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US Government Helps Job Applicants With Disabilities

The Obama administration is undertaking two major exercises to help people with disabilities apply for government jobs, delegates heard at last month’s California State University Northridge (CSUN) Technologies and Persons with Disabilities Conference.

Employment was the central topic at CSUN, the largest assistive technology event in the world, this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. Less than a third of blind people of working age in the US have a job, delegates heard.

ICT Data Gap ‘Hindering Disabled Business Owners’

A lack of reliable data about the use of ICT by people with disabilities is making it harder for disabled entrepreneurs to succeed, delegates heard at a recent debate hosted by the Information Technologists’ Company, a livery company of the City of London.

The debate was on the motion: “This House believes that it is harder for disabled entrepreneurs to compete in the fast-moving digital age”.

Technology and disabled entrepreneurship – Open for Business?

By Tristan Parker.

Few businesses in the modern world do not make use of digital technology. But how does this affect the half a million disabled people running their own businesses in the UK? This was the question posed earlier this month by the Information Technologists’ Company (ITC) as they debated the motion: “This House believes that it is harder for disabled entrepreneurs to compete in the fast-moving digital age.”

Speaking in support of the motion was Penny Melville-Brown, senior consultant at Disability Dynamics ( ), an organisation offering equality training and consultancy. She argued that as well as poor access to technology, the technology itself was also holding back disabled people in business.

Survey Uncovers “Depressing Picture” For Employees

A low level of accessibility found in internal ICT systems for staff is creating a “depressing picture for employment of people with disabilities”, according to a new survey carried out in conjunction with E-Access Bulletin.

The research, conducted by Bloor Research with E-Access Bulletin and Ability Magazine, found private sector organisations have more accessible internal ICT systems than organisations in the public sector, with 44% of private sector companies surveyed having more than 70% of their internal systems accessible, compared with only 29% of public sector bodies surveyed.

Visual Memory Is Key To Use Of Graphic Interfaces

New research has found it is easier for blind computer programmers to use and develop graphical user interfaces (GUIs) when they have previously been sighted and retain some visual memory. This memory helps programmers to visually represent GUIs, even if the interfaces themselves were designed after they had lost their sight, it found.

The research, termed the ‘Combine project’ ( ),
was conducted by Dr. Simon Hayhoe, editor of the ‘Eco’ collaborative website on blindness and the arts.

Interview – Susan Scott-Parker OBE: Fighting Talk From Taskforce Commander

by Dan Jellinek.

The inaccessibility of job advertising websites to people with disabilities is an “emerging scandal,” delegates heard earlier this month at the e-Inclusion Ministerial Conference hosted in Vienna by the European Commission.

The source of this stinging rebuke was Susan Scott-Parker OBE, founder and chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability ( In a world where, increasingly, employers are choosing to advertise positions solely online, inaccessible recruitment sites pose a “huge problem” to jobseekers with disabilities, Scott-Parker said.

“We see inaccessible psychometric tests, application forms that don’t work if you have dyslexia. If you put a sign up saying no disabled people need apply, people would get cross. But thousands of jobs are like that. Surely if an employer chooses not to allow a disabled person to apply online, this is an employment rights issue?”

Combative words, but from a surprising source perhaps? After all the EFD, which Scott-Parker founded in 1991, is funded by and serves the very companies she appeared to be excoriating. Its 400 current members between them employ eight million people, or some 20 per cent of the UK’s workforce, including many global players such as Barclays, whose group CEO John Varley is current EFD president.

Speaking to E-Access Bulletin a short while after delivering her Vienna speech, however, Scott-Parker said it was in her members’ interests to realise the scale of this problem and take corrective action.

“We’d like to tip off members that there might be legal challenges,” she said. “It is best practice, if millions of people are not being excluded. Firms need to require people like online psychometric testers to prove they are accessible before they use them, particularly where they insist people can only apply for jobs online, which is increasingly the case, even for jobs that don’t require computer literacy.”

Companies need to ensure they provide alternative routes to job application that are taken as seriously as applications received online, Scott-Parker said. It was no good providing alternatives if applications received via those routes are perceived as second-class, she said.

Use of inaccessible recruitment sites were not the only corporate IT failures to come under fire from Scott-Parker in Vienna. Another was a failure by some organisations to make proper and timely adjustments to internal IT systems for employees with disabilities or who became disabled through the process of ageing or accidents.

