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Freedom of Information (FOI) requests undertaken by SoftwareONE have found almost three quarters (72%) of all English councils are planning to invest in making their IT systems more accessible over the next 12 months. Almost all councils (95%) have at least one disabled employee, and all respondents said they have assistive technologies in place.

However, assistance is mostly on case-by-case basis, with only 38% of councils having an official digital inclusion and accessibility strategy for employees. Further investment in 2020 will address this lack of strategy, enabling councils to empower all employees to confidently carry out their job role.

60% of councils said they experienced technology challenges when trying to make IT systems more accessible for employees. While the majority are providing assistive technologies despite these challenges – offering tools such as screen magnifiers (92%), dictation (77%) or speech recognition (90%) – councils may be missing out on a simpler way of improving digital inclusion.

Many widely deployed solutions, such as Microsoft 365, have accessibility features such as Soundscape or Translator already built-in. This represents a real opportunity for technical consolidation and cost savings for councils, as well as improved user experience, which is currently being overlooked due to lack of awareness of the tools on offer.

“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,” said Andy Dunbar, Service Lead, Technology Services at SoftwareONE. “The FOI findings show that, despite heavy budget cuts, councils are already making strides to support employees and citizens with accessibility needs. However, investment around digital inclusion should accelerate this further, with councils proactively addressing accessibility issues that any disabled or neurodivergent employees experience. 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.”

“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,” said Adi Latif, accessibility and usability consultant at AbilityNet, a UK charity that helps older and disabled people navigate technology at home, work and education.

“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.”