Stricter enforcement of the Equality Act, better education, and even boycotts of companies and websites are needed to secure better access for disabled people to information and communication technology, according to a leading expert.
Leonie Watson, director of accessibility at the digital agency Nomensa, told a parliamentary seminar – organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the all-party parliamentary disability group – that many disabled people were still being “refused access to the digital world”.
Watson said there was a need to “educate young people in the ways of digital inclusion”, and to challenge producers of new technology “to do a better job”.
She said that more rigorous enforcement of the Equality Act “could make an incredible difference” to digital inclusion, but would probably require government funding.
She added: “We have to lobby for change, and boycott companies and websites that do not take digital inclusion seriously.”
Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion for the disability charity AbilityNet, said information and communication devices were becoming “more powerful and inclusive”.
He said that companies such as Apple that had led the way on inclusive technology had reaped financial rewards, with products such as the iPad and iTouch being bought “en masse” by the education sector in the US because of their inclusivity.
Christopherson, who, like Watson, is blind, said that if it wasn’t for the sort of technology that he demonstrated to the seminar on his iPhone, he would “probably be one of the people who are out of work”, would not have met his wife – who lives near his place of work – and would not have his “two gorgeous children”.
He said: “I would not have literally everything I have got.”
Rory Heap, a member of the disabled experts reference group for the BSI (British Standards Institution), accepted the progress made in inclusive technology, but warned that much of it was out of the reach of many disabled people.
He said: “I believe we live in a world where many, many people, both in-work and out-of-work, are still very seriously excluded by digital progress. Some people do not have £50 a month to pay for an Apple iPhone contract.”
And he warned of the move towards “self-service environments where most devices are touch-screen, without speech output”.
He said it was “really important” to recognise advances in technology but “also recognise that manufacturers are not all like Apple and Panasonic” and that disabled people still need to remind manufacturers, government departments, local authorities and others “that all in the garden is not necessarily rosy and the bits that are not rosy still need to be attended to”.
Meanwhile, a new campaign – Go ON Gold – is aiming to help disabled people access the internet and technology such as smartphones and digital TV.
More than four million disabled people in the UK – an estimated 43 per cent – have never been online, which means more than half of all UK citizens who have never used the internet are disabled people.
Martha Lane-Fox, chair of the new digital inclusion charity Go ON UK, which is supporting the campaign, said: “Full access to the internet can be hugely empowering and even transformative for people with disabilities, whose mobility may be compromised or who lack the resources to get out and about as much as they would like.”
Organisations backing the campaign so far include AbilityNet, RNIB, Disability Rights UK, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.