The news that Access to Work is to get £8m of extra funding this year will delight many fans of a scheme designed to encourage disabled people to either remain in work or return to paid employment.
The prospect of a further doubling of funds between now and the financial year that ends in 2014 will cheer those involved in assessing people’s needs, supplying technology and training workers in how to use it.
It has long been a complaint that while school and university students have comparatively easy access to accessible technology, adults who have finished education are largely left to their own devices.
However, welcome as the extra money undoubtedly is, cash is only part of getting Access to Work to deliver. Users have long complained that not enough effort is made to draw employers’ attention to the scheme: it is too much of a well kept secret.
That may explain why some organisations refuse to accept that they should pay for extra equipment even after it has been recommended by an Access to Work assessor.
There is also confusion about who the ultimate beneficiary is. While employees apply for funds, the money is paid to employers, who also get to keep the hardware and software for which grants are made available.
Fair enough you may think in that employers usually have to contribute to these reasonable adjustments, but that leaves job changers, in theory, having to start all over again.
And there is some question about the assessment process. Last year the job of assessing claimants for Access to Work was outsourced to private companies and big charities such as RNIB and Leonard Cheshire.
Ability has heard a trickle of moans from suppliers concerned about conflicts of interest and lack of appropriate assessment skills.
There was further cheering news about the prospects for assistive technology last month with the establishment of ATcare, an organisation set up to make sure that more disabled people benefit from research, much of it government funded.
At present less than a quarter of projects end up with products that a disabled person can go out and buy. There was plenty of evidence of innovative ideas on display at the opening of ATcare. Now all we need is the capital, commercial nouse and marketing skills to bring them to users.
Finally, a thank you to one group of disabled workers who certainly have no trouble getting the technology they need for their jobs: web and software accessibility testers working for the Shaw Trust. They recently spent a day putting Ability’s web site through its paces. We look forward to implementing their recommendations soon.