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Virtual reality immersing young people in the world of work

A series of virtual reality (VR) simulations are helping young people with learning impairments in Australia to prepare for employment.

The training simulations are run on the Oculus Rift VR headset and are part of a ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ project by disability charity the Endeavour Foundation, originally developed in collaboration with Queensland University of Technology.


Tech funding, employment and apps on the agenda at assistive conference

The government’s technology fund, disability in the workplace and new apps were among the topics discussed at the latest Assistive Technology Conference and Exhibition (ATEC).

Taking place in London, the conference featured a wide range of speakers from the accessibility sector, charities, government and beyond.


Assistive tech can close disability employment gap and end UK’s ‘productivity deadlock’, claims parliamentary committee

A new report from the Work and Pensions Committee (WPC) claims that the Government – and particularly the Department of Work and Pensions, DWP – must lead by example and focus on assistive technology (AT) to boost both disability employment rates and the UK economy.

Other recommendations in the report include widening the scope of Personal Independence Payments (financial help for people with disabilities) to allow claimants to lease or buy assistive technology, and updating training for Access to Work scheme staff to help more people use AT.


Government asks the experts for guidance in assistive technology inquiry

Accessibility professionals and assistive technology users have given the UK Government recommendations in an inquiry organised by the government’s Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The inquiry looked at how technology can help improve employment rates among those with disabilities, as part of the government’s response to a report on the disability employment gap.


New guidance helps recruiters dodge digital accessibility pitfalls

A guide on recruitment and digital accessibility has been released, aiming to help companies and organisations ensure that their digital resources are inclusive for all applicants when searching and applying for jobs.

The Accessible Recruitment Guide has been produced by Media Access Australia, a non-profit digital accessibility organisation. Designed primarily for HR staff, the guide aims to offer “real world guidance” on digital recruitment resources.


BCS to tackle ‘unconscious bias’ against disabled IT job applicants

Training to tackle “unconscious bias” against disabled job applicants by recruitment staff at IT firms has been launched by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

The institute is to receive £18,000 of funding from Royal Academy of Engineering to support bias training after signing up to the academy’s Engineering Diversity Concordat. The training is aimed at tackling unconscious bias affecting disability, race, sexual orientation, age, obesity and gender.

About 300 BCS specialist group and branch committee members will be trained initially by the end of 2015, with the intention of ensuring those key individuals spread the learning more widely throughout the institute’s membership.

“We are hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests”, Rebecca George, chair of the BCS policy and public affairs board, told E-Access Bulletin this week.

“Unconscious biases are simply our natural people preferences but this can lead to us making poor decisions, particularly around recruitment. It means that we are less likely to recruit people who do not look or sound like us, and this can lead to a workforce which doesn’t fully represent the demographics of society.”

Examples of action to tackle bias include removing names and photos from CVs and training interviewers in guarding against unconscious bias, George said.

“The first step is to help individuals become aware of their own unconscious bias which can be done through self-assessment”, she said. “Our aim is to raise awareness of unconscious bias through research, case studies and explanations of what it is, as well explaining the gap between explicit and implicit bias.”

To illustrate the urgency of the IT profession’s need for such traning, George quoted diversity analyst Tinu Cornish, a psychologist at consultancy Different With Difference, who has said: “At the current rate of change it will be 2080 before we elect a representative government, 2085 before we close the gender pay gap, and probably never before we close the disability employment gap”.

Employers ‘Need Support To Make Job Applications Accessible’

Employers need more support to make their digital job application processes accessible to people with disabilities, according to a new report from disability employment services charity Shaw Trust.

The report, ‘Making work a real choice’, examines the government’s disability employment programme Work Choice through the experiences of more than 400 people – a mix of job applicants, employers, and Shaw Trust staff.


Ticked Off: Special Focus – Looking for work

On the face of it, Dr Norman Waddington – the holder of not just one, but two PhDs – should have what it takes to be offered a job interview. But like many disabled people – he is blind – this is not proving to be the case.

Early last year the government launched a programme of Incapacity Benefit reassessment, under which recipients of the benefit as well – as well as those in receipt of Severe Disablement Allowance or Income Support paid on the grounds of incapacity – were required to have their eligibility reassessed by undergoing a new “Work Capability Assessment”.

