Digital Economy Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Digital Accessibility Special Interest Group (DASG) of The British Computer Society (DEB 24)

Digital Economy Bill 2016

I’m writing to you on behalf of the Digital Accessibility Special Interest Group (DASG) of The British Computer Society regarding the new Digital Economy Bill 2016.  This Bill contains many valid and needed propositions, but we believe that it is missing a significant component which should be included before the Bill proceeds further.

This missing component is the requirement to provide digital technology and services which are accessible by all.

Whilst we recognise that the Equality Act 2010 does contain a provision of reasonable adjustment this simply does not go far enough to legislate that all organisations must provide digital technology and services that can be used by the disabled or elderly within our society.

The Digital Economy Bill 2016 presents an opportunity that should not be missed to strengthen our legislation. 

Digital technology pervades all our lives and all we do, and the drive to digitally self-serve will only continue.

Consider the Government’s own Digital by Default agenda and the drive to make all public services digital, whilst this will improve service and access, it also has another objective of reducing cost which is so desperately needed during these difficult economic times.  However, these benefits and savings can only be achieved if the vast majority of people, especially those that use public services, can use them in an accessible and inclusive way.

The commercial sector is equally making their services digital to reduce the cost of sale and supply.  However, all too often websites, online services and mobile apps are not designed to be inclusive and accessible for disabled and older people.

Whilst there is no doubt that there are many disabled people who benefit today from technology (consider Stephen Hawking as an example) there are millions of people in the UK who cannot access or use the digital services and content provide by the public and private sectors.

We are creating a new digitally excluded underclass at the very time we should be improving the health, wellbeing, social and economic situation of millions.

Consider the facts:

· 5.3 million people have never used the internet (ONS 2016)

· 25% of disabled adults have never used the internet (ONS 2016)

· Only 38.7% of adults 75 and over use the internet (ONS 2016)

· 12.6 million adults don’t have the required level of basic digital skills (Ipsos MORI/Go On UK 2015)

Whilst the Digital Economy Bill 2016 already makes important steps towards closing this gap by granting a legal right to affordable and reliable broadband, this alone cannot address the specific challenges which many disabled and older people face when attempting to engage with the digital world. Even recognising that some within our society need the motivation to engage with the digital world, and some may never gain such motivation, this still leaves millions of people who can’t, or struggle daily to, use technology to engage in our world on an equal footing.

This not only disadvantages these people financially (for example not getting the best deals as being online can save £744 per year, Lloyds 2016) but more importantly it significantly and adversely affects their life chances:

· Blighting their education. Thousands of young people struggle with inaccessible e-learning services. This limits their career and earning potential.  Thousands of students who struggle through primary and secondary education and make it to tertiary education discover that they have some form of disability, such as dyslexia, that could (and should) have been successfully supported at the primary and secondary level avoiding years of anxiety and frustration.

· Limiting career chances and choice. All too often online recruitment processes and systems disadvantage or completely exclude disabled people from even applying for jobs

· Affecting health and wellbeing. Creating a digitally excluded underclass when disabled and older people could make huge contributions to society if they were included though the wide provision of digitally accessible services.

All of these factors contribute to disabled and older people being isolated and prevented from careers and life choices that the young and able take for granted, forcing them into a life of benefits and poverty.

Creating strong legislation to ensure all organisations provide accessible and inclusive digital solutions is a must, and something numerous countries around the world have already undertaken.  If we wish to be seen as a digital leader we need strong legislation in this area.

The new Digital Economy Bill provides the opportunity to create justice and equality in our society but only if it is expanded to include a universal right to digital accessibility.

DASG has a broad membership in many societal sectors, three members co-wrote the UK Web Accessibility Standard and are now within the team turning BS8878 into an international standard. Group members have also been influential in developing and promoting NHS England’s "Accessible Information Standard".

The group is also represented on W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) "Cognition and Learning Disabilities" programme and globally is working with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals and the UN’s G3ICT programme and its promotion of the "UN convention on the rights of persons with disability".

October 2016


Prepared 13th October 2016