MPs find lack of assistive technology bars disabled people from jobs

Written by Gill Hitchcock on 10 September 2021 in News
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Public Accounts Committee calls on DWP to use good-quality diversity data to improve its employment support

Credit: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire/PA Images

Lack of assistive technology is one of the continuing challenges facing disabled people at work, the Public Accounts Committee has said in a report on the Department for Work and Pensions’ employment support.

In the UK there are seven million working-age adults with a disability or long-term health condition, but a little over half are in work.

The workplace technology needs of disabled people may not be complex. They could require simple adjustments to a computer of mobile phone. But they could need expensive assistive technologies, such as a Braille display costing some £5,000.

The government’s National Disability Strategy, published at the end of July, recognised that disabled people lack access to technologies that would benefit them in employment.

It found that some progress had been made. For example, many Jobcentres now have computers with assistive technology to be used by people looking for work.

But good practice had not yet become commonplace, leading to a patchwork of services often not designed around disabled peoples’ needs.

Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at technology at disability charity AbilityNet, said: “Access to Work is the main vehicle by which the government assists disabled people into work. But it only provides support to about 25,000 disabled people while there are millions of disabled people who need its help.

“There’s a lack of awareness of the scheme and it can be very slow and bureaucratic, so that the adjustments people need are many months in coming.”

In its recommendations, the Public Accounts Committee said DWP must obtain good-quality diversity data for all claimants and ensure that its evaluations of all of its employment support programmes include an assessment of the impact for different groups.

Christopherson added: “It’s vital that Jobcentres are able to make a formal assessment of the individual needs of disabled people for assistive technology. Too often the technology needs of disabled people aren’t being met.

“I welcome the goals of the government’s new National Disability Strategy, both to review the Access to Work programme, and to create a new National Assistive Technology Centre designed to address many of these outstanding issues and start to empower disabled employees with the vital solutions they need.”

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