Scope - Written Evidence (LOL0094)

Introduction  

 

The pandemic has increased disabled peoples’ reliance on digital technology in every aspect of their lives. Many have faced challenges accessing essential services to support their physical health and wellbeing. A significant number of disabled people have been only interacting with friends and family online, as well as having adapt to the huge shift to digital technology in the worlds of work and education. 

 

As one of the UK’s leading pan-disability charities, our response sets out Scope’s findings from our research and conversations with disabled people. It looks at how living online long term will impact disabled people’s social and economic wellbeing, as well as their mental and physical health.

 

We also set out our recommendations for Government on how to mitigate some of the challenges posed by increasingly living online, whilst also capturing the benefits.

 

Summary of recommendations   

 

Health, wellbeing and social interactions

 

 

 

 

 

Quality of working life

 

 

Online learning

 

 

  1. Health and wellbeing

 

Access to online services 

 

1.1            Online accessibility remains a significant issue for many disabled people, with the potential to lock some out of the essential services they need to support their physical health and wellbeing.

1.2            Scope’s research has found that almost half of disabled people are sometimes unable to complete a task online because of accessibility issues such as a lack of alt-text and image descriptions ([1]).

1.3            In 2020, still, less than two per cent of websites are accessible to everyone ([2]). In 2019, 98 per cent of homepages from one million websites tested failed to meet the minimum standards of accessibility ([3]).

1.4            Disabled people have told us that the pandemic has increased their reliance on digital technology for the smooth running of almost all areas of their lives ([4]).

1.5            It is therefore, no surprise that, since the beginning of the pandemic, Scope have heard that disabled people fear they have “more to lose” if they have issues with connectivity, technology and accessibility ([5]).

1.6            There has been an overwhelming feeling of frustration, feeling "stupid" and "a burden" when disabled people are unable to perform tasks online ([6]).

 

“I can choose to not interact with so many services. But that isn’t an option for food. I need food. The level of frustration and even shame can be very upsetting to the extend I won’t be able to speak out loud for the rest of the day, both while shopping on the website and the fatigue of having the delivery ([7]).”  

 

Extra costs

 

1.7            Online inaccessibility is a significant factor in the extra costs faced by disabled people. 

1.8            Scope research has shown that before the pandemic disabled people faced, an average, extra costs of £583 per month due to their disability or impairment ([8]).

1.8            Disabled people have reported an increased reliance on specific online services during the pandemic, such as shopping for food and essentials and booking healthcare and GP services or appointments ([9]). However, many

1.9            many disabled people have experienced a range of issues when accessing services online. This includes a lack of image descriptions, complex language, website layouts being incompatible with screen readers and not being able to contact companies ([10]).

1.10        Therefore, the impact of the pandemic driving more services online, has left many disabled people with increasingly fewer options when purchasing goods or services long-term, meaning they are more likely to regularly miss out or have to spend more money.

 

“I can get quite frustrated with myself. It’s more expensive for me to shop online, but it reduces my pain fatigue and other symptoms so much that I do it almost all the time. I already feel bad about the additional costs I incur because I’m disabled and make that choice, the inaccessibility on top of that can be disheartening ([11]).”

 

National Disability Strategy

 

1.11        The Government is due to publish a National Disability Strategy in Spring 2021. The Government must use this opportunity to drive better online accessibility for disabled people.

1.12        This should include encouraging businesses to include disabled people in the design process and provide guidance about how to build in accessibility from the start as the right approach.

1.13        The Strategy should also include measures to strengthen regulation around accessibility standards on websites.

1.14        A drive towards greater accessibility online would support disabled people as consumers, helping to address the extra costs disabled people face while also promoting their spending on consumer goods.

1.15        Scope has proposed the establishment a new centre for assistive technology and accessibility.

1.16        The centre could lead the way in strengthening accessibility standards, building on the existing Web Capability Accessibility Guidelines, and also work with businesses and public bodies to help embed these stronger standards in the design process.  

