Here's how government can help disabled people in a digital world

A new report confirms that there's been twenty long years of legislation and very little action on the part of the government when it comes to helping disabled people in the UK get equal breaks. Let’s start with the easy steps the government can take that will make a massive impact.

What the report says

The newly published report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) titled 'Disability report: Being disabled in Britain' has clearly outlined that very little progress has being made in the UK over the past two decades. Things are still very challenging for people with disabilities and, in many cases, getting worse.

The report highlights concerns in areas including:

  • A lack of equal opportunities in education and employment
  • Barriers to access to transport
  • Health services and housing
  • The persistent and widening disability pay gap
  • Deteriorating access to justice
  • Welfare reforms significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.young woman sat at laptop looking frustrated

David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said: “This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain.

They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens … We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

What the government can easily do today to help disabled people

This report tells us nothing new – although it does serve the valuable purpose of throwing into stark relief the plight of disabled people in the UK today. People who find it so difficult to get the same breaks as everyone else in these already challenging times.

A recent 5 live interview gave me a very public opportunity to re-emphasise my favourite theme - that the tech of today has the potential to empower everybody, regardless of any disability or impairment they may have, to effectively level the playing field and give everyone the same opportunities to reach their full potential – but only if developers and employers make this possible through inclusive design and practice.

Click the link above to hear it, or see the attached transcript.

Tech can be made inclusive and allow people to use it whatever their particular needs might be. So many of AbilityNet’s factsheets and wide range of disability and tech webinars describe simple adjustments that can help people in education, at home and at work.

And many more of our tech blog posts and articles highlight built-in solutions to everyday tech (such as Siri on the Mac and 9 other simple fixes that will make your life easier and Dyslexic student's top 3 tech hacks to improve grades), as well as the potential of cutting-edge tech to change the lives of disabled people tomorrow (such as Could Microsoft’s in-car AI for driverless vehicles make us all safer and more equal? or Reaching out with your mind - a new age of thought-controlled robotics empowers people with disabilities).

So many developments have happened over the last twenty years, and the pace of progress is showing no signs of slowing.

All that remains to help disabled people to well and truly get on-track, as I said in my 5 live interview, is for people to “Get with the programme”.

Getting with the programme – with a little (make that 'a lot') help from the government

As I outlined in my open letter to the government drafted for Global Accessibility Awareness Day last May, and have reiterated many times since in interviews and articles, it’s well past time for the government to start enforcing their own legislation with regards to digital accessibility.

Inaccessible software, websites and apps are just one small part of the problems that disabled people face in the UK today – but with digital being so central to everyone’s lives, education and employment opportunities, without this vital accessibility we might as well go back to barring people with wheelchairs or babies in buggies from entering every second building in their town or city.

In these virtual buildings of the internet age lie the potential knowledge, hopes, health, wealth and aspirations of disabled people across the UK – and the government is doing nothing ‘on the ground’ to help. For this reason the last twenty years have seen little progress and, in many cases, we’re regressing instead.

Calling on the government to enforce the law

The EHRC report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised, and also to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

Isaac continues: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind ... Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

I agree with the EHRC’s findings and my call is a simple one - and one that might baffle some people as to why it needs to be said at all - government: please start enforcing the law.

man in wheelchair struggling with steps

You’ll have to read the article accompanying my letter to appreciate the numerous and very valid reasons for government to start doing its job.

In essence it boils down to it being as easy as falling off a log to test a website or app for inaccessibility, that fining organisations for non-compliance will have a very significant and immediate effect (especially if fines get ever-bigger the longer the issues remain unaddressed), and that it frankly shouldn’t be the responsibility of disabled individuals to have to take organisations to court.

Should disabled people, currently being permanently robbed of essential life-choices by employers and developers who have never felt the sting of legal consequences, be afforded as much consideration as motorists temporarily robbed of a parking space by someone staying a few minutes over-time on a meter? I’d say they deserve as much consideration – if not a whole lot more.

So, dear government, where are the traffic wardens of the internet?