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There has been a big downturn in the number of students applying for Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) following the introduction of a £200 levy towards the cost of equipment.
And new research by BATA, published in a report entitled The Negative Impact on Disabled Students of the Introduction of a £200 Levy on Disabled Student Allowances, points to that fact that many students fail to apply for the grant because they struggle to pay the charge.
During the period between July 2015 and June 2016, government statistics show there was a 21% decrease in the number of students taking up their grant for equipment, despite a 10% increase in the number of student assessments for those seeking DSAs.
As many as 10,000 students may not have taken up their equipment grant and the only significant change to the provision of DSAs during that time was the introduction of the £200 contribution.
The Department for Education acknowledges the fall but says there is no evidence that the £200 charge is responsible.
It argues that all students require a computer and DSAs are only designed to offset the additional expense of the equipment for those who need it. Hence the £200 levy.
“Increasingly, standard software packages have assistive solutions included. This includes speech to text capability in Microsoft Office 365, which the vast majority of students can access at no cost to them,” wrote Universities Minister Jo Johnson in response to enquiries by BATA members.
“It is possible that students decide that this meets their needs and that they already have a suitable computer, and they therefore decide not to order any further equipment as they would need to pay a £200 contribution towards new hardware.”
However, a survey of some 800 students by BATA this summer shows that a significant number of them cite affordability as the reason for not taking up their equipment, or for delaying their application.
The survey found that 10% of surveyed students had not paid their £200 contribution and 69% of those who had not paid said they could not afford to do so.
Additionally, 30% of those who did pay took more than one month to do so, due to affordability, while 42% of respondents said the contribution negatively impacted their learning.
“When you are already struggling to pay for university, have to pay £9,000 per year, and attempting to afford the living costs of London, this is an absolute struggle to pay the contribution,” said one respondent.
“This is a large cost for a disabled person to pay, just to assist their own learning.”
BATA strongly disputes the need for the charge and the argument that students can use off-the-peg software.
“Not all students own a laptop, therefore it is not standard mainstream cost for all students, says the report.
“More importantly, a student without a learning difficulty can easily cope with the IT service provided by the higher education institution; however this is simply not the case for students with specific learning difficulties or disabilities.”
On the software issue BATA argues “tools provided by Microsoft are very basic and not suitable to support students that in many cases have complicated needs.”
Assistive technology (AT) organisations have backed efforts to set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Assistive Technology composed of MPs with an interest in tech for disabled people.
Over 20 representatives recently attended a meeting in Manchester addressed by shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, whose son is vision impaired. The event was hosted by Inclusive Technology, which was also celebrating its 20th anniversary in business.
The APPG will provide a forum to consider some of the “burning issues” in AT. It will hold four high-level meetings per year in the Palace of Westminster, publish a newsletter for MPs and run a website and other social media.
“I have a son who is registered blind,” said Rayner. “His outlook is so much better because of the work (in AT) you are doing. I am committed to ensuring that everyone who needs it gets that support.”
The APPG is now looking to recruit MPs including Speaker John Bercow, Paul Maynard and Nicola Blackwood, currently minister for public health and innovation at the Department of Health.
“Members of the group will be advocates in Parliament to help us, they will act as ambassadors in their constituencies and also raise awareness of what we do,” said Phil Woolas, a trustee of the Ace Centre, who chaired the meeting, “We invite any parliamentarians who want to get involved to get in touch.”
Attendees made a wide variety of suggestions for topics for the APPG to tackle including access to augmentative and alternative communications, the need to quantify savings from AT, the lack of a national technology strategy, development of the AT workforce, the need for better research and the problem of financing AT.
A not-for-profit social enterprise, Policy Connect, which is led by former government minister, Jonathan Shaw, has already been appointed as secretariat thanks to funding from Inclusive Technology.
Inclusive Technology’s joint founder Martin Littler appealed for other companies to join him in backing the APPG financially. Further information is available from the APPG’s manager Katherine Perry.at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Littler was also celebrating his company’s 20th anniversary and recent receipt of a Queen’s Award for Industry. Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, Anna Reeves, presented Littler with an inscribed cut glass bowl from the Queen to mark the Award for Export.
Microsoft has appointed an assistive technology specialist to head its accessibility activities in the UK.
Hector Minto, formerly of BATA member Tobii Technology, has been made Senior Technology Evangelist (Accessibility) at the company, a new role for the UK.
Based at Microsoft’s UK headquarters in Reading, Minto is tasked with improving the employment opportunities of disabled people both within the company and among its customers.
