One of the least painful ways to make major cuts is to begin by identifying those operations that are no longer fit for purpose, if they ever were. In the public sector that might include all those on-line services and call centres that cannot be used by their target audiences, those who are socially excluded because they cannot see, let alone use, a conventional screeen and keyboard or hear, let alone navigate their way through, a semi-automated call centre.
Ofcom has just issued an excellent short note of guidance for those running call centres on disabled access. I might quibble that it was not produced as soon as its main sources the Employers Forum on Disability guides on Welcoming Disabled Customers (click here for the Royal Mail version, available on-line) see and Barrier Free Call Routing (downloadable) were published – and that there are no click-throughs for details.
My main point, however, is that the Coalition Government should take the view that any public service that is not accessible to that 20% of the population who are likely to rely most on it, because of age or infirmity – almost all of us in our final years – is not fit for purpose. The operation should be seen as in breach of contract, available for re-contracting to those who take disability access seriously.
My views on this topic hardened when I chaired the on-line public services stream at a European Commission workshop on Ethics and e-Inclusion a couple of years ago. It quickly became apparent that the problem was not cost, some of the eastern european countries were using cheap mobiles to give access to those in most need via pictographic and multiligual voice interfaces. The problem was attitude on the part of technology suppliers, as well as bureaucratic hierarchies, who knew best. The new entrants to the EU had learned not to trust those in authority and were serious about devolving power, cutting cost and improving service delivery – all at the same time. Are we?