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The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) recently held a webinar on the role of assistive technology within the UK Government’s National Strategy for Disabled People, which is due to be published in 2020.

Last year, the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto pledged to publish the UK’s National Strategy for Disabled People, which aims to tackle challenges faced by disabled people in all aspects and stages of their lives.

The strategy presents an opportunity to forge a fresh approach to disability policy that harnesses the social and economic potential of disabled people.

Now, APPGAT is working with the UK Government, industry, academia and disabled people to ensure that the National Strategy for Disabled People recognises the potential of assistive technology.

As part of the Group’s work, it held a webinar on the role of assistive technology within the National Strategy for Disabled People.

Chaired by Policy Connect’s Policy Manager for Assistive Technology, Geena Vabulas, the meeting heard presentations from the Academic Director of University College London’s Global Disability Innovation Hub Dr Catherine Holloway and Policy Connect’s Head of Health and Accessibility Robert McLaren, with a keynote address from the Director of the government’s Disability Unit Marcus Bell.

In his keynote, Marcus Bell, Director of the UK Government’s Disability Unit, set out the five broad themes that are likely to be at the centre of the National Strategy for Disabled People:

  • Access to justice
  • The built environment
  • Tackling stigma and harassment
  • Independent living
  • Products and services

Importantly, Marcus recognised assistive technology as a “very important” cross-cutting theme of the strategy, adding: “Assistive technology has the potential to really help disabled people access things they can’t currently access.”

He also noted that feedback so far from disabled people about their priorities goes well beyond the typical list of welfare and social security issues that policymakers usually seek to address on their behalf. These include the problems caused by being unable to enjoy a full social life and wanting to undertake activities that others might take for granted, such as shopping, sport and cultural events.

In addition, another key point in the webinar was that inaccessible and incompatible assistive technologies are common barriers to disabled people making the most of the latest technological products and services. To address this issue, the Disability Unit will encourage assistive technology companies to engage more effectively with disabled people to understand their needs and any issues they might be facing with assistive technology.

A final key topic that emerged from the webinar was the importance of data surrounding assistive technology services. According to APPGAT, the paucity of data about assistive technology services is one of the most frequently discussed issues at APPGAT meetings.

In response to this, the UK Government expects data and evidence to be a central component of its new disability strategy, which is likely to include a plan to collect more and better data about disability over the coming years.

APPGAT intends to host more dedicated events in the future on the impact of assistive technology services on disabled people entering the workplace.

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