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Key notes from DRUK's annual Conference

20 November 2019

DRUK’s Conference and AGM was held today at Resource for London. The Conference focussed on technology and accessibility. There is a fear that disabled people will get left behind as technology develops. We want to ensure we are part of the conversation. DRUK invited a number of keynote speakers, including tech innovators, to share their thoughts about technology, disability, inclusivity and accessibility. We heard from Dr Saul Albert from Loughborough University, Adam Hyland and Emma Turner from Diversity and Ability, Matt Pierri from SociAbility, Gavin Neate from Neatebox and Russell Gundry from OpenDoor at Plexal.

Tweeted highlights from Dr Saul Albert’s speech

Dr Saul Albert from Loughborough Uni is our first speaker. Dr Albert is a carer and is temporarily able-bodied. His current project is a social action based piece of research. He specialises in AI and voice tech used in social care.

Dr Albert showed this video: https://youtube.com/watch?v=225Wlg3pkdo to demonstrate how big tech recognises how it can be used for social care. The ad is for Amazon echo devices.

The model of social care tech is often surveillance based service provision which can result in the withdrawing of people based services. This is obviously problematic. It is about cost control, and produces anxiety in those who need personal care and assistants.

Dr Albert showed a snapshot of a report about a 20 year rollout of how tech will be used across health, social care and education. It uses a medicalised approach, 'fixing' disabled people, rather than adapting the environment.

On the positive side, there is a huge amount of innovation within communities and the way that individuals adapt tech for personal use. Everyday hacks such as using 'game' apps to communicate - a man Dr Albert knows with a nebuliser uses an app like this to alert his PA to help.

Dr Albert is looking for more examples of everyday tech hacks from other disabled people. If you would like to share any, he can be reached here: https://www.lboro.ac.uk/subjects/communication-media/staff/saul-albert/

Tweeted highlights from Adam Hyland’s speech

Our second speaker is Adam Hyland, Policy Director of Diversity and Ability. He will be speaking on the theme of an introduction to Assistive Technology.

He can be found at @adam_hyland on twitter

Percentages of women who experience pay gaps (EHRC 2017)

29.6% of non-disabled women

37.2% of women with mental health conditions

31.1% of women with physical disabilities

28.4% of women with other disabilities

Tech is a way of closing this pay disparity.

One of the things that can help change the landscape is by having an accessibility passport – which outlines adjustments you need which go with you in any role you have in work. These passports would use assistive technology.

Organisations need to achieve positive culture shifts to tackle employment and pay gaps. They can do this by celebrating difference and diversity of thought.

Nothing about us without us – converse with people

Educate leaders about inclusion

Assistive tech is used to perform functions that might otherwise be challenging or impossible. A strategy based approach is needed - assistive tech is most effective when it's used together with learning and instructional strategies.

Microsoft and Google have built-in accessibility tools – dictation, subtitles, checkers, Office Lens, changeable backgrounds, scalable text, grab-able image text etc. All of these can be used in the workplace.

Firms need to go beyond compliance and make their websites truly accessible. Built in text to speech adaptation, scalable text, full image captions and different colour schemes.

Tweeted highlights from Matt Pierri’s speech

Our third speaker is Matt Pierri from tech start up SociAbility. Matt has used a wheelchair since he was 16 following spinal chord injury. His background is in law, but he came to the UK from Australia to study social policy. He is now a tech entrepreneur.

Disabled people and family and friends are an untapped market. One in five people in the UK are disabled. Engaging with them boosts not just equality, but the economy. That has led to a boost in disability innovation.

Phones, remote controls, emails were invented due to constraints imposed by having a disability. We know innovation is better when the constraints are harder. This mindset is emerging again. Innovation in the disabled space is good – because disabled people are great at problem solving.

There is more funding for entrepreneurs, and there’s more positive celebration of disability and innovation. Tech can do much more than it previously could. Devices are smaller and more powerful. They are less intrusive in day to day live.

The Economics of Equality is emerging – Caroline Casey’s Valuable 500 clearly shows the case for investing in disabled people. https://www.thevaluable500.com/

We  need to keep raising awareness and show people change is here, and still coming. Disabled people need to push forward and build on the current momentum. We need to champion the positive narrative. Disability-led inclusion and design is really important. It ensures the right products are designed to solve our challenges.

