Our accessibility campaign and consultancy group Pesky People started life as a blog developed in response to Digital Britain, the UK government’s strategy for boosting our digital economy which did not include people with disabilities in any way. We responded by campaigning against this digital discrimination and evolved from a blog into a website and now a company.
We are just one example of how disabled and deaf people now have the opportunity to be a part of the web – to use it, to come up with ideas that work for them and others and to make them happen. Go Genie (http://www.gogenie.org) is our response to the need for easy to find access information that crowdsources information from disabled people themselves, but is useful for everybody.
It isn’t so much about ‘helping’ disabled people: we are not just passive recipients of the wonderful technologies and assisted technologies available – although many organisations and companies see us like that and would prefer us to remain like that.
I am horrified that companies developing digital products for disabled people seem to only see us in monetary terms and fail to develop useful products that are funky and stylish and affordable. Why not?
The cost of some of these products are prohibitive so many disabled people can’t buy them (I’m told it is the low number of units made that make them expensive – though I’m not totally convinced by that).
Assistive technology can be expensive and out the reach of many people’s budgets. Is it fair that while a smartphone can cost £500, to purchase screenreader software for one computer costs around £1,000? Or that eye-tracking technology assisted products can cost up to £8,000, while in the high street a Kinect box using motion technology can cost £199.99?
It’s no wonder people with severely restricted mobility are using head wands and wooden visual alphabetical keyboards. Where are the affordable assisted technology products?
Mainstream companies are ignoring us as a market and failing to make their products accessible. Have you ever tried to find a mobile that works with your digital hearing aids or visual impairment? It took me six months to find a new mobile that met my needs. The information is not out there and companies are ignoring us.
The UK Disability Market is worth around £80 billion a year and last year the older market was worth £100 billion or more. So what is their excuse? By 2033, 23% of the population will be aged 65+ so maybe the economics will drive the innovation and companies will rise to the challenge.
I see our future as being a bigger part of digital technology, making our mark and actively engaging with the technologies on offer.
I’m a newcomer to this sector but with 20 years’ experience of working in the cultural sector as an artistic programmer and project manager particularly in disability arts I’ve discovered that if I can work to see our ideas into action then others can too. The concepts have potential for disabled people as artists, entrepreneurs, and consumers.
We can turn the old order on its head so that disabled and deaf people take the lead and initiative to use the internet and the technologies available for our benefit.
It is empowering that social media connects us up. It gives us a voice and the opportunity to say what we need and want and come together easily to achieve that.
The opposite side of the coin is that real life barriers are also virtual barriers, unless we challenge them and do something to change them ourselves. We need to grab that opportunity.
Alison Smith is founder of Pesky People.