He will also be working on policy, ensuring that Microsoft meets its legal and regulatory obligations.
“Another part of my job is to create a contact point for accessibility in Microsoft. In the past it has been hard to know where to contact us, if you are a developer,” he says.
Erin Williams (email@example.com), Senior Supportability Product Manager, is the link for AT companies, says Minto.
“We want the AT industry to know where we are going: the sheer scale of the opportunity is bigger than we know.
“We need to have a symbiotic relationship that draws on the innovation of AT developers. Microsoft certainly doesn’t own accessibility.”
One of the reasons he was recruited, says Minto, is for his commercial background in AT. “We’ll have someone who knows what it takes to make a system work, to count the cost of sale and is able to get the message out.”
Minto’s CV reads like a roll call of the assistive technology industry. He began his career at speech specialist Toby Churchill before moving on to sensory company Spacekraft and then Possum Controls, the environmental control firm, where he created a new image for the company.
Next stop was eyegaze at Tobii Dynavox and then Tobii Technology. At Tobii Dynavox he developed the successful ‘EyeGaze Learning Curve’ which allows people with profound disabilities the opportunity to start using AAC at a much earlier stage.
The following letter from executive director John Lamb imvites disabled students to take part in a survey of their opinions about changes to the way they receive assistive technology. Please pass the link on to students that you know:
In recent years there have been some changes in how equipment is provided to students in receipt of the Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA). One of the main changes is the requirement to contribute £200 towards the cost of equipment if a computer forms part of the recommendations. Computers and equipment are normally provided through specialist suppliers known as Assistive Technology Service Providers (ATSPs). In order to understand the impact of these changes from the student perspective the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) has compiled a survey to gather the thoughts and opinions of affected students.
Your opinion is incredibly important to BATA who will use the information collected to help advise government departments and other interest groups on how best to serve the needs of students in receipt of DSA. Bearing this in mind BATA would be grateful if you could take 5-10 minutes of your time to complete the the survey shown in the link below. Please rest assured that any information you provide will be treated in the strictest confidence and you will not be contacted in relation to any of your answers unless you provide permission to do so.
Please click on the following link to access the survey: http://goo.gl/forms/jXljr1uH9UflZ1qp2
As a thank you for taking the time to complete this survey you will be entered into a free prize draw to win an iPad. The closing date for completing the survey is Wednesday 31st August.
For and on behalf of BATA
British Assistive Technology Association
BATA is going to set up a YouTube channel in conjunction with our new website. The YouTube Channel will consist of videos supplied by our members that showcase assistive technology and services.
In preparation for the launch of the channel we will be building up a catalogue of videos and we will need your help in producing them. Contributed content will be uploaded to the YouTube channel over a period of time to create a unique, dynamic resource.
We will also create our own content and there will be further additional ways you can get involved. This will be BATA members’ channel. and it will be actively promoted to the wider public.
If you are interested in this exciting new development contact Sarah-Jane ( Channel Director) with any additional questions about the content and quality . There are guidelines available about what kind of content: click on this link to download a copy ( please read before contacting Sarah)
Mobile phones and computers will be free of VAT if they are preloaded with software designed solely for the use of disabled people, says HMRC.
The decision follows lengthy discussions between BATA and HMRC and a VAT tribunal that found in favour of AT solutions provider Iansyst.
At present only old-style desktop systems with processor, keyboard and monitor are able to be zero-rated.
Iansyst argued that its Capturatalk literacy support software supplied with a mobile phone was designed solely for disabled people and should be zero-rated even if it could be used by non-disabled people.
“We find that, looking at the package as a whole at the time of supply, the supply of a mobile device with Capturatalk pre-installed would meet the requirements of a piece of equipment designed solely for use by a handicapped person, and should therefore be zero-rated for VAT purposes,” the tribunal ruled..
“This is a breakthrough decision,” said BATA executive director John Lamb. “We are seeking clarification whether the ruling also applies to tablets.”
HMRC recommends suppliers obtain a declaration of eligibility from each disabled person that they supply systems to.
In time the current ‘zero-rating of central processor’ and ‘composite rate of VAT computer systems’ will be phased out.
Here is the text of an email dated July 15 from Michelle Stokell, Charities Senior VAT Policy Adviser at HMRC:
I have been considering your further representations and the decision of the tribunal in the Iansyst Limited case, which I believe you were involved in.
HMRC will now accept that mobile phones and computers that are pre-loaded with software that is designed solely for use by disabled people are zero-rated when they are sold to disabled people for their personal and domestic use.
