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A joint venture from cross-party thinktank Policy Connect, Bournemouth University and the Ace Centre has been launched to design public policy to ensure that technology works for everyone in response to the rapid digitalisation of services seen as a result of the pandemic.

The announcement of the new Assistive and Accessible Technology (ATech) Policy Lab was made at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) and led by Minister for Disabled People Chloe Smith MP and parliamentarian Paul Maynard MP

It is built on the idea that when accessibility is designed into technology from the start, it can be life-changing for older and disabled people, enabling them to live healthy, rewarding and independent lives.

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The lab will bring together disabled people, sector leaders and researchers to get into the detail of policy design, incubate new ideas, stress test the best proposals, and generate the evidence and insight that moves policymakers to action.

This will be done through interactive policy design workshops, targeted policy proposal papers, collaborative research projects and more.

Bournemouth University has made ATech one of its four Strategic Investment Areas, building on its established research specialism in the field. Bournemouth University’s expertise in assistive technology spans a range of disciplines, from health and wellbeing tools to engineering, prosthetics and psychology.

Professor Christos Gatzidis, Convener for Assistive Technology at Bournemouth University, commented: “We’re passionate about creating accessible technology that creates a fairer society for all and allows people to live better lives free from restriction. Our research and knowledge spans healthcare, engineering and digital and we want to use this expertise to make a difference in the policy landscape too.”

The lab builds on recent momentum in ATech policy. The UK Government’s recent National Disability Strategy makes technology a clear priority. This is encapsulated by its new ambition to ‘make the UK the most accessible place in the world to live and work with technology’, and significant government funding has been set aside to scope a Centre for Assistive and Accessible Technology.

Robert McLaren, Director of the ATech Policy Lab at Policy Connect, said: “Assistive and Accessible Technology (ATech) has the attention of policymakers as never before.

“The government’s National Disability Strategy states a new ambition to ‘help make the UK the most accessible place in the world to live and work with technology’, and the Leader of the Opposition discussed how ATech can boost educational outcomes during his Conference Speech.

“We need to work with disabled people, the tech sector, third sector and academia to translate this enthusiasm and shared commitment into the well-designed, evidence-based, and funded initiatives that will transform ATech access and support for users on the ground.

“That’s why I am excited to lead the ATech Policy Lab along with my talented and growing team.

“With our supporting partners Ace Centre and Bournemouth University and wider stakeholders we can inform public policy to unlock the full potential of technology to break down barriers for disabled people and bring the benefits of accessibility to everyone.”

Ace Centre is a national charity providing services enabling people with complex needs to communicate by using technology.

The ATech Policy Lab will heavily focus on collaboration, working with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology (APPGAT) and stakeholders across the disability and technology sectors. The partnership with Bournemouth University and the Ace Centre will provide academic rigour and expertise in service delivery to Policy Connect’s work as part of a diverse community of stakeholders.

Ace Centre’s Anna Reeves concluded: “Disabled people are already using technology to break down barriers in their lives, from communication, to education, to living independently.

“But for too many, the support to use Assistive and Accessible Technology (ATech) still isn’t there – often because of a simple lack of awareness.

“The Ace Centre is a leading charity providing ATech assessment, training and information services across England, with a focus on those with complex needs. We’re proud to partner with Policy Connect on the ATech Policy Lab, bringing the expertise from our colleagues and clients, to design evidence-based policy solutions that will close the gaps in ATech provision and awareness.”

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