In our increasingly digital self-service economy technology now dominates shopping, entertainment, work and communication, as well as citizenship itself, but age and disability are barring people from full participation. Organisations like AbilityNet, Go ON UK and its disability focused partner, Go ON Gold, are making great strides to close the gap between the computer literate and the technologically disenfranchised, but the gulf is wider than that.
AbilityNet’s new digital inclusion strategy ‘Mind the Digital Gap’ looks at the obstacles faced by the huge numbers of people who struggle to use digital technologies that are badly designed and just don't meet their needs. AbilityNet believes that we urgently need to recognise the social and economic costs of this digital gap, and identify clear actions to begin closing it.
The strategy was launched at the House of Commons on 21 November at a reception hosted by Anne McGuire MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People. It calls for better design practices through implementing user-focused testing at all stages of the design of digital systems (rather than relying on post-hoc accessibility checks).
AbilityNet urges those who commission and build online services, operating systems and digital devices (whether business, government or third sector) to put a user-centred approach at the heart of the design process. The strategy also proposes tax incentives to promote inclusive design, closer partnerships between business and other sectors and a commitment to embed inclusive design at all levels of professional design education.
AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis says it's time to change how we design and deliver inclusive digital systems:
"For too long the debate about accessibility has focused on issues that are specific to disabled people, but testing a website after it has been built, or pursuing legal action to ensure that every website includes alt-tags for people who use a screen reader, just isn't working.
“There is a much more important strategic issue at stake and we need a new approach that goes beyond what we currently think of as ‘Accessibility’. To close that gap, it’s imperative that business, government and the third sector work together."
AbilityNet patron and chair of Go ON UK Martha Lane Fox agrees and believes that in addition to making design practices more inclusive we need to focus equipping people with the skills they need to participate in the digital age:
"Both Go ON UK and AbilityNet are working on building digital skills to enable everyone to benefit as much as possible from available technology."
Shadow Minister for Disabled People Anne McGuire with AbilityNet CEO Nigel Lewis at the reception at the House of Commons.