Chris Holmes and Molly Watt urge organisations to make a positive impact on disability and work

More human action is needed for greater workplace diversity, despite significant progress made by assistive technology for people living with disabilities, experts told the Assistive Technology Exhibition and Conference this week.

Opening the conference, keynote speakers Lord Chris Holmes of Richmond MBE and entrepreneur and activist Molly Watt urged businesses to commit to greater inclusion of disabled people by investing in assistive technology, but stressed that their efforts could not stop there.

“All technology is neutral when it comes to accessibility,” said Holmes. “It can have such a transformative impact, but this won’t happen as a matter of course – it could just exacerbate existing patterns of structures and exclusion. Inclusion will always be about human interaction with technology – humans deciding how to deploy it, and how to structure our society in a way that enables everyone to be a part of it.”

With more assisted technology available than ever before, Holmes declared this a “great time to be in accessibility”. In the age of the smartphone, the capacity for development through technology is huge, he said, and leaders in the world of business and policy had a responsibility to take advantage of the huge capacity for innovation.

Holmes pledged to launch a parliamentary inquiry into assistive technology after the general election. “I’m determined to ensure the concept of inclusion and assistive technology is threaded through the work of parliament,” he said.

Disability consultant Molly Watt echoed his sentiments, using her experiences of Usher syndrome to make the case for assistive technology in a “digital journey” towards inclusion. Born severely deaf, and becoming partially sighted at the age of 12, technology played a central role in Watt’s development as a blogger, becoming a keynote speaker from the age of 15, writing anti-bullying children’s books and setting up her own company.

“I feel privileged to live in a day when digital innovation exists. Technology has enabled my accessibility, and with accessibility comes inclusion,” she said. “With inclusion comes diversity, and I don’t know what’s better than diversity – that we are more accepting of people and their needs.”

She acknowledged that technology can initially be expensive, but said that, when you consider the powerful benefits assistive technology can bring to inclusion, it is cost-effective in the long term.

But she stressed that, while mainstream technology is making significant advances towards increasing inclusion, organisations still have a lot of work to do in supporting and enabling people with disabilities.

“Most deafblind people want to work and be active valued members of society; however, some fairly horrifying figures from a Sense charity report on deafblind people found that only 4 per cent are in employment,” she said. “We are capable, we want to work and be included, but society often lets us down.”


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