Tech for Life: Business Disability Forum calls for new model to ease access to assistive technology

Technology should be for life, not just for employment or education. That’s the message from leading disability organisation, Business Disability Forum, who are calling for the introduction of a new ‘tech for life’ model. 

Assistive technology (AT) is popularly used by disabled employees to improve accessibility and productivity in their jobs, but research by Business Disability Forum (BDF) has flagged issues with the schemes putting this support in place and the availability of AT more widely. 

All disabled people should be able to access the AT that can aid their day-to-day lives and allow them to thrive, but currently this isn’t the case.

User experience

BDF has published research on the role of AT in employment, drawing on the experiences of AT users and specialists in the area. The research concluded that assistive tech should be viewed as a lifelong provision rather than as something which is only available to those in education or employment, or those who can afford to buy it themselves. 

The main challenges identified in this research include: outdated equipment being supplied by the Access to Work scheme; AT provided being incompatible with an organisation’s IT infrastructure; lengthy security checks of AT in Civil Service environments; AT not being transferred to home working environments; discrepancies in the assessment and provision of AT when moving from higher education to full-time employment. 

In response to the findings, the organisation is calling for a ‘tech for life’ model to be implemented in a similar way to the Motability Scheme, using a subscription style for AT. 

“Our research shows that we need an entirely new approach to providing assistive technology,” stresses Angela Matthews, the head of policy and research at BDF. 

Inequality

“We heard from many people who could only access the AT they needed during later stages of education (secondary school or university), and others said they took any job to get the technology they needed so that they could then accessibly apply for a job they were actually interested in,” reveals Angela. 

“This makes no sense at all, especially within the context of closing the disability employment gap.” 

Without access to necessary AT, additional barriers to employment are created, rendering schemes like Access to Work redundant for those still on the job hunt. 

“Access to assistive tech should be about improving people’s lives throughout their lives, whatever they choose to do in their lives. This is why we are calling for the introduction of a ‘tech for life’ model which is available to all disabled people, regardless of their work or education status.”

Solution 

The proposed ‘tech for life’ model would better support people in education and employment, but also encompass the wider disabled community in the provision of equipment. 

The model isn’t just about AT or workplace solutions, it looks at using a holistic approach to supporting each individual’s needs and what would help them thrive. It would also see the same system used through education into employment, instead of switching from Disabled Students Allowance to the Access to Work scheme for AT. 

Along with innovative solutions, the model calls on more government support to develop technology and innovations in support. 

This would encompass more inclusive IT structures, particularly in the Civil Service, developing and funding more AT, and promoting AT as a whole organisation strategy rather than an add-on for certain employees. 

Your voice 

BDF’s ‘tech for life’ model has received the backing of AT users and technology specialists. The organisation is now working with its technology taskforce and technology providers to take this idea forward. 

As BDF campaigns for this change, they want to hear what Enable readers think. 

You can read the full report here and share your thoughts with BDF on social media @DisabilitySmart

Get the latest news and discussions by following Enable on social media, TwitterFacebook or Instagram.