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MPs call for more support for assistive technology



Work and Pensions Committee report urges government to become a model employer in use of AT

A parliamentary committee has called on the Government to do more to promote the use of assistive technology (AT) to help more disabled people into work.

The Work and Pensions Committee has published a report on AT that says it can help to close the disability employment gap and improve national productivity.

It throws an emphasis on how the technology can greatly help the employment prospects of people currently claiming benefits, and help them to control their home environments when it is integrated with computers, phones and gadgets.

Disabled people and employers have often regarded it as costly, bespoke equipment, but the report says the Government can take action to change this perception and increase the use of AT.

It recommends that the personal independence payments (PIPs) should be opened up for people to buy or lease AT. Currently many disabled people cannot afford even a mainstream laptop or smartphone, which are almost essential in seeking employment, and changing the rules would give them the scope to obtain equipment without an extra cost to the taxpayer.

Government effort

It emphasises the potential of government organisations to promote the effort, advocating a new league table of departments’ adoption of AT to encourage them to improve quickly. Civil Service computer systems are often not fully accessible to AT users despite all departments being signed up to the Disability Confident scheme.

Another recommendation is to create a new AT Grand Challenge under the Government’s Industrial Strategy Fund to promote the development of new equipment, then bring together a consortium of developers, users, employers and support providers to bid for support funding.

The Department for Work and Pensions could also overhaul training for Access to Work staff to get a wider range of people using the technology, ensuring that assessors consistently recommend the latest and best value equipment. It should also encourage local AT support organisations to tender their services via the Flexible Support Fund.

In addition, the report recommends changes in the Disability Confident portal to help employers understand what AT can do and reassure them about concerns in taking on disabled workers.

Frank Field MP (pictured), chair of the committee, said: "Assistive technology could be a real game changer for the UK economy, in many cases at little or even no cost. But DWP must vastly up its own game so that employers and disabled people—in or out of work—are fully able to benefit from all it has to offer.

“If we are finally to make any real progress towards closing the disability employment gap and ending the UK's notorious productivity deadlock, Government must put AT at the centre of its whole approach to supporting disability employment and boosting the economy, from Jobcentre Plus to the Industrial Strategy."

Image by UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0 through Wikimedia

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