Tech disability champions appointed

Written by Peter Walker
12/03/19

The government has named its five new disability champions, selected to ensure technology and online businesses are not forgetting about their disabled customers.

Marianne Waite, founder of Think Designable, has been appointed as brand and design champion; Paul Smyth, head of digital accessibility at Barclays, is the new web accessibility champion; Patrick Stephenson, client managing director for central and local government at Fujitsu, is the technology champion; Heather Smith, national equality specialist for the National Trust is the countryside and heritage champion; and Ed Warner, founder of Motionspot is the products and spaces champion.

Using their industry influence, the new champions will remove the obstacles faced by disabled consumers who struggle to purchase products or services online and are often locked out of benefitting from the latest innovations in technology.

The government started looking for the tech-focused champions back in December.

Minister for disabled people Sarah Newton said: “For too long technology and online business have been missing out on the spending power of disabled customers and their families – worth a staggering £249 billion a year.

“I want tech companies to be a force good, ensuring inclusion is a fundamental component of the design process so that disabled people can benefit from the latest innovations,” she added.

Website accessibility champion Smyth is tasked with encouraging businesses to push accessibility in digital efforts, building better feedback mechanisms for disabled customers to raise concerns and supporting government to enforce digital accessibility compliance.

He commented: “Realising this accessible future - underpinned by inclusive technology that works for everyone - will require more collaboration and above all participation from everyone involved in making, buying, selling or using technology.”

Technology champion Stephenson noted that the assistive technology sector currently contributes £85 million to the economy, but many mainstream businesses are still missing out on disabled people’s custom by failing to design technology with their needs in mind.

He explained: “I will work collaboratively across the sector to unlock the full potential of technology, bringing together partners such as techUK and Business in the Community to develop new ideas, improve results and create opportunities.”

The latest appointments join fourteen existing champions who have already made significant progress in improving accessibility across a diverse range of industries, from insurance to music.