Costs for disabled people accessing online services
Following on from Julian’s blog yesterday, I thought I’d comment on how it costs more for some disabled people to access services that are now only accessible over the internet.
Costs of Assistive Technology needed to access a computer
My personal experience with assistive technology has always been equipment and software to help due to a visual impairment. In the past I’ve been given a CCTV magnifier (an old style monitor with a camera that could magnify books on the screen), a more modern magnifier, two 24″ screens and two copies of software called Zoomtext. I think the total cost of this equipment was around £7-8,000. This was all paid for by Government funding because I was lucky enough to go to University and then find employment. If I hadn’t had access to this support at University, I would have had nothing for home or would have needed to find a large amount of money to be able to use a computer.
Even now, if I upgrade my computer then it’s likely I’d need to pay more money for my magnifying software. I receive support through the Government’s Disability Living Allowance (soon to be Personal Independence Payment) that helps towards the extra costs of a disability. But if someone isn’t in employment or doesn’t have family to help fund equipment then getting access to something as important as the internet can be very expensive or even out of reach without financial support from grant-making charities.
As most technology has dropped in price, some assistive technology has stubbornly stayed the same. A large key keyboard with a keyguard (so someone with weak muscles or tremors can rest their hand on the board without pressing the wrong key) is still over £100 today, seven years on from when I started at Aidis. It is the same with assistive rollerballs and joysticks. There’s no advancement in manufacturing processes here.
However, I have seen some changes in the last couple of years. With the IPad and similar tablets becoming common household items and the ease of developing software for them, there has been a huge amount of software developed solely to help disabled people communicate. This has meant portable communication has dropped from over £6,000 to closer to £600 (although some people still need a custom-made aid). Also, eye-tracking equipment is now reasonably affordable. From around £15,000 in 2007, this can now be purchased for closer to £3,000. Again, not cheap and money that needs to be found, but much more affordable. Most phones and computer operating systems also have advanced accessibility options and Microsoft Windows now comes with excellent voice recognition software included. The advances are great but only if you know about them.
How this affects disabled people accessing services
The problem is that the Government, banks, shops and utility companies are all putting a lot more of their services online. This means people who do not currently use a computer will be expected to learn or depend on other people to access benefits information or to pay bills. Then there are the extra costs I’ve mentioned involved with making a computer accessible for someone with a disability.
Even the Government’s own report on shifting services online says “28% of disabled people are not online (rarely access/have never used the internet). The only solution they mention is something called “Assisted Digital” which seems to think each department will outsource helping people who can’t get online.
Who is expected to help?
It seems that local charities will be asked more and more to help disabled people get the services they need. They will become more dependent on others if they cannot access a computer. At Aidis, we can help recommend the equipment people need, we can give training and helpline support to ensure someone can use a computer. What we can’t do is sit with someone and fill out their benefits information onto a computer to save someone else money in providing assistance. We have been asked to do this by some local government employees and carers organisations. I think “Assisted Digital” means get someone else to do it.
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