Why access to assistive technology should be a right for disabled people
Disabled people are twice as likely to be out of work than others. And if they do find a job, gaining access to what they need is often just another barrier. Part of the reasonable adjustments should include adjustive technology and it’s time for access to improve across the workplace and the education sector.
In other words, assistive technology should be seen as a right, not a perk.
What doors can assistive technology open for disabled people?
The types of technological assistance I’m talking about can be absolutely life-changing for disabled people. By giving them fair and equal access to the computer and IT systems we all take for granted, it can completely transform their life at work and at home.
Both Apple and Microsoft do supply some form of assistive tech as part of their operating systems. But they’re basic and do not go far enough by a long way. Beyond adjusting text size and colour, filters and basic speech-to-text tech, this in-built tech isn’t sophisticated enough for many people who are dealing with disabilties.
People are further excluded from the plug-in software necessary to bridge these gaps by its price. The more complex and sophisticated the specialist assistive tech, the higher the price and often the shorter the licence.
Assistive tech as a right rather than a perk
A major report by the Business Disability Forum, Assistive Technology in employment sheds light on the current situation in the UK. By talking to all kinds of stakeholders, from tech specialists to users of accessible tech, the research team show useful data regarding assistive tech.
One of the key findings of the report is something I agree with strongly. That it’s past time to stop looking at assistive technology as a nice perk and instead view it as a right. The report also suggests that assistive tech should be implemented under a model that allows for lifelong provision, and that it should encompass the entire welfare system and education outreach sector.
They suggest using the existent Motability Scheme as a blueprint for the way this could work. This scheme allows disabled people who receive high level benefits due to mobility issues to use these benefits to lease some kind of vehicle. This level of choice should absolutely be available to those who need assistive technology. Not only would it make their everyday life easier, it would also help to close the disability employment gap by giving people access to the tools they need to find work.
Fair and equal access must be available for all
There must also be a sea-change in the Government’s understanding of the importance of assistive tech and benefits in general. The current benefits sanction system demands that disabled people receiving benefits must comply with a reporting system regarding their search for work. If they refuse or they can’t, they can lose the benefits altogether.
This seems to be unjustified and unfair. The standards to which unemployed disabled people must adhere to are extremely high, yet they aren’t helped with the tools they need to make this happen. Instead, the system creates yet more barriers and a two-tier system based on how much money the person has. People with money can afford the tools they need, those without can’t.
Education in general surrounding the tools that are even available must also improve. There are many older disabled people, or people who have developed impairments later in life who don’t even know what’s out there. Instead, they fall through the gaps and miss out on technology that could help them live the life they choose.
More decisive action needed from the UK Government
A Technology for Life model would also consolidate the piece-meal schemes that are currently available in the workplace and the education sector. For example, things like the Disabled Students Allowance and the Access to Work Scheme could be amalgamated, and a more efficient use of benefits rolled out.
Some people would say that the UK is lucky to have any kind of Government assistance, such as Access to Work. However, the report shows that the system is hampered by delays in administration and failures to communicate adequately with employers.
I’d like to see the Government take much more decisive steps towards ensuring accessibility to assistive technology. For example, they could impose mandates on tech giants like Microsoft and Apple to encourage them to up their game and include much more sophisticated tech in their operating systems.
While we wait for this to happen, the only option is to plug the gap with bespoke IT solutions. Employers must accept that it should be an automatic provision for employees, and disabled people should have easy access at home should they want it.