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Accessible IT in the workplace

Identifying the barriers

For a significant proportion of people, as many as 1 in 5, the barriers to accessing workplace systems are so great that they need extra help.

Although disability takes many forms and covers a wide range of impairments, up to half of all workers may experience a degree of difficulty in using IT and need some assistance.

Some companies view accessibility as almost a necessary evil, which they pay lip service to, so that they satisfy legal requirements. But they are missing a huge opportunity to employ, motivate and retain all staff, and to attract and retain customers. Reasonable adjustments break down barriers to employment and make everyone’s life easier, not just those with a disability.

Removing barriers to work for disabled people is a key aim of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign, and understanding the benefits of an accessible workplace, whatever the size of your business, can help you recruit and retain disabled people.

Taking solutions seriously

Organisations that take IT accessibility seriously stand to gain in a number of ways.

Firstly, they will make it easier to recruit and retain people, especially older and disabled staff who may encounter problems with IT, but bring a huge wealth of skills and experience to a business.

Secondly, companies will open up more of their goods and services, particularly those that are web-based, to a wider market, worth around £240bn per year.

Finally, it will ensure that the business is operating within the law.

So how can we do this? The task is huge!

Where to start

Quite often, companies just don’t know where to start, but like any problem, break it down into manageable chunks. Some will be quick wins, some will take a little time, but all will help. If you have the budget, but not the in-house skills, then a consultant can help you to understand how to target your efforts.

For smaller companies, and those without the budget for this, here are some tips on where to start:

Policy: An accessibility policy is central to creating awareness of accessibility issues and in guiding the actions of staff.

Management: Managers are critical to creating and driving policies and procedures to make the workplace accessible. Get them on board.

Training: There are many types of disability confidence training: 1-1, 1-group, and web-based flexible solutions. All have their place.

Standards: International standards are available to help developers. More are on their way. Use hardware and software products that promote disability access.

Consolidation: Encourage people who may need help with IT to come forward by appointing an accessibility officer.

Enable: IT departments love to lock down systems, but employees should be able to make adjustments to their systems without having to talk to the boss or involve IT specialists.

Consultation: Ensure that people with disabilities are involved in all design activities, starting at the concept stage and going on through all phases of development.

Purchasing: Specify to your suppliers that accessibility is a priority and include accessibility as a requirement in all systems you buy.

Further information

For more on how to create an accessible workplace, visit the Disability Confident LinkedIn page.

Antony Ruck

Chair, British Assistive Technology Association

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How changes to DSA will impact students

Yesterday’s DSA Student

  1. I have to work harder than non-disabled students which means I rely more on university support and have to spend more time working at home too.
  2. I received fantastic support to help me overcome the challenges of my disability and some of the restrictions caused by this extra work.
  3. I had my needs assessed and a personalised package of solutions was identified which meant I got help with:
  4. a laptop with specialist technologies  specifically chosen to support my needs, all installed and ready to go.
    1. a digital voice recorder which helped me record lectures and seminars.
    2. a printer/ scanner helped me work more easily at home and avoid noisy university libraries.
    3. a trainer came to teach me about the specialist software and make sure I knew how it can help me deal with the impacts of my disability.
    4. a study skills worker helped me understand which coping strategies would help me overcome my difficulties, I missed a couple of sessions because my disability affects organisation but they were always able to help me improve and make sure I’m ready for work.
  5. I finished uni with a degree  in Materials Science, I now work at Rolls-Royce on their engineering team. I get a lot of money taken off my payslip in tax but I think about the support I had and understand where it goes to.

