Disabled people who use assistive technology have been forced to quit their civil service jobs because of the government’s failure to deal with their access needs, Disability News Service has been told.
Because security takes priority over every other issue – including access – some disabled civil servants have been prevented from making the individual adjustments they need to use their computers as effectively as their non-disabled colleagues.
This is because of the demands of the government’s secure intranet (GSI), which is run by GCHQ, the government’s communications headquarters.
This has meant that some disabled civil servants have not been able to use essential departmental software, or access the reports and other documents they need to do their jobs.
Civil service sources say it has become increasingly difficult for disabled people to work in some government departments, because of the failure to take accessibility into account when commissioning information and communications technology (ICT) services.
These services are delivered through contracts with private sector companies, which often do not allow assistive software and hardware to be used to improve accessibility.
Some disabled people have been forced to quit their government jobs because the access obstacles were making their work too difficult to carry out.
There are fears that some departments have not carried out thorough equality impact assessments of these private sector contracts, so risking the exclusion of workers who rely on assistive technology to do their jobs.
There are also concerns that the coalition has failed to carry out detailed equality impact assessments of its cross-government intranet security policies, or of the software they commission.
One assistive technology-user said that they met “a brick wall” with their department’s ICT providers, who refused to make the necessary adjustments for them to do their work because it was not part of the contract.
The government department eventually withdrew from the contract and provided the necessary technology, but it took months for that to happen.
One former government employee said: “I think there is a real crisis in the employment of disabled people in government departments, but it is not new. It is a festering cancer. It has been developing for a number of years.”