Assistive Tech & Products

Making the internet accessible to all

Ben Carpenter, Strategic Advisor at Race Online 2012, tells Disability Horizons why the internet should be accessible for everyone. Race Online 2012 was founded by Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion.

Martha Lane Fox is UK Digital Champion and founder of Race Online 2012, an ambitious national campaign aiming to make the UK the world’s first fully networked nation. At Race Online 2012 we believe that everyone in the UK should be helped to enjoy the benefits of the web, and superior digital products and services.

If you can get online and access the digital world then you are at a serious and proven advantage. You are 25% more likely to find work, will earn 10% more in work with your digital skills, save more than £500 a year just by shopping and paying bills online, achieve two grades better at school, feel less lonely and have an improved sense of well-being.

Yet 8.4 million UK adults have still never been online and so there is much to be done. Motivation is the most commonly stated barrier to getting online; “it’s not for me…” Once online, however, the vast majority change this opinion. To overcome this lack of motivation we ask partners to recruit ‘digital champions’; people who help someone to take their first steps online.

Good digital technology can be a Godsend to somebody with a disability, yet current Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest that at least half of everyone not yet online has a disability. Greater clarity, however, is needed as this figure alone doesn’t assess the reason behind the statistics. Other data shows just 2% of UK households without internet access state ‘physical disability’ as their reason. But how many of those citing lack of need (39%), skills (21%) or desire (20%) come to that conclusion after experiencing inaccessible digital design?

I, for example, have no registered disabilities, but show me a website I can’t navigate, read or interact with, and I will very quickly declare disinterest and get offline. A poorly designed website can turn you off the internet forever, and for the 10 million people in the UK with a long-term illness, impairment or disability this can be doubly true.

To tackle this we are working with our partners at Nominet Trust, AbilityNet and the ONS to assess how many people do not, or cannot, go online because of inaccessible design of device or interface.

Inaccessibility is a real issue. A 2005 Design Council study found that the online products and services of two thirds of the FTSE 100 companies fell short of accessibility guidelines. This seems absurdly bad business sense seeing as people with disabilities have an estimated £80 billion annual spending power. This business case from the OneVoice coalition gives further compelling reasons to why the web should be as inclusive as possible, and AbilityNet are looking to write a definitive business case for why companies should maximise their website’s accessibility.

We’ve been on an accessibility learning curve ourselves, here at Race Online 2012 as unfortunately the brief for our original manifesto didn’t include accessibility requirements. It’s easy to miss these things when you don’t have the expertise within your organisation, and once a site has been inaccessibly built, it’s time-consuming and expensive to sort it out. We’ve learned this the hard way and AbilityNet have really helped raised our awareness of the guidelines, tools and expertise available. We are now striving to achieve AA-rating for our website and are hoping our partners will be inspired to do more too.

We have also worked closely with technology providers to ensure accessibility software is embedded into our low price and refurbished computer deals, for free. Check them out here on the Race Online 2012 website.

Martha has made strong recommendations to government to improve the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s eAccessibility forum and worked closely with the government’s Inclusive Design Champion, designer Michael Wolff, to communicate the business case for inclusive design to British business. We should endeavour for all products and services designed by business and government to become accessible by default.

We are particularly excited by the potential of a project currently being scoped by Dan Jellinek at Headstar, looking at how the profile of the 2012 Paralympics can be tapped into to raise awareness of inaccessible digital products and services. Watch this space on that one…

AbilityNet are having very interesting discussions with BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, about the potential to embed accessibility training into the qualifications they operate and endorse – something Martha Lane Fox and Race Online 2012 wholeheartedly support.

We look forward to further work with our partners to reduce the number of people offline because of inaccessible technology.

By Ben Carpenter

In our continuous journey to make the internet accessible to all, it’s crucial to highlight innovative solutions that support seamless online experiences for people with disabilities. A prime example of such innovation is Windstream Internet, which offers high-speed and reliable internet services that can be a game-changer for users requiring assistive technologies. With Windstream’s commitment to providing robust internet connections, users can enjoy a smoother, more accessible web experience, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to explore, learn, and connect online. For more information on their services, visit Windstream Internet.

Love technology? Check out our article on useful gadgets and gizmos that might help people with disabilities?

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