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Internet Campaigning: Time To Make Our Voices Heard

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 ( 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.


  1. David Bartholomew | September 27th, 2011 | 9:21 am

    “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 is nothing to do with fairness; it is harsh economic reality that cost of development/production is reflected in the number of units sold. Making assistive technology available at an affordable price inevitably requires subsidy somewhere along the line. Truths like this have to be accepted then solutions can be found. During my involvement with accessibility issues I have found that blanket policies/subsidies result in wasted resource and that closer targeting would be more effective overall.

  2. Alison Smith | September 27th, 2011 | 11:59 am

    Hi David, I take your point about the investment-v- low units sold and need for tailored approach to assisted technologies.

    I attended NAIDEX exhibitions in Birmingham and the last two Gadget Shows and struck by two things:
    A) the limitedness of the technologies on offer and their inflexibility at NAIDEX (same products on offer as previous year no changes and still £5,000).

    Contrasted with the complete

    B) lack of accessibility in the technologies on display or offered at Gadget Show it was like we didn’t exist.

    The assisted technologies at NADIEX were clunky, slow and very limiting in how they could be used and had not changed in years.

    I welcome Vodafone’s Accessibility Awards as we need innovative forward thinking products that are portable (I was shocked by the size and Inability of the eye tracking technology to be portable, yet you could by eye tracking headsets at Gadget Show for £69 – they were flying off the shelf.

    Contrasting with using an iPad with a range of accessible apps it becomes more affordable. This is something that has been raised by a number of disabled people with severe and motor impairments that products such as the iPad have improved their accessibility (touch screen, voice over activation, zoom etc.)

     I’m not trying to be so simplistic but it is something that needs to be debated – I don’t claim to know all the issues or understand the reasoning but mearly question some of the economics.

    I was struck also that it is also a fixed and captured market after all where else can you go and test out and know what equipment exists but at NAIDEX?

    How do you raise consumer expectations when products seem to driven by what is on offer from the companies themselves.

    We tend to not have same expectations with how medical equipment looks like or its limitations – we expect it because it is a uniform one size fits all. 

    For that reason I love Enabled By Design website which shows disabled assisted products can be innovative, functional and also be funky looking.

    I’d like to see innovation, these companies working with the next generation of developers and most of all including disabled people in what the need and want.

    The disabled market is increasing as we get an ageing population. I will be one of them one day and I’m going to be like others of my generation I will be having higher demands and expectations.

    Regards, Alison

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