This represented a costly waste of resources: “All the investment in the individual fails if employers choose not to make adjustments, and the employee moves onto benefits instead of remaining at work,” Scott-Parker said.

A third key issue was a failure by employers and the IT industry to train IT staffing accessibility issues and the use of assistive technology, she said. “People shouldn’t be accredited: how can you be accredited as an IT professional if you can’t adapt a system so everyone can use it? And if you’ve got assistive technology but the IT department doesn’t know about it, there is no point.”

Training costs could be controlled by building it into the existing regular retraining programmes undergone by programmer and technicians, Scott-Parker said.

“In each course they do, there needs to be something about adapting for the human. I don’t think it would cost much for Microsoft to put on [their training] curriculum how their technology could be adapted so everybody could use it.

“We’ll never crack this if the IT profession don’t know how to use accessible technology. All we’ll do is have better and better kit that just sits there.”

Technology companies have a double responsibility, to be suppliers of accessible technology and to be accessible employers, Scott-Parker said. And in today’s tight financial climate, an integrated approach to accessibility could give ICT suppliers a competitive edge, she said. “I would like to see the ICT industry itself an exemplar of employing disabled people. The timing is now right, because the more disabled people you employ inside an IT giant, the better understanding you have of the needs of a client such as Lloyds TSB, which employs hundreds of disabled people.”

Although the EFD works across all aspects of employment, IT accessibility has been placed among its top priorities recently, with the creation of a Business Taskforce on Accessible Technology (see E-Access Bulletin, issue 102, June 2008:

To date the taskforce has met three times, and is still building its membership, which stands at around 20 organisations including Accenture, GlaxoSmithKline, HM Revenue and Customs, the BBC and Sainsbury’s Supermarkets.

The group is working with accessibility charity AbilityNet to collect examples of the benefits to business of an accessible approach, “We are trying to produce a compelling rationale for businesses,” Scott-Parker said.

Also in the pipeline, though still in its infancy, is a paper-based audit tool allowing major organisations to check where they are on a scale of 1-5 in terms of their current ICT accessibility practices.

“It will be a maturity model, from nowhere to excellent, looking at business processes and governance systems,” Scott-Parker said. “If an organisation is at level 1-2, they could face legal exposure. We would not expect anyone at level 5 yet: I would fall over.”

Inaccessible Recruitment Websites ‘An Emerging Scandal’

The inaccessibility of job advertising websites to people with disabilities is an “emerging scandal” which could expose companies to legal challenge, according to the head of one of the world’s leading bodies promoting equal opportunities in the workplace.

Susan Scott-Parker, founder and chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability (, said this month that inaccessible recruitment sites pose a “huge problem” to jobseekers with disabilities, particularly since many employers were now recruiting exclusively online.

‘Digital Mentor’ Trials Form Part Of Draft Inclusion Plan

The government is to pilot a ‘digital mentors’ scheme to help people in deprived areas use technologies such as websites, podcasts and digital photography to make their voices heard, collaborate and improve access to services.

The initiative forms part of a new action plan for digital inclusion (,launched by Digital Inclusion minister Paul Murphy and the department of Communities and Local Government (CLG).

An estimated 17 million people over the age of 15 are not using computers and the internet, and there is a strong link between digital and social exclusion and disabled people with disabled people among those most excluded from the digital technologies at the heart of the developing knowledge economy, the plan says.
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People With Impaired Vision ‘Less Likely To Be Employed’

People with visual impairments are less likely to be employed than people with other disabilities, according to a report on the UK labour market experiences of people with sight problems prepared for the RNIB by the Institute of Employment Studies (

The report was compiled through secondary analysis of the UK Labour Force Survey (LFS – over the period July 2004 to June 2007. The LFS recorded 184,000 people of working age in the UK who describe themselves as having  seeing difficulties’. Of those 108,000 are classed as disabled, 95,000 of whom have a ‘work-limiting’ disability.

The RNIB report finds people over 55 are three times more likely to have seeing difficulties as those in the 16-24 age bracket, which is a greater increase with age than with other kinds of disabilities. (more…)

Vision-Impaired IT Worker Wins Discrimination Case.

A vision impaired IT professional has been has been awarded 12,000 Euros compensation by an industrial tribunal in Ireland after it was accepted that a recruitment process used by multinational company Siemens discriminated against job applicants with disabilities.


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