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For those of you who do not know Lady Soho is Martha Lane Foxes’ title. She has just given an inspiring Richard Dimbleby Lecture that if you did not see or hear it I recommend you go to www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05p9tvt/the-richard-dimbleby-lecture-30032015 as soon as you can.
The best way to explain the thrust of her lecture is to quote her introduction:
It is in within our reach for Britain to leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.
And I think that if we did that, it would not only be good for our economy, but it would be good for our culture, our people, our health and our happiness.
I’m not going to tell you it’s simple. It’s not. I get frustrated when discussions of the internet are reduced to “it’s going to solve all world problems” or “it’s screwing everything up”. It’s always more complicated than that.
But, if you want me to give you a single big thought, it’s this:
We need a new national institution that would lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet.
I don’t say this because I’m a fan of institutions. I say this because the values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of that equation needs a boost.
It needs more weight.
We’re going too slow, being too incremental. We need to be bolder. A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world.
It would be an independent organisation that is given its power by government but has a strong mandate from the public – we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it.
It must help us address some of the biggest issues that we face but it must engage with people in a radical new way. In fact I wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This is no normal public body.
It’s time to balance the world of dot com, so I would call it DOT EVERYONE.
There are 3 areas I would prioritise. There are others but for me these are the most pressing. It’s these I want to concentrate on tonight because I think they best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands .
Firstly, how do we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society?
Secondly, how do we get more women involved in technology?
Thirdly, how do we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created?
So why as an accessibility evangelist am I so excited about the idea. Well, firstly because I have met and spoken with Martha on several occasions and I know that she is passionate about access for all and that passion includes people with disabilities. She was involved in a very serious car crash that left her unable to walk for a long time and that personal experience means she understands the importance of accessibility. Secondly, Dot Everyone means what it says on the tin and includes everyone whether they have a disability or they are able bodied. Thirdly, during the lecture she talked about accessibility, including an anecdote:
I’ve often returned in my mind to Mary in Newcastle, who is a disabled full-time carer for her heavily disabled husband. She was sinking fast into a hideous depression until a local volunteer taught her how to use the internet. She told me it saved her life. Yes, saved her life.
We are moving into the election campaign so in one sense nothing can happen with Dot Everyone until May. However, election campaigns are an excellent opportunity to force politicians to talk about the need for dot everyone and inclusive IT and even to persuade them to promise action on it when they are in government.
It should be important to them because:
It will improve the service that government gives to the population
Make it easier and faster to use
Improve the economy
So there is a lot we can all do now:
Read Martha’s lecture at www.doteveryone.org.uk/#comment-34 so we understand the messages.
Go to hustings and ask about their plans to implement dot everyone.