Richard set the scene of the seminar by noting that “Good services should reflect what the user wants and not require a working knowledge of the inside of government to use”. Richard noted that the increased use of digitalization in providing information on these services could potentially make public services more difficult for some disabled people to access, however, he discussed the work being undertaken by GDS in ensuring that this was not the case.
Richard discussed the current trend for using digital media to inform the public about access to public services. He examined the challenge this poses for the public sector. In respect of disability it requires a significant level of interaction with disabled people and their representative groups to determine how information relating to public services is best promoted using digital and conventional media. He explained how his organisation is building a community “a place to ask questions, share knowledge, experience and establish best practice in relation to accessing public services” and he outlined some of the resources available on the Government Digital Service's website
Shane noted how universal design and agreement on key principles can change the way public services communicate with customers. However, this required that universal design principles were agreed as a pre-requisite to any service design or delivery. Consequently, engagement was required with disabled people and groups on an ongoing basis and the provision of information needed to be assessed on a regular basis.
In terms of the information used to promote access to public services, Shane emphasised the importance of using plain simple instructions and not using public sector acronyms. Shane was keen to provide access to the materials provided by the National Disability Authority and noted that a number of tourism bodies across the UK had already taken up his offer.
Gabrielle outlined good practice from two of their member organisations i.e. Antrim Borough Council and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. Both organisations adopted Employers for Disability's accredited training which formed a key part on the process of developing good practice.
Orla promoted the NI Housing Executive as an examplar of good practice regarding user involvement and service provision.
Orla talked about the role of the NIHE consultative forum on disability in which disability groups play a key role in advising the Housing Executive on relevant public policy issues. Orla also stressed the importance of respecting the dignity of disabled people when providing services, emphasizing the importance of not using discriminatory or disempowering language and seeing disabled people as customers.
In particular, Orla highlighted the importance for service providers of getting attitudes right with regard to their interaction with disabled customers, acknowledging that very often a lack of awareness on the part of the service provider rather than prejudice can be the source of poor attitudes towards disabled customers. However, this is not to negate the reality of prejudice and discrimination which is clearly an issue affecting disabled people’s access to services.