Freedom of Information requests have revealed that while 95% of English Councils have disabled employees, only 38% have official digital inclusion and IT accessibility strategies in place.
The investigation by SoftwareONE, a cloud technology solutions company, found that almost three-quarters of English councils are planning to make their IT systems more accessible in the coming years.
The investigation also found that 60% of councils had struggled to make their IT systems more accessible and that despite all not having IT accessibility plans, all councils provided accessibility solutions to their staff where needed.
SoftwareONE’s Service Lead Andy Dunbar said: “Neurodivergent and disabled employees bring a range of skills, insights and different ways of thinking to organisations. However, they may require extra assistive tools to access workplace systems.”
Dunbar explained that despite budget cuts, councils are already improving their IT accessibility, adding that “investment around digital inclusion should accelerate this further, with councils proactively addressing accessibility issues that any disabled or neurodivergent employees experience.”
The investigation’s findings came from Freedom of Information requests sent to 95 councils across England covering Metropolitan, London Borough and Country authorities.
Of councils across the country, 92% screen magnifiers and screen readers, 90% use speech recognition and 77% dictation tools to improve their staff’s access to technology.
Dunbar added: “Achieving this doesn’t mean cash-strapped councils have to pay for the latest technologies either – many already operate modern software suites with extensive accessibility tools built-in, which will help drive better outcomes for staff requiring adjustments, as well as the wider workforce.”
Adi Latif accessibility and usability consultant at AbilityNet, a charity that helps older and disabled people with access to technology, said: “The FOI findings present an encouraging picture for accessibility and digital inclusion, and it’s great to see councils looking to go further by investing more in these areas – especially as we observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December.”
IT accessibility in English councils
The investigation also found that three-quarters of English councils currently provide accessibility options for downloadable content, with over half of the authorities that don’t planning to implement the tools at some point over the next year.
Latif added: “Last year’s regulations requiring public sector bodies to make websites or mobile applications more accessible were a real step forward, but there’s always more that can be done. We’re keen to see even more digital inclusion progress in 2020 and will continue to support the drive to expand accessibility in both the public and private sectors.”
Last year the UK introduced new guidelines on accessibility, which required all public sector bodies including central government, local government, and some charities and NGOs to meet accessibility regulations.
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The guidelines from the UK Government say: “Most existing websites that were published before 23 September 2018 need to comply with the 2018 regulations by 23 September 2020.”
Under the government’s definition making a website accessible means making content available to as many people as possible including those with “impaired vision, motor difficulties, cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, deafness or impaired hearing” and other illnesses, impairments and disabilities.
The guidelines were instituted to make public services more accessible to the at least one in five people in the UK who have illnesses, impairments, or disabilities, and those with temporary disabilities.
The FOI only looked at councils in England and did not include Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.