Open Forum: Raising the Profile of Disability Tech

Open Forum: Raising the Profile of Disability Tech

Tech For Disability Inclusive Conversations 2023

Open Forum: Raising Awareness of Disability Tech and what the Government needs to know from you. 28th September at 5pm UK time on Zoom.

The UK Government launched a Disability Action Plan with a consultation that included raising awareness of assistive tech. Their suggestion is to focus on increasing knowledge within government as a way to create a driving force and a model for others.

However, we felt that a connected ecosystem is needed to sufficiently raise awareness of assistive technology on a wider scale. This includes creating consumer choice through a marketplace and providing greater support for lived experience in assistive tech by supporting disabled entrepreneurs.

An Access2Funding report by Celia Chartres-Aris (now leading a team of Angel investors for disabled entrepreneurs) and Joseph Williams (who heads up Clu, an inclusive recruitment agency and a recruitment tech startup) has lots of helpful evidence data to support the case for access to investment. This came from their Access2Work campaign.

Tech For Disability has been actively engaged in consultations and roundtables in an advisory capacity with the Disability Unit and other government departments in this space.

We used this session in our Inclusive Conversation series to facilitate an open forum for the Tech for Disability community to respond to some current propositions and add to them.

The aim was to feed this back and make the case for more ambitious and impactful goals. We wanted to hear from you what you need as resources and accessible funding to start or develop the necessary technology to benefit disabled people. What other approaches would help drive awareness to open up opportunities?

Summary of Topics:

  • Government disability action plan consultation and getting input on technology and accessibility
  • Barriers and challenges for disabled entrepreneurs and startups
  • Accessibility and inclusion in employment and the workplace
  • Supporting and connecting advocacy efforts for disability issues

Here are more topics and points from the discussion:

  • The event was hosted by Tech for Disability, a group within the larger Tech London Advocates network. Their aims are to make tech more inclusive and accessible.
  • There is currently a UK government consultation on a disability action plan looking for views by the end of the year. The discussion focused on getting perspectives on assistive technology and what the government needs to know.
  • Joseph Williams and Celia Henson were meant to present on their Access to Funding campaign and report on barriers faced by disabled entrepreneurs, but Joseph was unable to attend.
  • Key barriers discussed: lack of resources/support for disabled entrepreneurs compared to employment; difficulty connecting solutions to government; competition against non-disabled founders who can better “play the game”; lack of coordination and networking between groups working in this space.
  • Potential solutions discussed: leveraging networks and contacts to raise awareness of issues and solutions; developing an infrastructure to better connect disabled founders to government; more advocacy across groups instead of just self-advocacy; starting with clearly defining problems first before jumping to solutions.
  • Other topics included recruitment, mentoring and career support for young disabled people; making the development of inclusive technology easier for startups.
  • Overall the discussion focused on raising awareness of barriers to entrepreneurship and employment for the disabled as input to the UK government’s consultation. Here is another summary of the key topics and points from the discussion:
  • Report “Access to Funding” highlighted barriers faced by disabled entrepreneurs – only 20% feel they get equal opportunities and resources, especially for investment.
  • Need more inclusive mechanisms and training for investors to improve funding access for disabled founders.
  • Employment focused conversations often overlook supporting disabled people who want to start their own businesses.
  • Hard for disabled entrepreneurs and advocates to get solutions seen by right people in government – need better infrastructure and connections.
  • Difficulty finding mentors and career support for young disabled people. Need more networking between groups working on related issues.
  • Importance of capturing accessibility barriers faced to properly define problems in order to develop solutions.
  • Overall need for more collaboration and advocacy across groups working on disability issues.

Here is a summary of the key points from the Zoom chat:

  • Participants introduced themselves, their interests and backgrounds. Areas covered included fashion, age tech, accessibility, inclusion, disability rights, entrepreneurship, and advocacy.
  • Discussion around barriers facing disabled entrepreneurs in accessing funding and support. Also challenges connecting with government and getting solutions seen by the right people.
  • Issue of volunteer burnout raised – relying on small number of disabled advocates to engage with numerous government initiatives and consultations.
  • Location challenges – harder for disabled entrepreneurs outside London to engage with government.
  • Importance of inclusive employment and providing options beyond traditional career paths.
  • Suggestions made for improving advocacy coordination, networks, infrastructure and communication channels to government.
  • Links shared related to access to funding report, inclusive entrepreneurship groups, and participant profiles.
  • Appreciation expressed by many for the discussion and goals of the group.
  • Participants introduced themselves, their backgrounds, and organizations. Areas of interest/expertise include fashion, recruitment, startups, advocacy, government policy.
  • Links were shared to Access to Funding report on barriers faced by disabled entrepreneurs.
  • Discussion on challenges reaching and influencing government decision makers when not based in London/Westminster. Suggestions made for improving accessibility.
  • Importance of advocacy and connecting people/organizations highlighted. Also collaborating across groups working on related issues.
  • Comments that funding programs often inhibit collaboration and need broader decision-making.
  • Questions raised around assistive tech resources for workers, supporting alternative career paths for young disabled people.
  • Appreciation expressed for bringing together this group and hearing different perspectives on making tech more equitable and inclusive.
  • Some other links raised were the Inclusive Entrepreneurs group and Universal Inclusion and the forthcoming Disability Digital Hub of resources to be launched by Tech For Disability.

We still want to hear your views on:

  • Raising awareness in government
  • A task force or champion to maintain and coordinate
  • Inclusive employment tech as a priority driver
  • Access to funders and the funding process
  • A central and updateable resource of best practices and tools in government
  • Consumer choice through a marketplace curated by lived experience
  • Any other ideas on how to achieve awareness and access to resources