Lack of diversity in tech sees skills go to waste, argue MPs

Discrimination still remains, despite equal opportunity laws, claims Dean Russell MP

The tech industry is wasting an opportunity to address the digital skills shortage by failing to create recruitment programmes designed to support those with disabilities, MPs have argued.

At an event focused on discussing possible solutions to the UK's growing skills shortfall, hosted by the Parliament Street Think Tank, members of the public and MPs alike agreed that the tech industry should be more inclusive in hiring people with disabilities.

The debate also raised the issue of UK schools not doing enough to support the mental health of autistic children. Given their powerful memory skills, people on the autistic spectrum learn coding quickly and could make valuable future tech sector employees - in 2013, SAP Labs in India found that the teams with such members saw measurable productivity gains.

Dean Russell, MP for Watford, pointed out that a struggle faced by disabled people is “diminishing the abilities they have got elsewhere, which can be amazing” and criticised companies who, despite equal opportunities laws, still discriminate against people with disabilities in the hiring process “because a tick box is wrong”.

Russell also stated that, despite technology becoming easier to operate on a daily basis, the tech industry remains out of reach to the disabled.

"We got used to accessibility in terms of iPhones, GPS and so on. But we still haven't quite broken through that barrier of realising why it's so important for people with disabilities, especially visual impairments,” he said.

Diversity in Tech estimates that almost one in five people in the UK have “a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability”. As many as 16% of working adults are disabled, compared to 6% of children. 

Calls for greater inclusivity in the tech industry are powered by the mounting vacancies in its workforce. According to Diversity in Tech, “there are 48 thousand technology vacancies in London alone that need to be filled”. 

Employing a person with disabilities can provide the workspace with “experience and specialist knowledge that can lead the company to new opportunities and valuable skills”.

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