Inaccessible websites keep disabled people out of work, AbilityNet tells government taskforce

AbilityNet has told the UK government that web accessibility, in particular making online job opportunities accessible, is essential if it wants to hit its target of one million more disabled people in employment in the next decade. AbilityNet was asked to give written and verbal input into the government’s Work & Pensions Select Committee’s Assistive Technology Inquiry at the end of January 2018. 

man at work in front of computer screen displaying the word inaccessible

In his written response, AbilityNet’s CEO Nigel Lewis, explained: “Much of recruitment is now online; the problem is that inaccessible websites and online application systems remain a big barrier for disabled people looking for a job. Over 90% of websites, for example, don’t even meet single-A compliance with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) set by the World Wide Web consortium (W3C), whereas the legal minimum is AA (a higher standard than single A and lower than top compliance level AAA).”

Enforcing the law on accessible websites and apps

AbilityNet has previously called on government to enforce the legal requirement for websites and apps to be accessible in accordance with the 2010 Equality Act. In the US, it is becoming more common for companies to be sued for having inaccessible websites. Sadly the trend seems to be going the wrong way - as we recently reported 40% of local council websites are inaccessible to disabled people, an increase from last year's figure of 35%.

“We don't need new laws to help disabled people, but a high-profile shift to enforcement of existing legislation could have a significant impact on the landscape,” said CEO Lewis.

The Inquiry has been set up in light of the government’s commitment to remove barriers to employment for disabled people, following its research finding that one million disabled people are unemployed but want to work. 

Is assistive technology still needed?

AbilityNet’s head of digital inclusion Robin Christopherson (far right in photo) was also called to give evidence to the Inquiry on the 31 January, along with Hector Minto (pictured below in middle), senior technology evangelist at Microsoft. Discussions centred around the role of assistive technology in removing barriers to work for disabled people, and whether the government's Access to Work service is the most effective way of providing access to assistive technology. 

Tracey Johnson, Hector Minto and Robin Christopherson in ParliamentChristopherson told the inquiry that many of the latest smartphones and computers have built-in, free software to assist disabled users and that while assistive technology can be useful still, more education and awareness is needed around what standard devices can do for free using the newest software and artificial intelligence. He highlighted that information on making the most of technology for individual abilities and conditions was freely available on the My Computer My Way website

Inclusion maximises talent

The Select Committee asked Christopherson about Access to Work - a government scheme that provides workplace adaptations for disabled people who are already employed. He says that Access to Work only reaches 25,000 people in the UK - whereas millions are in need of adjustments. It also doesn't support job seekers in the same way as something like Clear Talents, a tool developed jointly with AbilityNet which gives employers and applicants tips and advice on simple changes which will support individual workplace requirements for everyone. 

Hector Minto, who works in accessibility and assistive tech for Microsoft told the Inquiry that Microsoft, Google and Apple, all have a disability answer desk to support people to make simple useful adaptations to their technology. However, he said this service is not being maximised. “We took 400,000 calls last year (on the Microsoft answer desk) yet most Access to Work suppliers are not using them.” The majority of the calls, he said, were from people working on US government and council communications and websites.

An Opinium survey of 4,000 people released in September 2017, commissioned by pan-disability charity Scope, found that when applying for jobs, half of applications result in an interview, compared with 69% for non-disabled applicants. It also found that on average disabled people apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people in their job search.

The Inquiry is still open for those who would like to give their opinion on disability, employment and assistive technology. See the link at the bottom of the blog to contribute to the Inquiry.

Related blogs

Read Robin's earlier blog on what he told the Inquiry: "It's important for individuals to be given a level playing-field"

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Want to have your say on assitive technology and disability in the workplace?

The Inquiry is still open, here. 

* Assistive technology software advisor Tracey Johnson, who also gave evidence, is pictured on the left of the above photo