Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill: consultation

We are committed to protecting, respecting and championing the rights of people with learning disabilities and neurodivergent people. This consultation on proposals for a Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill seeks the views of everyone on how we can do this.

Section 7: Access to Technology

What we heard

Over recent years digital access has become increasingly important to the way we live our lives. It is important to stay connected with family, friends and our communities, as well as being able to access learning and employment opportunities online. Digital inclusion therefore plays a key role in a person's independence. The pandemic made the importance of digital access even more critical, due to many services moving online.

In many cases this has been very successful and for many people it has made things more accessible. However, for those who are digitally excluded the opposite is true. We know that people with learning disabilities are at particular risk of being digitally excluded.[200] Digital exclusion is one of the ways that people with learning disabilities are excluded from society, and this is mirrored in the lack of investment in learning disability specific specialist technologies.

Through our work on the Towards Transformation Plan, we heard about people being taken advantage of online. We also heard about the removal of WIFI and devices from people with learning disabilities due to other peoples' assumptions about their capacity to use them.

There is a need for security, awareness and training in terms of how to use technology and how to use technology safely. Skills and confidence play a pivotal role, often acquired through training and practice. We know that both family and professionals who work with people with learning disabilities and neurodivergent people play a key role in assisting individuals to use digital spaces effectively.

Since the pandemic we know that there has been an increase in technology use, which has highlighted further the need for enhanced confidence and skills, particularly in the use of communication platforms.

As digital technologies advance, developments must be consciously designed to address the needs of those who are already digitally excluded, including people with learning disabilities, or there is a risk of furthering the digital divide that already exists.

What did LEAP think?

  • Digital access is an area where improvements could be made and is important in enabling participation in society and to reduce isolation and loneliness.
  • Some people can access technology, with support, and the bill could increase availability of this support. More information and data is needed on use of technology by LDAN people and the Bill could achieve this.
  • Barriers to digital access are availability, cost, permission and usability and we need to consider the needs of older LDAN groups and those who have poor internet connection in remote areas.
  • Education is important to help protect LDAN people and help them to learn how to spot false information so they can make informed decisions. Controls and strict security settings could help with this.
  • Software that increases digital access for LDAN groups is very useful however is often only available through school or work. This should be made more widely available e.g. through community services.

Where do we want to get to?

  • Digital inclusion for all Scottish citizens, including those who are most at risk of being digitally excluded, such as people with learning disabilities and neurodivergent people.
  • Increased confidence and safety for people who are at risk of being vulnerable online.

What happens now?

Our Digital Strategy 2021[201] aims to promote digital inclusion for all of Scotland's citizens to thrive and flourish in a digital society. The work under this strategy aims to ensure that everyone has equal access to public services or is able to maximise their life opportunities through education, employment or entertainment.

The vision of our Connecting Scotland Programme[202] is a fairer, more equitable Scotland, enabled by digital access for all.[203] It was established during the pandemic, and initially aimed to provide devices, connectivity and training to digitally excluded households so that they could stay connected to friends and family, as well as access public health advice.

During Phase 2 of Connecting Scotland in the Winter of 2020, 5000 disabled people, older and socially isolated people were supported, including people with learning disabilities. This meant that these groups could be more involved in online discussions and became more digitally included.

Actions to achieve our overall vision for digital access aim to reduce the number of people that currently do not have the essential digital skills or confidence to participate in a digital society. To achieve this, we have created a partnership with the public, private and third sectors.

Connecting Scotland therefore aims to bring all digital inclusion organisations under one alliance where resources, expertise and knowledge is shared in a collective manner to build the digital capacities of our nation, rather than pursuing success independently.

Some third sector organisations have used the funding provided under the Connecting Scotland programme to purchase devices for people with learning disabilities and to provide training in how to use them.

The continuation of a digital way of working following the pandemic has meant that some third sector organisations continue to provide training for disabled people, including people with learning disabilities. These organisations include Linking Education and Disability (LEAD) Scotland, Glasgow Disability Alliance and People First Scotland.

The Digital Scotland Service Standard[204] sets out criteria that organisations delivering public services should work towards. This includes the theme of 'meeting user's needs' to 'design and deliver inclusive and accessible services which meet the needs of users, providing a service that everyone can use – including disabled people.

A digital service should be accessible to everyone who needs it, including services only used by public servants. There are regulations that require and promote the need for accessibility that protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. The most recent of these and aimed at digital services is the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018[205]. The Regulations aim to ensure that services provided by public sector bodies are accessible to people with disabilities.

What can we do about it?

The Connecting Scotland programme resumed delivery in August 2023, with Lending Device Library funding opportunities available in partnership with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).[206]

The programme's focus is on delivering kit and connectivity devices to library and social housing organisations through grant funding. Up to £400,000 in funding will be awarded to successful projects, with organisations able to apply from August 2023.

This funding will allow organisations to expand their digital capacity through the provision of additional kit and connectivity, supporting them in reaching out to more digitally excluded people across Scotland. SCVO will regularly report to the Scottish Government on the status and progress of the projects. An evaluation of the programme will conclude in March 2025.

Connecting Scotland has also begun work on a Digital Inclusion Alliance (DIA) with public, private and third sector organisations to develop a cohesive approach to digital inclusion in Scotland. The DIA platform will develop a collaborative approaches to effectively help and support digital excluded people across Scotland.

While we make progress to ensuring everyone is digitally included, we recognise that it is important that there are opportunities for people to be involved in policy making in ways that are not digital. We therefore recognise the need to ensure that these opportunities are maintained as we continue forward.

What can the LDAN Bill do?

An earlier section of this consultation paper discusses, and makes proposals for, bringing a greater focus to how public authorities' duties around inclusive communication can best be met for neurodivergent people and people with learning disabilities. By enabling better inclusive communications, we would expect this to have a positive impact on increased digital access.

Proposal 1 - We could also consider how to ensure that training is available to people with learning disabilities in digital skills and online safety.

Proposal 2 - We could gather clear data on the number of people with learning disabilities and neurodivergent people accessing and using technology.

Proposal 3 - We could make more support available to directly help people with learning disabilities and neurodivergent people access and use technology.


Email: LDAN.Bill@gov.scot

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