Assistive technology Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Specialist vs mainstream assistive technology

1.Specialist assistive technology may, for now, remain the best option for some disabled people. But mainstream competitors increasingly provide the same functions at lower cost, with greater flexibility and compatibility with existing systems. We all use assistive technology every day. The potential of assistive technology to help a great many more disabled people work will be missed if it continues to be viewed predominantly as expensive, specialist equipment. (Paragraph 13)

2.Government has a key role in changing perceptions of assistive technology, not just out of compassion but in the national economic interest. Development of assistive technology is currently stunted by outdated attitudes, not least in Access to Work as the dominant purchaser, and a lack of involvement of disabled people in development. Assistive technology can help everyone be more productive and improve their quality of life. The Government must raise awareness of this fact, bring assistive technology to the mass market and, in turn, drive down costs. (Paragraph 17)

3.The Government’s role is not simply to raise awareness. Assistive technology is a critical employment resource for individual disabled people. Mainstream assistive technology has a much wider application. Unlocking the full potential of assistive technology could transform our economic outlook, improve workforce efficiency and break the deadlock on the economy enforced by sluggish productivity. In its recent Industrial Strategy, the Government outlined its intention to intervene in markets to build a modern, dynamic economy. Tapping the potential of assistive technology is the epitome of that. In the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund—and the associated regional funds—the Government has a ready means of offering financial incentives to innovate. But this will only happen if it makes concerted efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship and focus on driving forward advances in assistive technology. In missing assistive technology from its Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges, the Government has missed a trick. (Paragraph 18)

4.We recommend the Government create a fifth Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge on Assistive Technology and ensures this focus is reflected throughout its regional funding streams. This would cost nothing, but would send a clear signal that the Government recognises the vital role that assistive technology could play in closing the disability employment gap and revitalising the UK economy. It would also allow for funding the development of a broader range of assistive technology than is possible via the current Challenges. Once this Challenge is established the Department has a vital role to play as a convener. It should bring together a consortium of AT developers and entrepreneurs, users, employers and support providers to bid for funding, helping bridge gaps in provision and open up assistive technology to a much wider market. (Paragraph 19)

The role of employers

5.Assistive technology is not just good for individual disabled people: it is good for business. It can play a huge role in dispelling employer concerns about hiring or retaining disabled workers, opening a much wider pool of talent. It could also enhance productivity for disabled and non-disabled employees alike. Realising this potential depends on employers knowing about assistive technology, and disabled people using it to its full potential. The Department must not miss the chance to make AT a central component of its work with employers through Disability Confident. We recommend the Department dedicate a section of its Disability Confident portal to assistive technology. This should include information on types of assistive technology; case studies of how they can help; promotion of mainstream, low-cost assistive technology; and signposting towards resources for helping individuals and building compatible systems. The Department should run a publicity campaign alongside the launch of the portal, highlighting the business benefits of assistive technology at work. (Paragraph 24)

6.The Government wants the civil service to be a model Disability Confident workplace. But a lack of attention to assistive technology in procurement and poor coordination between departments risks undermining this goal. Government should show leadership in demonstrating how assistive technology can help disabled employees work, and progress their careers, in much the same way as their non-disabled colleagues. We recommend the Department introduce specific criteria on assistive technology to Disability Confident. As part of this, employers at Leader level should procure accessible systems. The Government should commit to doing this for all new IT procurement from April 2019. To drive improvement, the Department should create a central standard for accessible systems in government departments. It should then produce and publish an annual report on compliance via Disability Confident, ranking departments from most to least accessible. (Paragraph 28)

Pre-employment support

7.Opportunities for disabled people to understand the potential benefits of assistive technology while looking for work are limited. This can make it harder for them to convince employers they can do a job. It may even discourage them from seeking a job at all. The support currently available through Jobcentre Plus is limited and patchy. But provision already exists—via the Flexible Support Fund—to greatly enhance access to assistive technology for out of work disabled people. We recommend the Department update training for front line Work Coaches to include mandatory training on assistive technology. This should include emphasising the wide range of conditions that AT can help manage, and encouraging Work Coaches to make referrals at the earliest point of contact. We further recommend the Department undertakes an assessment of existing and potential suppliers of assistive technology support to inform development of a more consistent, extensive market linked to the Flexible Support Fund. The support that is available should be publicised, on a rolling basis, to Jobcentre Plus staff and claimants. (Paragraph 35)

8.Cost barriers prevent disabled people realising the life-changing potential of assistive technology. Specialist AT can cost thousands of pounds. For disabled people with low incomes, even cheaper mainstream AT can be unaffordable. That PIP enables claimants to get access to cars up front, but not smartphones or laptops, is out of step with modern life and work. We recommend the Department introduce a new finance scheme for the daily living component of PIP. Claimants should have the option of a low interest loan to buy or lease assistive technology products. Users of the scheme should be offered a consultation before buying equipment, with expert assistive technology advisers, to ensure they are buying the most appropriate and cost-effective equipment. The Department need not administer the scheme, but should ensure that whoever company does so works in line with the principles of providing a public service. (Paragraph 39)

Access to Work

9.Lifting the Access to Work cap sends a clear message that the Department is willing to listen to evidence. We welcome this decision. (Paragraph 44)

10.Access to Work assessors should be at the cutting edge of assistive technology. This is not always the reality. Some assessors are wedded to a traditional understanding of assistive technology, tending towards specialist over mainstream options. The latter can be cheaper and just as good—especially in maintaining compatibility with existing workplace systems. The Department needs to drive cultural change amongst assessors, ensuring that the benefits of mainstream AT are fully recognised and understood. We recommend the Department review and update training for Access to Work assessors to emphasise that mainstream AT is, in many cases, at least as appropriate as specialist provision. To ensure assessors’ knowledge remains up-to-date, the Department should also introduce a framework of regular quality assessment for assessors. (Paragraph 49)

11.Access to Work offers the first opportunity for many disabled people to use assistive technology. Access to Work funded training, however, is often one off, inflexible, and linked to particular specialist equipment. A more diverse training catalogue, including on mainstream options, would encourage assessors to recommend a wider range of technologies. This would result in better use of assistive technology and better value to the public purse. We recommend the Department introduce an “Access to Work (training)” stream within Access to Work. This should provide specialist-led training on using AT, including mainstream, built-in and app-based technologies. It should not be linked to receiving particular equipment, but should be available as a free-standing component of an award, including for equipment the user already owns. (Paragraph 50)

12.The Department must make certain that Access to Work consistently recommends the most effective support for every individual—including pioneering innovations in assistive technology. Alongside this, it should work hard to ensure employers and disabled people themselves are fully aware and able to benefit from all that assistive technology has to offer. With these steps, it could deliver real progress in closing the disability employment gap and resolving the UK’s productivity challenge. (Paragraph 51)

Published: 19 April 2018