Disabled children face greater inequality because of lack of access to digital technology, according to a new report from the KIDS charity and the Disabled Children’s Partnership.
Barriers to getting online are creating a digital divide between young people who can access education, services and friends and disabled children who can’t.
Locked Out: Digital Disadvantage of Disabled Children, Young People and Families during the Covid-19 Pandemic, compiled by Dr Natasha Bradley of the University of the West of England, reveals digital disadvantage happens when families are unable to access computers, phones and broadband for financial reasons or lack of digital knowledge but also when hardware and software is not designed inclusively or when services do not invest in inclusive technology.
This results in children and young people being locked out from accessing education, health care and a social life at a time when being able to use digital technology is increasingly a requirement for equal participation in society.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of KIDS, says: “The pandemic lockdowns have shown the importance of digital technology for young people and many disabled people developed their digital skills and confidence. But for those who were locked out by equipment, funding or because of sensory impairments, tech-phobia or dexterity limitations, lack of online access has increased isolation and reduced access to support.
“Services must learn lessons from the pandemic and create comfortable digital spaces accessible to all. Government, technology companies, education providers and funders must invest in a recovery programme to increase the digital skills and on-line access of the whole family.”
Locked Out report recommendations:
- An urgent recovery programme must be put in place to increase digital skills of the whole family to stop digital disadvantage resulting in children being permanently locked out
- Digital service design should start with accessibility, co-created with disabled people
- Accessibility standards must be improved so that disabled children and young people aren’t locked out from essential information
- Digital infrastructure should be fast, available and affordable for all
- Digital inclusion should be an explicit part of government policy at every level from disability policy to strategy and reviews
- Tech developers must work explicitly with groups and individuals facing multiple disadvantages
- Develop digital champions across all sectors to demonstrate commitment to accessibility
- Learnings are taken from this watershed moment in history. The gap between disabled people’s experiences and the expectations of sectors across society cannot continue.