Disability-led inclusion and design is really important. It ensures the right products are designed to solve our challenges. We need to be pushing into the mainstream. The more accessible something is, the more it can be used by everybody, not just disabled people.

Matt’s app in development is called SociAbility and aims to provide true information about venue accessibility. If there are barriers, steps, accessible loos etc. There is currently no coherent advice. TripAdvisor and Google don’t give all the info. This info matters to disabled people and their friends and family.

This info matters to disabled people and their friends and family. Only 48% find the info they need before going out. If people can’t find it, they don’t go out. A lack of info is a real barrier to social inclusion.

Matt’s solution to this is to provide highly detailed venue info via a mobile app. It is crowdsourced info. It aims to be functional, intuitive and accurate. The info is standardised across venues.

Venues ‘for’ disabled people are often seen as boring. Matt wants to change this by increasing options. He wants the app to be something that helps venues as well as users. UK pubs, bars, restaurants and supermarkets lose £12bn annually by not being accessible.

The app is in the Apple and Android app stores. You can give Matt feedback on the app here: https://www.sociability.app/contact

Tweeted highlights from Gavin Neate’s speech

Our final speaker of the morning is Gavin Neate, CEO of Neatebox https://www.neatebox.com/. Gavin was a guide dog trainer for many years, but in 2015 realised he had to become an innovator, having become increasingly interested in how phone tech was developing its accessibility.

His lightbulb moment, after hanging out with a colleague with a guide dog, and seeing the dangers of road crossing, was the thought: wouldn’t it be good if a mobile phone could operate a pedestrian crossing?

This is how a phone can operate a pedestrian crossing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdrYIjFCfrM

From there, he considered how a phone could open a door, a building, tell the people inside what a person needs. How geofencing can create new accessibility solutions.

75% of disabled people have had poor customer service (Scope). Money is lost when people can’t provide a service. What if they know what is needed before the customer opens the door?

At the moment, when firms get it wrong, they say sorry, train the staff, but then the staff change jobs. The training is lost. 75% of disabled people have hidden disabilities. To know how to help, those people have to declare to staff first. This isn’t ideal.

But what if tech can prep a business in advance? What if a geofence is attached to top tips on how to help a person with specific needs? So the business is alerted, and hooked into support networks for learning, and is ready to help once the customer opens the door?

The Minister for Social Welfare and the CEO of Edinburgh Airport both went on STV to say that Neatebox’s app is a good idea. The emphasis is often on disabled people having to buy tech. Gavin says the price should be on the venue – subscription. The user uses it for free.

House of Fraser had 1.5 star reviews for customer service. After using Neatebox, the reviews went up to five stars. Neatebox now works with Scottish Parliament, RBS, NatWest, RNIB, LNER, Nuffield Health, Edinburgh Airport, NorthLink Ferries, Irish Rail, and various Scottish museums and councils.

Neatebox's app is available on the Apple and Android app stores.

Tweeted highlights from Russell Gundry’s speech

Russell Gundry from Plexal: Innovation is an overused word. It means the great ideas people have by thinking differently. Disability Rights UK is a founding partner in bringing together an advisory panel to determine what is needed for a new East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone.

It’s early days. We are planning to open the zone in April next year. We are keen to understand what people think about the zone, and what they want to see in it. https://www.plexal.com/plexal-launches-new-1-2m-accessible-technology-hub-to-drive-disability-led-innovation/ You can feed in by email: russell@plexal.com.

Plexal is providing a space for entrepreneurs (Matt Pieri who spoke this morning is one) as well as networking, for people who want to innovate for inclusivity. Plexal runs OpenDoor as a project to help new tech innovators get their ideas ready to pitch to investors.

Comments to Russell from Sue Bott: “I'd hate for the new zone to be a special part of the building for disabled people. I'd like to see the whole building be accessible. Could part of the project be to make the whole of  Plexal accessible? So anyone can work anywhere at Plexal, including upstairs. At my special school growing up, we didn't have steps between floors. We had ramps. They were like helterskelters - great fun for kids. You don't necessarily need lifts. Twirly ramps could be design features.”


The AGM agenda and key notes from the AGM can be found here: https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2019/november/druk-agm-agenda-and-key-notes

Supporting documents from the AGM and Conference

Speaker biographies can be found here.

The AGM agenda schedule can be found here.

The Conference schedule can be found here.