Today’s DSA Student

  1. I have to work harder than non-disabled students too but my university doesn’t support me as much as my friends’ uni support him and we have the same disability, they say it’s because they spend the money in different ways but this doesn’t help me.
  2. I received support too, but I had to pay £200 to access the system and get the laptop, my friend didn’t pay this, but he’s at that other university
  3. I had a personalised needs assessments too, but I couldn’t get some of the stuff I need:
    1. the software I normally use I couldn’t get, even though I paid £200, and I got cheaper software I’ve never seen before, and I’m slow using it, I felt I was running fast sometimes just to stand still.
    2. I couldn’t get a recorder either, they wanted me to use my phone, but I don’t have the memory on the phone to store all these recordings and the battery kept running out.
    3. Neither did I get a printer/scanner so I can’t do course work as much and feel I’m not productive sometimes; they said I should go to the library more, but I live away from uni and travel is difficult.
    4. A trainer came to teach me and I was hoping this other software was similar to the type I’m normally used to using, but it wasn’t. I ran out of time with the trainer and it was so difficult getting more hours that I thought I’d just stick with the little I know. SFE said I would have to pay for any sessions I missed which scared me out of going ahead and asking for more help.
    5.  I had a study skills worker too, he was very good, but after I missed a couple of sessions they said I had to fill in lots of forms and I didn’t really understand what I needed to do, in what order and when and to whom. I ended up not taking any more help which stopped me getting employment ready.
  4. I finished uni too, I finished in the second year because it was too much so I never got a degree. I’m not sure what I want to do, I should have spent that £200 on an online learning course. I’m working at a local shop until I figure out what to do next. At least I don’t pay a lot of tax on my payslip but I could do with earning more.

Examples provided by Chris Quickfall of eQuality Learning.

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Quizzed in the Commons by disabled young people

BATA was one of a number of organisatiions called on by MP Paul Maynard, founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disabled Young People, to discuss how disabled young people can get better access to assistive technology.

The meeting marked the publication of a report called Switched-On, based on interviews with 100 young people, and published by Trailblazers, part of Muscular Dystrophy UK.

The report revelaed that assistive technology can greatly reduce the social isolation of young disabled people, while improving confidence, wellbeing and independence.

“Through powerchairs that provide access to the outside world, computer technology that provides a gateway to the online world, and communication aids that quite literally provide a voice, assistive technology has the power to transform the lives of young disabled people,” said the report.

“Yet despite this, young disabled people struggle to find out what assistive technology may be available to them and how to get it. The assessment process is often complex, time consuming, stressful and unaffordable. Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers believe this needs to change.”

Gadgets such as adapted smartphone controls, equipment to manage home environment and voice recognition and eye-reading technology, remain financially out of reach for too many young people with three quarters saying they don’t have the assistive technology they need because they can’t afford it.

The report  found that young disabled people are struggling to find out about technology that could make a difference to their lives, with no single source of information on assistive apps, gadgets, hardware and software available.

It found that of the young people involved in the investigation:

  • Three-quarters do not have the assisted technology they need because they cannot afford it
  • A third felt isolated because of a lack of assistive technology
  • Three in four said technology helped them with daily activities at home
  • Fifty percent said assistive technology helped them with education

Trailblazers called on the Government, the NHS and technology firms to look at ways of making life-enhancing technology more affordable; and to help young disabled people find out about what is available for them.

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AT champions recognised in New Year’s honours list

BATA council member Sal Cooke has been awarded an OBE for services to further education accessibility and inclusion.

Sal has taught in schools and in further and higher education institutions.In the early 1980s, she was seconded as the curriculum manager for the Yorkshire and Humber regional centre where she was to introduce technology to the curriculum of further education colleges as technology moved from the BBC computers to the first PCs.

As a result of the success of this project, Sal was seconded to Becta and subsequently other organisations, where she worked with partners such as the BBC, the funding councils and the Learning & Teaching Subject Network (a precursor of the Higher Education Academy).

This led to her working at the Department of Education and Skills as an adviser where she was integral to the creation of the e-learning strategies in higher and further education.

In 2000 Sal was asked to sit on one of the Jisc committees and took a lead role in the formation of the Jisc Regional Support Centres and was chair of their UK board for the first three years.

Sal became the director of Jisc TechDis, the Jisc advisory service that provided advice on technologies for inclusion. She stepped down when Techdis was absorbed into Jisc at the end of 2014. Sal is also a serving trustee of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Other accessibility campaigners honoured in the New Year’s honours list include Graeme Whippy, senior manager, group disability programme, Lloyds Banking Group for services to people with dementia and disabilities. Graeme is  responsible for digital accessibility at the bank.