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Shadow education secretary launches All-Party Parliamentary Group for AT

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 katherine.perry@policyconnect.org.uk.

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.

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Hector Minto is made accessibility evangelist at Microsoft UK

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 (erinwi@microsoft.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.