 

 

  1. Social interaction

 

2.1            The pandemic has made everyone much more reliant on digital technology for keeping in touch with people.

2.2            With Covid regulations, such as social distancing and those who are ‘clinically vulnerable’ being advised stay at home, for many disabled people digital technology will remain their main way of interacting with friends, family and work colleagues.

 

“My social life is now online, I tried dating online which was a disaster! I’ve met some of my friends online, a bit of a drinking session, gaming, got my consoles and PC, switched to online as well, I’m so nervous about the modem going down, but as it’s so critical I have an agreement with my neighbours I can use theirs ([12]).” 

 

2.3            The experiences of isolation and loneliness we have heard from many disabled people during the pandemic are likely to continue long term.

2.4            In research Scope commissioned, all the disabled people we spoke to said the reduced social contact with friends and family had negatively affected them ([13]).

2.5            Many missed the emotional support they drew from spending time with people they do not live with ([14]). For those who live alone, not having any physical social contact has been particularly challenging ([15]).

2.6            However, for some of the young disabled people we spoke to, despite missing their friends and family, the move online has meant less “pressure” to socialise in person, or in new places ([16]).

2.7            Friends and family have been more understanding of their concerns and willing to socialise online. This removed the usual feelings they experience of anxiety about meeting up, because somewhere might not be accessible.

2.8            For others, the increase in online hangouts has also opened up new opportunities to join groups and meet new people that they wouldn’t have met before.

2.9            For these young disabled people, they hope that the greater provision of online social activities will continue and that their friends and family will remain open to interact in different ways.

 

“Online hangouts have made life much more accessible. I didn’t have to think are there steps, or is there an accessible toilet for a wheelchair? As things eased, I began thinking how much easier things were during lockdown, as I didn’t have to worry about all of that ([17]).”  

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Quality of working life

 

Flexible working

 

3.1            The pandemic has highlighted how digital technology can be an important enabler in some disabled workers’ employment.

3.2            Technology has supported some disabled people to work from home, facilitated more flexible working patterns, and reduced the issues and the stresses associated with physical inaccessibility on transport and in offices.

3.3            Working from home has helped some disabled workers’ mental health and wellbeing, giving them more time to manage their disability or condition around their work, and has ultimately helped them stay in work. 

3.4            Home working has also given some young disabled people access to more job opportunities.

3.5            The number of employers advertising home-based roles has increased, allowing young disabled applicants to no longer have to worry about their disability or condition being a concern in a workplace setting ([18]).

3.6            However, many home-based roles currently advertised are only temporary, or fixed-term contracts. Scope would like to see more permanent home-based contracts available, to help young disabled workers be able to work from home and manage their condition.

3.7            It is vital the Government learns the positive lessons from the pandemic and continues to promote flexible working to employers, to support more disabled people into sustainable employment.

 

Access to assistive and modern technology

 

3.8            The disability employment gap has been stuck at 30 per cent for over a decade. It is currently 29.2 per cent - this is a 0.6 per cent increase compared to last year ([19]).

3.9            Ensuring that disabled people have access to technology that can support them in work is essential to addressing the gap.

3.10        We know the Access to Work (AtW) scheme can be very effective at supporting disabled people to stay in work by funding adjustments.

3.11        However, the AtW scheme, which is currently only used by one per cent of disabled people in employment, needs reforms ([20]). 

3.12        Guidance currently prohibits employers from purchasing assistive and modern technological equipment, such as iPads, which could be enormously helpful for disabled employees.

3.13        The Government must increase the awareness and uptake of the scheme, as well as reform the funding guidance to allow employers to buy assistive and modern technology.

 

Job opportunities

 

3.14        Disabled people have long experienced barriers to finding work. The increasing reliance, before the pandemic, on the internet to carry out work searches and online applications has only increased the barriers.

3.15        The pandemic has exacerbated these barriers, with interviews now being held virtually and video conference technologies not accessible to everyone.

With an increasing reliance on the internet within the job market, it is vital Government acts to address online accessibility through the forthcoming National Disability Strategy.

