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Assistive Technology Week: Why AT is critical in getting disabled people into work

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The British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) gave evidence earlier this year to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into assistive technology. The inquiry is about the role all types of assistive tech can play in removing barriers to work and helping disabled people stay in employment. Our submission, along with those of other organisations has now been published on the Committee’s website.

Assistive technology is a critical element in enabling more disabled people to get into work and to close the long-standing employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.

BATA welcomed last year’s Green Paper on Work, Health and Disability but believes much more could be done to harness the enabling power of assistive technology than at present.

The UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticised what it described last year as the failure of the UK government to recognise the rights of disabled people to live independently in the community. Ensuring that well-designed and effective assistive technology is readily available to disabled people who are increasingly being asked to find work, would go a long way to countering the UN’s criticism.

While Access to Work is a powerful enabler for disabled people in the workplace, the grant scheme requires a radical overhaul to reduce bureaucratic delays and make assessments less threatening. The scheme is still not widely known about among employers, so a determined programme of promotion is vital in raising awareness. BATA would also recommend an end to the £42,000 cap which disadvantages a small minority of applicants.

Disabled people would also benefit if they were able to take equipment and software with them when they move job to make the move as seamless as possible. The current situation whereby the employer is the notional owner of their employee’s personal assistive technology makes no sense.

In the same vein, more could be done to ease the move from education into work, with students being able to take the technology they are familiar with at school or university with them into work.

Assistive technology could be much more affordable for employees if the rules governing the zero rating for VAT of goods designed for disabled people were clarified. The British Assistive Technology Association has worked with HMRC to update current guidelines to reflect changes in technology and to extend the concession to include more recent mobile technologies, but these have yet to be published.

Assistive technology must be applied sensitively and be available to all employees wherever possible to ensure that those who need AT can use it without marking themselves out as different: one reason many disabled people are reluctant to identify themselves as needing assistance. Ubiquitous assistive technology has been shown to improve productivity for all employees.

Many disabled employees are hampered in work by the inaccessibility of the digital services they use and although accessibility of online services is required under the Equality Act, little has been done to enforce the law. 

Although the Disability Confident campaign has been effective, many employers are still unwilling to make the reasonable adjustments required under the Equality Act. They are being short sighted since a diverse workforce is likely to be at once both multi-talented and more productive than a traditional one.

In future that technology is likely to play an even more important role in enabling disabled people to work. People with sensory and physical impairments could benefit greatly from the development of robotics, artificial intelligence and driverless vehicles. The Government should do all it can to ensure the development of these technologies benefits disabled people by supporting research and development in these areas and aiding the development of a UK assistive technology industry.


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