Changes to the disability benefits system have caused huge hardship to some of the country’s most vulnerable people and has cost the government more than £4 billion more in extra welfare payments than ministers estimated, according to recent figures. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Treasury’s independent forecasting unit, said predictions by the Department for Work and Pensions dramatically under-estimated the costs of rolling out the personal independent payments (PIP) system, which began to replace disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013.
However, it’s not all bad news. We have recently seen the rollout of several government initiatives aimed at increasing awareness, promoting the benefits of inclusivity to businesses and funding innovation. In particular, innovation and challenge prizes from the likes of Nesta and Innovate UK, are inspiring a new generation of designers and entrepreneurs to push the limits of modern technology to create products that have the power to transform the lives of people living with disabilities. The success of these initiatives demonstrates that the right combination of mentoring, financial support and publicity can encourage innovation that removes social barriers and drives meaningful change.
Back in 2016 an assistive communication software company won the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre’s inaugural Inclusive Technology Prize, which sought to champion innovation in assistive products, technologies and systems while encouraging collaboration with disabled people. This free screen-based tool gives people with communication difficulties the ability to select the words they want from icons, which are then read aloud by the device. It uses open source assistive communication technology, which means it can be run on any platform and device (including phones, tablets and laptops), making it easily accessible to everyone.
Another game-changing innovation is focused on turning disabilities into superpowers. This consists of a high quality, 3D printed, fully functioning bionic arm which is custom-built and can be used by upper limb amputees as young as nine years old. Special sensors within the arm detect muscle movements, which means wearers can control their bionic hand with intuitive life-like precision and complete routine everyday tasks.
An app has also been developed that turns everyday items into learning experiences. It delivers instructional videos to young people with learning difficulties and older people with dementia, helping them to live more independently. The app offers step-by-step guidance on how to complete everyday tasks, such as making a cup of tea or using a cash machine. It can also be used in the workplace to improve training and on boarding by providing the right information to employees at the right time.
By continuing to champion tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and nurture their innovations with financial support and guidance, we’ll be one step closer to enabling disabled people to have equal access to all of life's opportunities.