Does technology make it easier or harder for disabled entrepreneurs?

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

This house believes that technology makes it harder for disabled entrepreneurs. The motion was narrowly defeated when debated at the event organised by WCIT on the 7th October.  During the debate some fairly strong views were expressed but the audience agreed that:

  • Technology has made it easier for disabled entrepreneurs today as compared to 20 years ago. Speech recognition, text-to-speech, braille displays, and special input devices have all helped people with disabilities to use computers and to communicate. Further the internet, email and SMS have all helped them gather and disseminate information.

  • Even with technology it is harder for disabled entrepreneurs compared to abled-bodied entrepreneurs. This in a sense just a fact of life, a disability makes things harder. However the view was expressed that certain disabilities enhance a persons ability to do specific tasks, for example where attention to detail is required, in these cases the judicious use of technology may provide excellent job opportunities.

  • Technology creates barriers to disabled entrepreneurs . A tender that must be completed on-line is a major barrier if the forms are not accessible. Information, for example on how to set up a company, is only provided on-line and is not in an accessible format. The information may be contained in image or a video without captions making it inaccessible to people with vision impairment or hearing loss.

  • In the future technology could make life easier for the disabled entrepreneur; but there is a danger that more inaccessible technology will be developed and deployed and then the disabled entrepreneur will find it even harder than they do today.

One of the argument against the motion was based around the idea that we cannot blame technology for making things harder but should blame the attitudes of people and organisations towards people with disabilities, such as:

  • A person with a disability is not capable of doing this job so we will not give them the opportunity.

  • People with disabilities are a small minority so it is not worth the time and effort develop or use technology that is accessible.

  • A person only needs financial support, via Access to Work, if they are employed or about to be employed, whereas the entrepreneur needs this help when they are trying to set up a business.

  • Disability organisations compete for funding, and revenue stream, between themselves and the entrepreneurs. This sometimes means duplication and even worse good ideas being killed off.

What is needed is an orchestrated effort between government, vendors, employers, disability organisations and people with disabilities to change attitudes and remove/reduce the barriers to the disabled entrepreneur. This will enable everyone to play to their strengths, eliminate unnecessary barriers and provide accommodations so that anyone who wishes to compete in the business world.

This debate was one of several events this Autumn in London concentrating on issues of ICT Accessibility. If you would like to understand more about the the issues, attitudes and technologies you may be interested in: