongside her husband in just three years. In 2022, she became the youngest ever trustee to join AAT’s governing council. She is also deaf.

Rachel Harris

"Last year I brought BSL to Accountex London for the very first time. I was joined on stage by my own BSL interpreter, Martin. He helped me bring the show to life. He helped me to make sure the show was as accessible as possible. Since then, many of us have been on a mission to bring more accessibility to accounting conferences across the board."

Writing to her online followers during the recent National Deaf Awareness Week, Harris said: “This year, because of amazing support from AAT, my keynote session at Accountex on Wednesday will be signed live in BSL."

“Thank you to Caroline Hobden, Sarah Beale and everyone at AAT and Accountex for working together on this. This initiative will lower barriers, so more people will be able to engage with the incredible content that we can all expect to see this week.”

“As someone proudly from the deaf and hearing-impaired community, I can say that things like this matter. Action to make finance and accounting inclusive matters. Accessibility matters.”

Accountex also takes place in Manchester. AAT’s new partnership will cover both events, for both this year and 2025, ensuring BSL interpreters and other accessibility measures are taken.