We recommend that suppliers obtain a written eligibility declaration from each disabled person to whom they sell a zero-rated product that is designed solely for use by a disabled person.
The suggested template for this can be found on the Government website at:
The declaration should be retained, along with any other evidence to support the zero-rating, as part of the suppliers’ VAT records.
As we are now accepting that computers that are pre-loaded with software that is designed solely for use by disabled people fit within the requirements of the existing Schedule 8 (Zero-Rating) of the VAT Act, we will be withdrawing the extra statutory concessions on the ‘zero-rating of central processor’ and ‘composite rate of VAT computer systems’ in due course.
I hope that I have been able to address your main concerns.
8 June 2016, University of Salford, Manchester
BATA rate: £199 + VAT
Delegates attending The Future of Assistive Technology Summit and Exhibition will learn about the issues surrounding AT, its role in increasing inclusivity in employment, education and socialising, and how government, businesses, educators and charities can help to boost use and innovation in this important sector.
Join us for The Future of Assistive Technology Summit and Exhibition, where high level speakers from government, charities, technology innovators, and academia will be presenting their views on the way that AT can have a positive impact on both individuals, families and society as a whole. Topics covered will include the role that AT can play in improving access to employment, education and health benefits, and enriching everyday life.
What you will learn from attending?
If you wish to secure your place at the member rate of £199 + VAT (usually £325 + VAT) please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Government wants to know what assistive technology people are using to access GOV.UK, its single portal for government services.
The Government Digital Service (GDS) is conducting a survey to find out what devices users have, the sort of assistive software they have got, and which web browser they use.
“Your answers will help us ensure your software continues to work with our website and digital services,” says the GDS.
Assistive technology does not leave any traces on the portal, so GDS has no idea what technology is being employed to access GOV.UK.
“The results will help us find areas we need to focus on, for example, the most popular screen reader and version. This will help us make GOV.UK continue to work for those users, and tell us how far we need to go back to support older versions,” explains GDS.
Anyone who uses assistive technology to access GOV.UK should respond. Typical types of technology include:
The survey also gives those who respond the opportunity to tell GDS about any accessibility barriers they experience when using GOV.UK.
The International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) is offering a certificate in accessibility with exams for UK candidates available in London on 22 June and 7 July.
The IAAP Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies (CPACC) credential is IAAP’s foundation certificate, covering the practical application of cross-disciplinary knowledge about disabilities, accessibility, universal design, aaccessibility-related standards, laws, and management strategies.
The CPACC, says the IAAP, is the ideal credential for those who manage and support accessibility, but who may not personally design, implement, or evaluate the technical details of accessible solutions.
“This certification is a great step forward in helping professionalise the accessibility profession. It’ll provide accessibility professionals with a credential as evidence of their commitment and competence, increasing quality and consistency of work performed and will help build a common language, understanding and community across accessibility professionals,”. says Paul Smyth, Head of IT Accessibility at Barclys.
“As accessibility becomes increasingly important for organisations, employers will have a means to assess the accessibility competence of prospective employees too. A big thanks to AbilityNet, Lloyds and BATA who have all helped to bring this certification to the UK and promote its value.”
The deadline to register for this testing window is Tuesday, June 7, 2016. When your registration is complete, you will receive a confirmation email. If you do not receive this email, it means your registration is not complete.
BATA memberr Inclusive Technology has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its success in exporting around the world.
The Oldham, Lancashire-based company, founded by BATA founder Martin Littler and two colleagues in 1996, received the award after signing up 25,000 paying subscribers for its HelpKidzLearn online learning service.
Inclusive Technology develops accessible software for children with severe learning disabilities or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC).
The company supplies the alternative keyboards, joysticks, rollerballs, switches, touch screens and eye-gaze systems used by learners with these complex disabilities.
As well as stocking and supplying assistive technology, the firm is involved in the design and specification of technology, investing time, market knowledge and, sometimes cash for tooling.
But Inclusive Technology’s big overseas success has been the HelpKidzLearn service and its accompanying iPad apps.
For five years HelpKidzLearn was a free service attracting over 500,000 users. Then in 2012 Inclusive Technology put up a paywall round 90 learning activities and the following year added ChooseIt!Maker3 which allows teachers to create individual learning activities for each child.
HepKidzLearn contributes just over 20% of Inclusive Technology’s sales compared with hardware which accounts for more than 50%. However, HelpKidzLearn is growing much more rapidly.
