Disability groups: funding running out for digital inclusion support
The Wales Co-operative Centre has published “Digital Inclusion: Stronger Communities”, a policy paper that examines the impact of digital exclusion on people in Wales and argues for a continuing, specific digital inclusion project. Today we look at how current work in Wales helps make digital inclusion accessible.
Communities 2.0 has developed a range of strategies to engage people. These include running “Digital Fridays” drop in sessions in libraries, and working with community group members using a particular “hook” to get them interested or give them confidence. The aim may be the same, to give people the digital skills needed to transform their lives, but the starting point needs to be different to suit individual people.
The Welsh Government backed Communities 2.0 programme has developed expertise in differentiating digital inclusion support according to the abilities of clients, and in supporting people who use assistive technology. This includes equipment and devices to help people who have problems with physical, sensory and cognitive functions.
There are strong links between disability, poverty and low skills/employment, which means that the depth of digital exclusion for those with disabilities is generally much greater than for the wider population. The Office for National Statistics has said that disabled people are three times less likely to get online than people without disability.
Members of Bargoed Deaf Club have been learning new digital skills through the Get Caerphilly Online project. The first taster session, which was delivered by a Digital Outreach Officer in tandem with a British Sign Language translator, taught members of the group how to use Skype and the demonstration of the video chat function allowed one couple to have their first ever conversation from separate rooms.
The sessions also allowed club members to get to grips with mobile devices, increasing their confidence in using iPads as well as computers. The classes were received well, with members using their new skills to keep in touch with each other in between meetings, and which helped them increase their social inclusion and continued independence.
The group’s Digital Outreach Officer commented, “This set of sessions have been some of the most rewarding I’ve ever delivered. The members of Bargoed Deaf Club responded very enthusiastically to the work we did with Skype and the technology has revolutionised the way that they are able to communicate with one another. Before Skype, the members were reliant on text message to keep in touch, but now they are able to communicate much more naturally and freely through British Sign Language, thanks to the visual aspect that Skype offers.”
This is wonderful, enriching work but the funding that makes it happen is running out. If we want disabled people to enjoy the benefits of being online this work must continue. Wales needs a dedicated national digital inclusion programme.