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The National Disability strategy must be led by disabled people

The National Disability strategy must be led by disabled people
3 min read

The National Disability Strategy, published in July last year, set out actions the government promised to take to improve the everyday lives of the 14 million disabled people in the UK.

The strategy set out to remove barriers for disabled people across all aspects of life. Unfortunately, it’s not off to the best start.  

The High Court has ruled that the consultation underpinning the strategy was unlawful. This is clearly a serious problem. Genuine consultation with disabled people must underpin the actions the government takes to improve their lives. Nothing about us, without us.

I look forward to hearing more from the Disability Unit on how they will address such failings in future consultations.

Unquestionably, one of the most positive elements of the strategy was the cross departmental approach. Improving lives for disabled people means removing barriers and improving opportunities and inclusion in education, at work, at home, at play and online.  

A particular interest of mine is assistive technology (AT). I’m an AT user, I couldn’t do my job, keep connected with friends or do anything online without it. Assistive Technology can be lifechanging for disabled people but it is also enabling for everyone, as Apple demonstrated when they mainstreamed their iPhone accessibility features.

Genuine consultation with disabled people must underpin the actions the government takes to improve their lives

The important announcement of one million pounds for a Centre for Assistive and Accessible Technology has such potential, for individuals but also for our economy. A progress update, including current plans, a timeline, and when we can expect to learn more would be of great value.

One of the jewels in our national approach that predates the Disability Strategy is the support available for disabled students through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).

The DSA offers grants to help students through their higher education experience. It is a brilliant scheme. Sadly, it is not currently delivering as it should, and as it must, to achieve its aims.  

Only 50 per cent of those eligible apply and the system is beset with problems around the bureaucratic burden for the students themselves, with significant delays (over 100 days from application to award and much longer to get support in place, which usually means it is not there for the start of the course) and a lack of accountability.

However, there is a real opportunity here to make this jewel of a scheme shine as it should. I will be publishing a report next week that will make several recommendations to government to this end.

One recommendation builds on the work set out in the strategy – to pilot an adjustments passport – that can be taken from higher education into the workplace. I will recommend this passport pilot be extended to the transition from school into higher education.  

Back in 2018, I delivered an independent report for the government on how to open up public appointments to disabled people. I made a series of practical recommendations and was delighted to see some of these set out in the strategy.

Specifically, a commitment to launch a new website and application system by March this year to improve how talented candidates, including disabled people, can access public appointments. It was also stated that this will be coupled with increased outreach, including with disability networks. Again, I look forward to an update on progress against this commitment.

The government has produced a Disability Strategy that, if implemented, would help transform the country and ensure that whoever and wherever you are, the spark of your talent and potential can be connected with the kindling of opportunity.

What better purpose than that? Enabling and empowering disabled people, improving the country for all citizens.

 

Lord Holmes is a conservative peer. 

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