Disability employment and digital economies

Digital technologies – like computers, the internet, smart phones, and apps – are helping to overcome some of the usual access barriers to economic participation faced by people with disability.

If you support a person with disability, new research may give you some valuable insights into how you can best enable the person with disability in your life to benefit from the digital economy.

Disability IT

The Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW is currently conducting research on disability employment and digital economies that will be of interest to working carers and those for whom they care.

Already it is clear that for at least some people with disability, as well as those from other disadvantaged groups, digital technologies – like computers, the internet, smart phones, and apps – are overcoming some of the usual access barriers.

If you support a person with disability, the research, to be published early next year, may give you some valuable insights into how you can best enable the person with disability in your life to benefit from the digital economy.

One of the interesting aspects of the research (a comparative project between Australia and China) is finding out how people with disability are grasping new opportunities in the digital economy to earn money, find a job, start a business, and sell online. Learning from their initiatives and experience should prove invaluable.

An important response from government will be to drive new approaches to more targeted disability employment support, including digital economy advice – such as technical support, space for start-ups and peer learning.

Researchers Haiqing Yu (UNSW), Gerard Goggin (Sydney), Karen Fisher (UNSW), and Bingqin Li (UNSW) are working on the paper. They hope to release it in January 2019 for a special issue of Information, Communication & Society, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal covering the role of digital media in the information age.

The special issue will explore pragmatic and innovative ways to provide and enable equal economic, social and political opportunities for people with disability, enabled by current and emerging digital and social media technologies.

The research team say that it is known the digital economy is developing rapidly and unevenly worldwide. It heralds a transformative force in creating digital entrepreneurs and driving future economy.

Digital entrepreneurship is seen as core to digital economy in that it can lead to economic growth, job creation and social innovation.

National governments, civil society organisations and disability activists have considered digital technologies potentially useful in improving the life quality and life-chances for people with disability, and in bringing about social inclusion for all people, particularly in health care, education, and employment.

Efforts have been made to remove barriers of access to technologies, skill training and acquisition that are friendly to users with disability.

However, mere access to technologies (digital inclusion) does not equate with social inclusion. There is a long way to go before digital technologies can successfully impact on the social lives of people with disability.

In the context of a digital and networked world, the research team say we need to ask questions such as:

  • • Can digital inclusion lead to social inclusion, particularly for people with disability?
  • • What is the power structure, hierarchy, struggle, and appropriation implied in the rise of digital economy for and by disability?
  • • What can be done by people (with or without disability), governments, the private sector, and civil society organisations to address the structural barriers to social and economic inclusion (not just digital inclusion) by utilising digital and networking technologies?
  • • Will the digital economy and digital entrepreneurship present an opportunity to address social inequality and contradictions?

The current economic slowdown/crisis calls for innovative and pragmatic approaches to solve social problems, approaches that can strike a balance between economic and social development.

Social entrepreneurship that leverages digital technologies to create opportunities to address social issues, for example, may offer a new pathway of employment and enablement for people with disability and other traditionally disadvantaged groups of people.

Digital social entrepreneurs with disability and FOR disability are part of a bigger structure and are key stakeholders in the digital social economy.

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