Census follow-up survey reveals huge impact of inaccessible services and businesses

An in-depth study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that Disabled people face barriers to everyday activities that cause them financial, physical and psychological costs.

Based on interviews with 56 Disabled people across the UK, the study assessed people’s experiences accessing activities, goods and services.

The people interviewed, who had a range of impairments/health conditions and came from a range of backgrounds, highlighted problems with physical access, building layouts that limit access, inaccessible online services, not enough information and customer services that are not flexible enough to meet their needs.

Dawn Snape, Assistant Director of the Sustainability and Inequalities Division at ONS, said:

“Listening to participants, it was striking the range of ways they faced barriers in everyday life, and the effort and energy that went into finding ways to navigate them.  The cost of navigating these barriers was clear, both financially and in terms of physical and mental wellbeing.”

Disabled people often have to do a lot of research and preparation to find “workarounds” to the barriers they face while others relied on family and friends for support.  The extra costs often involved limited choice, while the need to prepare for activities in advance limited spontaneity and freedom.

The study said:

“The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) caused negative experiences of isolation with limited access to support for some Disabled people, which [went] beyond the pandemic.  However, others saw the increase in online services as providing them with more opportunities to access, connect and communicate.”

The study heard about mixed experiences of online services – with some finding they helped avoid physical design barriers while others reported access problems that amounted to digital exclusion.

The Forum Manager, Laura Welti, said:

“This is a sadly predictable, but useful, piece of work by an organisation with an excellent reputation for the quality of its research.  Let’s hope government, the civil service, all businesses and service providers listen this time.

“It is appalling that businesses and service providers are heaping extra financial, physical and psychological costs on to Disabled people despite decades of campaigning and legislation.  It’s also very stupid of them as they are losing up to £240billion pf potential income by alienating or excluding so many Disabled people and their families.”

Those interviewed mentioned various priorities for future service provision, including:

a) Accessible physical and online environments that recognise and accommodate a range of needs.

b) Service providers involving Disabled people in policy and service decisions.

c) Raising awareness and empathy for people with a range of impairments.

d) The need for meaningful, readily-available help for Disabled people when accessing activities, goods and services.

The study comes weeks after the ONS published a quantitative report based on last year’s census returns around the experiences of Disabled people. 

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