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New parliamentary group on assistive tech launches to level the playing field

A “flood” of new technology represents a unique opportunity to increase education and employment for those with disabilities in the UK, claims a new cross-party parliamentary group.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) launched on March 6 and aims to spark debate and share knowledge on assistive technology (AT) throughout parliament. Its work will include contributing to government consultations and raising awareness of AT.

In an exclusive APPGAT interview with e-Access Bulletin, the group’s Chair, Seema Malhotra MP (a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury), said that those in government and parliament need to harness new AT, to “transform the lives and opportunities available to disabled people.” APPGAT will aid this process, acting as a forum for new ideas.

Malhotra also told e-Access Bulletin that disability is not yet given enough prominence in social reform. She said: “If we are to have a truly equal society, then we have to make sure that the issue of disability is as much on the agenda of education and of the workplace as we have seen with gender and race. In my view, we are certainly not there nearly enough.”

APPGAT’s co-chairs include Lord Low of Dalston CBE (current Vice President of the Royal National Institute of blind People), Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (a Paralympian and multiple gold medallist), and Matt Warman MP (a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee).

APPGAT was set up by Policy Connect – a not-for-profit social enterprise – with input from disability and technology sector experts (including the ACE Centre), and the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity.

One of the first major projects planned is for APPGAT to submit a recommendation paper to the Treasury before the UK Budget statement in autumn. Malhotra said that the paper will look at the impact of AT within the workplace and education.

Following that paper, APPGAT will take a deeper look into employment and education gaps for persons with disabilities, and how AT can be used to address these gaps.

The group will also draw up a programme of events and meetings to progress discussion and awareness of AT throughout parliament. As well as parliamentarians, these events will feature sector experts, academics and AT users.

Speaking about the challenge of pushing disability and AT higher on to parliamentary agendas, Malhotra said: “I believe it is the next big nut to crack. I think parliament has to play its part in making sure that we not only change the attitudes of government, but also look at how that can be translated into attitudes in the workplace and society more generally. Incremental change can achieve so much, but to really build on that progress and create real transformation is going to need political leadership and action by government.”

Read more about the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology at the APPGAT website:
http://eab.li/5c .

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