6 April 2023: The disAbility Legal Network would like to thank those who attended our recent event ‘Disability – a Driver of Innovation’ kindly hosted by Mason Hayes & Curran on 22 March 2023, presented by Peggy Hughes, a partner in MHC and member of the steering committee of the disAbility Legal Network.
Thanks again to our panel moderator Gerry Kelly, head of the Diversity Committee in MHC and our wonderful panellists:
- Stuart Lawler, Business Development Manager with Sight and Sound Technology Ireland
- Siobhán Long, National Manager, Assistive Technology Training Service with Enable Ireland
- Matt McCann, Co-founder and CEO of Access Earth, public speaker on diversity and inclusion
- Katherine Lewis, Software Engineer, UX Designer, and Accessibility Champion at LinkedIn
Peggy opened up proceedings, by presenting us with some sobering facts that the WHO reports that 1.3 bn people globally (i.e. 16% of the world’s population) are living with a disability. And that all of us will on average spend between 8-10 years of our lives in ill-health or with a disability.
The human condition is not static and therefore it is important to recognise how innovative we can be when we are in a position of disability. We start by doing what is necessary, then move to what is possible and then to what is the impossible.
- There is a huge lack of awareness by employers of the grants that are available to them. As an employer you are obliged to make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities in compliance with the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015. Under the Workplace Equipment Adaption Grant you are able to access funds up to €6,350 for hardware/software with additional funding for training giving a total of €9,500. Siobhan Long advised that tech solutions are generally modestly priced and rarely exceed the amount available via the grant. There is also the Disability Awareness Support Scheme grant which provides a maximum of €20,000 funding for private sector employers to arrange and pay for disability awareness training for staff who work with a colleague who has a disability.
- An educational shift is also needed in parallel to change the way people perceive disability. A disability can be temporary or long term. The term needs to be humanised so people can understand how wide the scope is, e.g. whether you are amputee or you broke your arm skiing or you’re having to hold your child whilst typing (remember Covid lockdown #1 where we had no childcare?). The fact that people need to be aware of what the technology can do. Technology alone can’t bring you all the way.
- People living with disabilities are the true experts on what technology solutions are out there and what works best for them. Depending on the disability, employers should talk openly with the person about what challenges they face, what they need, why they use certain tech solutions over others and then see what funding can be accessed to support their needs. Katherine spoke briefly about Microsoft’s approach to bringing in external consultants with disabilities to help them in the design and development stages of their software and hardware products.
We learned at the last disAbility Legal Network event presented by our vice chair Caoimhe Grogan hosted at A&L Goodbody’s offices that diverse workforces are more productive and innovative and that disability inclusion is an untapped resource.
Therefore, for employers, it is OK to not know what you don’t know. Doing nothing for fear of getting it wrong is not the approach that needs to be taken – especially in a world where businesses are going to continue to be scrutinised from an ESG perspective. The ‘S’ in ESG is extremely important and in a way fundamental to the overall success of the ‘E’ (environment) and ‘G’ (governance).
Progress over perfection is the preferred approach. It will take time but if we are patient and persistent, we’ll get there.
Call to Action: Finally, the disability Legal Network in conjunction with the Technology Committee of the Law Society is updating the technological accessibility section of our Ally Pledge. This is a collated list of assistive technologies which is used within the legal sector. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of any AT that you think should be added to this list.
 (Global, regional, and national disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for 306 diseases and injuries and healthy life expectancy (HALE) for 188 countries, 1990–2013: quantifying the epidemiological transition)
 Attributed to Francis of Assisi