 

“It’s impossible to find a website that caters to disabled people, when looking for jobs ([21]).

 

Types of jobs

 

3.16        Research has found that disabled people more are likely to be in lower-paid work in sectors most vulnerable to technological changes ([22]).

3.17        The Fourth Industrial Revolution poses a big risk to disability employment as these low-payed, low-skilled jobs, are increasingly replaced by roles requiring workers to use digital technology, or to move online.

3.18        Only 38 per cent of people with an impairment have the digital skills need for work, this is compared to the 52 per cent UK average ([23]).

3.19        The digital skills divide means that many disabled people, at present, would be excluded from these new sectors, potentially pushing some out of employment altogether

3.20        If disabled people are to benefit from technological changes more widely, it is vital the Government takes steps to increase the accessibility of digital and technical jobs.

 

 

 

  1. Online learning

 

4.1            For many young disabled people, the increase in online flexible learning due to the pandemic, has meant they can now access learning at their own pace, opened up new training opportunities, as well as making their existing courses more accessible.

4.2            For many young disabled people, the move to online has increased their capacity to learn, as they are able to manage their disability or condition, much more around their online studies.

4.3            Some young disabled students told us they struggled to participate in learning before the pandemic, as different lecturers or teachers would put up learning materials in one format, and then another in an inaccessible format, or refuse to give disabled students online copies at all. Now, teachers and lecturers have now been forced to put up learning online and in the same format

4.4            The introduction of distanced learning courses has also allowed some to participate in types of courses, previously unavailable to them.

4.5            Additionally, online exams, have removed the extra worry they normally experienced having additional support on their exam days. For some, the online exams were the first time they had been able to take assessments with no additional support.

4.6            Government must aim to ensure disabled young disabled people have a choice of options of how they learn and are assessed following pandemic.

4.7            Offering a mix of both face-to-face and online methods, as well as real-time learning and recordings, to suit their different needs.

 

“It doesn’t make sense to me. Things that universities said no we can’t do this before. Then Covid comes along and suddenly they can ([24]).”

 

 

11 December 2020


[1] Scope Big Hack Reporting Tool, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[2] Scope Big Hack Reporting Tool, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[3] WebAIM Million analysis (2019) https://webaim.org/projects/million/

[4] Britain Thinks research (October 2020).

[5] Britain Thinks research (October 2020).

[6] Scope Big Hack Reporting Tool, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[7] Scope Big Hack Reporting Tool, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[8] Scope, Disability Price Tag (2019). https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/extra-costs/disability-price-tag/

[9] Britain Thinks research (October 2020).

[10] Scope Big Hack Supermarket Shopping Online, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[11] Scope Big Hack Reporting Tool, The Big Hack Survey Analytics. https://reporting.bighack.org/analytics/

[12] Scope, (October 2020) research commissioned by Britain Thinks.

[13] Scope, (October 2020) research commissioned by Britain Thinks.

[14] Scope, (October 2020) research commissioned by Britain Thinks.

[15] Scope, (October 2020) research commissioned by Britain Thinks.

[16] Scope, (Sept 2020) Young Disabled Persons focus group.

[17] Scope, (Sept 2020) Young Disabled Persons focus group.

[18] Scope, (Sept 2020) Young Disabled Persons focus group.

[19] ONS, (November 2020) ONS Quarterly Labour Force Survey June to Sept 2020. https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/

[20] Department for Work and Pensions (August 2019), Access to Work Statistics: April 2007 to March 2019. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/access-to-work-statistics-april-2007-to-march-2019

[21] Scope online reporting tool via The Big Hack, 2019. www.bighack.org

[22] Clarke and Cominetti (2019). Setting the record straight: How record employment has changed the UK. Resolution Foundation. https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2019/01/Setting-the-record-straight-full-employment-report.pdf

[23] Lloyds Consumer Digital Index: https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/banking_with_us/whats-happening/lb-consumer-digital-index-2020-report.pdf

[24] Scope, (Sept 2020) Young Disabled Persons focus group.