Continuing progress in making the digital world more inclusive for disabled people should not lead to lower investment in addressing physical and attitudinal barriers, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO).
Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales (DW), the national organisation of DPOs, issued the warning at a conference held to mark the end of its 18-month Digital Lives project, which was funded by the Welsh government.
The conference in Wrexham examined how the shift towards online services – including social security – will present a barrier for many disabled people in Wales, and how to ensure they are not left behind as technology advances.
Davies told the conference that there were “huge positives and huge opportunities” as well as “massive threats” from such advances.
She said: “Major advances in digital inclusion should not lead to a new ‘olde worlde’ with less investment in making the non-virtual world accessible.
“If you can do your shopping online, then why would the local shop need to be accessible?
“If you can access government documents online, then why would the local Jobcentre Plus need to provide support?
“If we have a rich array of relationships online, then why do we need local pubs to be accessible?”
She added: “We must take care not to create modern variants of Victorian buildings and slam-door train carriages.”
She said that online access and social media had “transformed the lives of many disabled people” and offered further opportunities in areas such as independent living, employment, consumer protection, and the media.
And she pointed to how blogs such as The Broken of Britain and Diary of a Benefit Scrounger had allowed disabled people to “present an alternative narrative” to the mainstream agenda on welfare reform, while DPOs had used digital media as a tool for activism, in campaigns such as the WOWPetition.
Research for Ofcom, published last year, found that only 59 per cent of disabled people have any internet access, compared with 88 per cent of non-disabled people.
Davies told the conference that the DW Digital Lives project had introduced about 500 people across Wales to the digital world through a series of workshops.
The workshops have provided information on assistive technology that enables disabled people to get online, increasing their confidence with using technology, and encouraging them to “reap the benefits” of online services and communication.
16 October 2014