“All the people who work here are ever so proud,” said Martin.” It’s fantastic, the award recognises the huge contribution that the whole British assistive technology industry has made during the past 40 years.”
Martin believes the award will broaden awareness of HelpKidzLearn especially in the US. “We can use the (Queen’s Award) logo for five years on our website and catalogues. Interest in our royalty in the US often seems bigger than in the UK.
“There are really only two nations involved in AT products: the US and the UK. We tend not to compete with the US. American stuff is really good at getting people back into employment, while we are better at the really complex end such as switch accessible software.”
Of course the US has helped us by leading the way in legislation that ensures complete access to buildings. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which grew out of the need to help veterans, served as a model for our own disability discrimination legislation.”
Inclusive Technology and HelpKidzLearn have customers in 59 countries and contacts in 149. Their strategy is to use a database of 120,000 registered contacts to engage key opinion formers and local distributors.
There is little problem in convincing people about the benefits of assistive technology, says Martin.
“When you’ve got a four-year-old who is as bright as a button, but has no means of expressing themselves and you give them that ability, no one who sees it would doubt (AT’s) usefulness for a second.”
“The problem is to understand what help the child needs in the first place.”
And Martin’s advice to other assistive technology companies looking to sell products and services abroad?
“Have something online, have something niche so you don’t have to be huge, just good. Use the web and social media to build interest and be good enough at it to attract customers.
“Inclusive Technology had to invest considerable time and money in building and maintaining its service. The initial development took a lot of money and people to do that.
“But it has saved us money too. We don’t have to provide CDs or as many printed catalogues.”
Martin says the process of applying for the award involved over 40 hours of form filling, but it was worth it.
Now his 25-strong company faces a round of ceremonies, starting at Buckingham Palace and ending up with a presentation by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester in front of an audience of school children.
A research survey to discover how much revenue UK businesses are losing due to disabled customers finding their websites inaccessible, has been launched today by industry experts.
The internet has revolutionised the way that consumers shop. However, the research will uncover just how well companies design their websites to cater for disabled consumers.
Many disabled shoppers face problems when using websites that have not been specially designed to be accessible to everyone. This may include people with sight impairments, individuals who experience difficulties when using a mouse or keyboard and people who need to use specialist software.
If businesses fail to consider these access needs when designing their websites they are likely to be difficult, if not impossible, to use. When faced with problems using a website, disabled shoppers typically take their business elsewhere.
The Click-Away Pound survey has been commissioned and designed by Brighton-based Rick Williams, Managing Director of specialist disability consultancy Freeney Williams and associate of Business Disability Forum (BDF), in partnership with IT accessibility specialist Steve Brownlow of Frabjous Day.
“As a visually impaired person, I use assistive technology, which is good, but companies need to think about how my specialist kit works with their website. They often don’t. I use the internet a lot to shop but will typically have to try a number of sites before I find one I can actually use. This means the first few have lost my business,” said Rick Williams.
“After 20 years of the Disability Discrimination Act, most high street stores understand they need to take into account the needs of their disabled shoppers. But many appear to have overlooked how to make their online presence more accessible.”
The Click-Away Pound survey follows on from the recent Walk Away Pound report by the Business Disability Forum (BDF) and the Extra Costs Commission (ECC), which found that at a cost to business of £1.8bn per month, 75% of disabled customers had ‘walked away’ from a retailer’s premises because they did not cater adequately for them.
The Click-Away Pound survey represents the next generation of research designed to inspire positive change among UK businesses as they shift more and more to selling goods and services online.
Rick Williams is now using his personal and professional expertise to show to business what they are missing out online. He added:
“Of the websites assessed by Freeney Williams over the past 5 years, over 70% have been assessed as ‘red’ on our traffic light system. This means they expose the business to significant reputational and legal risk – not to mention losing customers!
“We will use the research findings to persuade business this is an increasingly important issue for them. If the law doesn’t persuade them to do things differently and think about disabled shoppers, perhaps the bottom line will.
“We want as many disabled online shoppers as possible to go to the website www.clickawaypound.com and take part in this survey. We expect the results will play a key role in improving business’ approach to this issue.”
Susan Scott Parker, Honorary Vice President and Founder of Business Disability Forum and now CEO at Business Disability International said:
“This is one area many businesses seem to struggle with. This survey will demonstrate what we’ve known for many years. Businesses ignore disabled shoppers at the risk of their bottom line and damage to their PR. Why would anyone do that?”
In developing this research, Freeney Williams is being supported by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Business Disability Forum, Business Disability International and the Royal National Institute of Blind People.