This year, BCS is exploring the contribution that disabled and neurodivergent people make to the profession, and what can be done to allow those groups to contribute even more. The issues disabled and neurodivergent people face not only impacts individuals but prevents people from contributing to the profession in ways that benefit the whole of society. Brian Runciman MBCS and Matthew Bellringer MBCS MBPsS want to get you involved in a new project for 2023.
As part of addressing the digital divide and diversity issues facing digital professionals in 2023, the forthcoming diversity research will be looking at understanding and mitigating barriers to using technology, and to working in the IT profession itself.
In 2022 BCS focused on the experience of black women in IT as a leader into our regular diversity analysis. For 2023 we want to focus on the experience of disabled and neurodivergent people who work in IT. This has three strands: neurodiverse people, those with physical impairments, and those with sensory impairments.
Why are we doing this? Though accounting for 21% of the working age population in 2021, people with disabilities constituted only 15% of the total UK workforce. If representation in IT were equal to the workforce 'norm' there could be an additional 63,000 IT specialists in the UK with disabilities.
In 2020 the BCS analysis of ONS figures showed that 158,000 IT specialists reported having disabilities, in 2021 this rose to 213,000. Disabled people are a one of the largest marginalised groups in the country – according to Scope there are 14.6 million disabled people in the UK, 21% of whom are working age adults.
We want to reflect the story of these people in the real world – the role assistive technology, attitudes of employers, tips for employers and employees on providing effective support for disabled and neurodiverse people, and more.
Over the years we have covered diversity and inclusion issues terms have evolved. BCS endeavours to make every effort to be inclusive in use of language, and this is just as true in this context, where terms evolve more quickly than many areas of life.
The ONS definition of a person considered to have a disability is if they have a self-reported long-standing illness, condition or impairment that causes difficulty with day-to-day activities. To define disability they refer to the Government Statistical Service (GSS) harmonised ‘core’ definition: This identifies as disabled a person who has a physical or mental health condition or illness that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or more, that reduces their ability to carry-out day-to-day activities.
We will use the social model of disability, which suggests that people are limited not because there is something inherently wrong with them, but because of barriers created by society - often inadvertently - which prevent them from fully participating. By this definition, disabled people are those who experience practical barriers based on differences in ability, and/or prejudiced attitudes to people with different abilities.
There is a lot more to be delved into around the use of language, evolution of terms and so on. Our aim is to use ‘clean language’ in an effort to avoid major pitfalls.
Even people who don’t identify as disabled can benefit considerably from accessibility improvements. Everyone’s physical, sensory and cognitive abilities vary, and by improving matters for people with greater needs in an area, we improve things for everyone who shares that need to some extent.
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So what is BCS looking for here? We are already partnering with the BCS NeurodiverseIT Specialist Group, and we would welcome partnerships with other groups, especially as we also want to cover the experience of those with physical impairments and sensory impairments.
We are interested in hearing personal stories – from the perspective of employment – employers and employees - and the pros and cons of current assistive technology. We want to bring together some ideas of effective practice – remembering that this will be contextual, of course.
Finally we want to cover the idea of the benefit to broader society – that according to the principles of Universal Design, addressing the barriers that affect a specific group can make things work better for everyone. What does Universal Design look like in the IT profession, and how can we do it well?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to contribute to this discussion.