Employment

DWP job centres 'not equipped' to help disabled people find work

People with disabilities who want to work are being let down at the first hurdle – the job search – with Jobcentre computers unusable to many

Jade Cotton, who is on-verbal and registered blind, said she had always been told that she won’t get a job due to her disabilities. Image: Sense

Disabled job seekers across Britain are struggling to find and apply for work at government-run job centres computers because of a complete lack of assistive technology.

Text-to-speech screen readers, dictation software, and electronic braille displays make it possible for disabled people with sight and hearing impairments to use computers, but job centres only use the “standard accessibility features”, despite the government’s renewed push to get disabled people into work.

Revealed in new research from disability charity Sense, researchers also found that job centre work coaches are not educated on how to support disabled jobseekers in their initial training. 

Just under half of the 16 million disabled people in the UK are in work, with eight in ten people with complex disabilities unemployed. New research from Sense found that half of those with disabilities said they are not receiving the support they need to find work.

Assistive technology can be expensive, with screen readers costing around £700. However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will only fund this equipment once someone is in work, leaving disabled job seekers faced with the challenge of finding an accessible computer themselves.

“Everyone should be able to work if they want to work. And while employment isn’t right for everyone, many disabled people find that having a job enriches their lives,” said Zoe Bates, Sense employment coordinator.

“If the government is serious about reducing the disability employment gap and getting more disabled people into work, as it announced in the Spring Budget, then the right support must be in place,” she continued. 



Chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed his “back to work” Spring Budget in March, aiming to fill one million job vacancies across the country.

Hunt promised to apply sanctions “more rigorously” to those who do not follow instructions to return to work. 

This “confirms many of disabled people’s worst fears that in future more people will be forced into inappropriate work-related activity or face the threat of losing their financial support”, said Anastasia Berry, policy co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and policy manager at the MS Society, commenting on the Spring Budget plans. 

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He also announced plans to scrap the work capability assessment, which has been welcomed by disabled campaigners who have long criticised the assessment as stressful and unnecessary. There was little, however, new support to help people with disabilities secure work. 

A DWP spokesperson told the Big Issue: “We offer a range of services and assistive technology to help claimants who have accessibility needs including video relay service, next generation text relay, braille and large print, free phoneline, audio CD and home visits… and our dedicated work coaches help to ensure all customers can access tailored one-to-one support in person at the jobcentre.”

In response to the DWP’s claim, Bates explained: “The examples the DWP gives are not types of assistive technology, but different types of accessible formats. [These] do nothing to help a disabled person use a computer to look for work.” 

Sense found that job centre computers only offer Microsoft’s ‘standard accessibility features’, which the charity says is inadequate. It is calling for the introduction of assistive technology and specialist training for all frontline job centre staff so that they can support people with more complex needs. “[This] would make a huge difference, with the value outweighing the cost,” said Bates. 

Jade Cotton, 35, is non-verbal and registered blind but eager to find a job. She told Sense she can’t use the computers in her local Birmingham Jobcentre.

“When I attended the Jobcentre, I wasn’t given the opportunity or encouraged to look for work on their computers. If I was, I’d have needed a joystick that I could grip and magnifying software to enlarge the fonts, which they don’t have,” she said in a statement. 

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Disabled people are also having to contend with the soaring cost of living, that is often hitting them hardest. New research from disability equality charity Scope found that disabled households are facing extra costs of £975 per month on average, as the price of energy, specialist equipment including wheelchairs and hoists, taxis and prepared food products soar. 

The government is offering a disability cost of living payment of £150 for disabled people who receive certain benefits. The payment is part of a wider package to help people cope during the cost of living crisis. 

“I’ve personally calculated that being disabled costs me an extra £13,000 a year,” said disability activist and Scope ambassador Shani Dhanda.

“The price tag that comes with disability should shame us all, and it’s clear that we need action. We all want to live our lives to the full, contribute to society and get on in life. Extra costs make that increasingly difficult.”

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