Accessibility and Services: The Perils of ‘Bob’ the IT Guy


Accessibility is not just about doorways, ramps and lifts.  It is just as much about services, such as repairs and guarantees, especially where they are offered ‘in home’.  The Equality Act (2010) states quite clearly that the duty to prevent discrimination is an ‘anticipatory duty’, in other words it is something you need to plan in advance for, not just go ‘whoops’ after the fact.

This story, printed towards the end of June 2015 in the Portsmouth News, where the ‘I’ in the story naturally refers to ‘yours truly’ (you’d think I’d have learned by now).  Thankfully the problem ultimately resolved itself, but it goes to show that even well-known computer manufacturers completely fail to appreciate their legal obligations when selling a product.

It’s almost guaranteed that when people mention accessibility and disability in athe same sentence, they’re thinking ramps and doorways.  I have a friend I’ll call ‘Bob’.  He’s kind of like a crash-test dummy.  He’s a known height, width, weight and has known capabilities.  Bob is the model that the world of ‘accessibility is built around’.  One day, he’ll be an ISO standard, just like wheelchairs and adaptive aids.  Bob will return, in person, another day.

At this stage, I’m going to quote our group’s, for want of a better phrase, mission statement:

“Promoting Access to Buildings, Services, and Information in the Borough of Havant.”

Let’s focus on the subject, and not the location.  We all access services, we all interact with information.  Well, maybe not all of us in the same way.

Being the ‘IT Guy’ for my family and friends, I’ve clocked up some miles, and now learned to install remote control software wherever I might have to return.

Last week, Bob’s friend found his PC struggling.  I logged in remotely and found a fault that started after the last round of ‘Windows Updates’ which occur monthly.  I spent a considerable time – but could not fix it from home.  After two days, the computer gave up entirely.

I knew the computer.  We had bought it together, on-line, in April.  In the description were the magic words “1Yr Onsite Warranty”.  Saved!  Hooray!

No.  Company says ‘hardware, and pre-installed software only under warranty’.  OK we say – Windows was pre-installed.  Sudden silence reigns.  Bob’s friend, who cannot talk, and can communicate only using a letter board, cannot communicate outside of his home.  This is actually a ‘big thing’ legally – in Human Rights territory.  Bob’s friend, being desperate pays a ‘Mr Fixit’ from the phonebook £80, who gets it going, but fails to fix the ‘Windows Update’ problem, and we still have no response from manufacturer. 

Imagine if Bob’s friend were Stephen Hawking?  Where would science be today?

As they say on TV, the case is ongoing. 

A question for providers of services and information (and even both), are we doing so in a way that Bob and ALL his friends can access?  Do we offer large print leaflets, audio alternatives, sign language?  Are the websites we make design to be used without a mouse?  The Equality Act, places obligations on many providers of services and information, which should already be in place (‘an anticipatory duty’).  These duties apply equally to all ‘service providers’, not just businesses, but almost every type of group, association, club and church.  Failure to comply could land the owners, manager, committee or Trustees in Court.

More information can be found at http://www.equalityhumanrights.co
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  and https://www.equalityadvisoryservice.com/ .

And to ‘Mr Fixit’ – read the above carefully – THIS MEANS YOU TOO.