Anyone assessed as capable of working were moved on to Job Seekers’ Allowance or – for those with limited capability for work – Employment Support Allowance.

While Waddington accepts this is fair, he says the way the system has worked for disabled people is in danger of swinging from one extreme to another – from a situation where people were left isolated on benefits with no options, to one where they are being moved off benefits when the work may not be there.

“When I was pushed onto it at the age of 34, it was a bitter pill to swallow to be told you weren’t fit to work, when you knew you were. Now the tables have turned – they want people off incapacity benefit and back onto Employment Support Allowance and back into work. If you look at the small print in the DWP stuff, it seems you are likely to get benefit cuts after six months, but it’s not clear. The Jobcentre people don’t know what’s going on.”

Waddington has not worked since 1993, when he was made redundant from a white collar post at the Sellafield nuclear plant. Since then he has done some voluntary work, and looked for other jobs sporadically but since the benefit changes in Easter has been searching intensively.

“I must receive 1,000 job list emails a week now, people don’t realise the time it takes to plough through them with a screen reader,” he says. But despite having applied for some 800 jobs in that time, and despite his PHDs – in biodiversity science and clinical animal behaviour – he is yet to be shortlisted for any post.

“You get a bog-standard letter, saying you’re not successful on this occasion – they don’t say why. It’s soul-destroying. These email lists with jobs – sighted people can scan down them quickly, but we’ve got to go down it and read it all – people have no knowledge of the time it takes. And the time it takes to do an application, to use a screen-reader, cutting and pasting – for someone who didn’t have the computer knowledge I do it would be impossible.

“It’s as if they’re not aware of the time and effort it takes. They don’t want to know or they don’t want to know. And if you put it all in a covering letter, explaining about Access to Work, it’s as if they just throw your application out – though I can’t prove that’s the case.”

It is now up to the government to work out how to make the system fairer, he said.”They need to close the loopholes. The classic is the two-tick system, by which if an applicant meets the job criteria and is disabled, they are bound by law to give you an interview. So they just don’t shortlist you, they say you don’t meet criteria. Something needs to be done.”

The problems don’t stop there –applying for jobs in the first place can be made all but impossible by inaccessible online forms for job applications, he says. Recently he encountered a problem with an online application form on a local authority site, for example, which featured a visual icon to call up an interactive calendar for applicants to select dates such as start dates and end dates of previous jobs.

“Using JAWS for windows, you can’t access it. They very grudgingly sent me a word copy of an application form, but how accessible that will be, I’m not sure. They say they can’t accept a CV and a covering letter for application, even though under the Disability Discrimination Act you have an obligation to find an alternative method. The Jobcentre people say this is wrong, but I think half the forms I send are not getting to the people they should be. If they’re not meeting the admin criteria, they’re just scrapped.”

The Jobcentre itself is not providing enough information in accessible formats either, Waddington says. “People could possibly lose benefit, because it says in the small print you can lose £26 a week after six months. I went on it in September, so after March I could lose benefit if I don’t turn up for the Jobcentre interviews, or take up any placements they offer. But you don’t get this information in a format you can read.

“After my last Jobcentre interview, they said do I want a typed transcript – I said I couldn’t see it, can you email it to me? They said no, their computer system doesn’t talk to the internet. Then they gave me a whole load of leaflets I can’t see – I had asked for Braille, but it’s not available.”

Undeterred, Waddington says he will carry on trying to find work. “Obviously if I can get back into work I will get back into work. You can’t let it get to you – you’ve just got to keep on trying.”

Audio Clips Help Disabled Job-Seekers and Entrepreneurs

A web service offering audio clips to help people with long-term health conditions or disabilities to start their own businesses and become self-employed has been launched in Derbyshire.

The Work for Yourself programme ( )
is funded by Bolsover District and Chesterfield Borough Councils, and has already helped about 30 local people start their own businesses and a similar number find work.


CSUN 2010, San Diego: The 25-Year Buzz

By John Lamb

Gatherings of technologists always have an atmosphere of excitement about them whether it’s generated by the thrill of discovering the next big thing or just catching up on the gossip about what’s hot and what’s not.

But there is an even more special buzz to the California State University Northridge (CSUN) Technologies and Persons with Disabilities Conference, the largest assistive technology event in the international calendar and this year celebrating its 25th anniversary.

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