My philosophy is that IT should equate to equality of opportunity and the facilitating of individuals to have the highest quality of life available to them.
Such ideas cover many areas including medical, education, third world issues, ethics and issues affecting people with impairments.
I would like to take issues affecting people with impairments as the fulcrum of my argument. At this stage, it might be useful to show the difference between the terms people with disability and people with impairments.
The British Council of Disabled People, (BCOPD) says this about disability: 'We believe that the position of disabled people in society is a human and civil rights issue and that society must be changed to allow our full inclusion. We believe that our disability arises from society's negative treatment of us; it is not an inevitable consequence of our impairments. So equality is possible and can be achieved though removing the barriers to our social inclusion.'
This belief is called the social model of disability, which was developed by disabled people in the 1970s.
So social inclusion can be achieved by removing the barriers that turn impairments into disability.
For example, if you remove the monitor from your computer, you are severely disabling your PC to act as an empowering tool. Similarly, if we move technology from the fields of medicine and education we will disable professionals from reaching their full potentials.
At a lower level, if you happen to be a wheelchair user and you come across a staircase where there is no elevator or a high kerb without a drop, you are immodestly disabled.
IT therefore has the ability to minimise impairments or turn them into disabling factors. As the IT professional body, we therefore have the ethical obligation to maximise the rapidly increasing potential of technology to create social inclusion by breaking down the barriers presented by current social structures and physical or mental impairments.
Is that the only reason for our members to be concerned about IT and social inclusion? I think not, as shown by some statistics regarding disability and also the laws which now prevail in the USA and UK.
It is important to note that the UK laws apply to volunteer sector clubs and professional bodies such as the BCS.
Society and the economy as a whole will also benefit from comprehensive rights for disabled people. There are estimated to be around 8.5m disabled people in the UK: a potentially huge pool of customers.
Thus, if services are more accessible to a wider range of disabled people, businesses are likely to generate considerable extra revenue.
The 1993 Touche Ross report 'Profiting from Opportunities - A New Market for Tourism' identified the scale of this.
It suggested that the potential new market for disabled tourists across Europe, if facilities were made accessible, was worth around £17bn.
As well as increased sales, businesses with accessible services are likely to have a better public image which should improve business opportunities.
Service providers have a significant role to play in ending the marginalisation of disabled people in society. For example, the increase in services that are accessible through the internet and over the telephone has obvious benefits for disabled people.
However, unless disabled people have the choice of accessing services in the same environment as non-disabled people, we shall never achieve a truly inclusive society.
Whether it is a disabled person sharing a meal with work colleagues in a restaurant or taking their children to an amusement park, the need for integrated services is clear. Disabled people should not have to be segregated from their family and friends in accessing services.
Part five of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which deals with access to goods, services and premises, makes it illegal, unless proven impractical, to offer a lesser service to people with impairments.
Clearly this should impact greatly on the IT industry and therefore, the BCS. Moreover, the industry is now global and the Society cannot afford to ignore other legal acts similar to the DDA.
One example of the above is Section 508 of the American Disability Act (ADA) 1998 which requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the federal government.
The law applies to all federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an 'undue burden'.
Section 508 speaks of various means for disseminating information, including computers, software and electronic office equipment. It applies to, but is not solely focused on, federal pages on the internet or the World Wide Web. It does not apply to web pages of private industry.
It doesn't take a lot of thought, therefore, to understand why the BCS should consider social inclusion in its policy. It should not however, compromise the individual areas of expertise which such a policy will affect, rather, it should bring about a gelling of minds in order to maximise the positive effect of IT on the whole tapestry of our society and that of the world.
The BCS should be recognised as a pioneering professional body that cares about the social outcome of its activities, encouraging and instigating research that will not only be inclusive but will push back the boundaries of our sciences for the good of all.
In one of my recent papers I stated that I would be delighted if all of the vocational qualifications that can be acquired though the BCS became inclusive of people with any impairments.
I went on to say that I would be delighted if human movements could be stimulated or blocked by useful micro technology on the nervous system and anti-social behaviour patterns could be negated in a similar manner.
If people could carry around their means of communicating with technology, thereby gaining access to any PC or information kiosk, this would be in line with part five of the DDA.
Can the BCS achieve social inclusion? I think it can, but in order to do so it will take a well planned strategy, harmonising the areas of expertise within its midst.
The authors of such a strategy will do well to bear in mind the words of the BBC newscaster who advertises their World News Service. She says, 'If you want to know the truth, listen to those it is happening to.'
Dr Geoff Busby MBE CEng FBCS is a BCS Consultant on Inclusion.
in a nutshell
- Social inclusion can be achieved by removing the barriers that turn impairments into disability.
- IT has the ability to minimise impairments or turn them into disabling factors.
- The potential new market for disabled tourists across Europe, if facilities were made accessible, is worth around £17bn.
- Part five of the Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal, unless proven impractical, to offer a lesser service to people with impairments.
- A BCS social inclusion policy should bring about a gelling of minds in order to maximise the positive effect of IT on the whole tapestry of our society and that of the world.