“Technology needs to be a part of life for people, not just a stop gap during the pandemic”

Although many people with a learning disability are digitally excluded we have learnt that during the Covid-19 pandemic this has changed for the better. Karen Warner explores how the pandemic has accelerated the need for people with a learning disability to be online at a time when this has been the only way of communicating, taking part and socialising.

Learning Disability Wales held our second online All Wales Personalised Technology Community of Practice on 30 July and found out why people are digitally excluded and what is being done to help people get the equipment and to get online. 20 people attend the online meeting from across Wales.

Reasons for digital exclusion

There are lots of reasons why someone with a learning disability may be digitally excluded, such as people not knowing how to get online or what they can do online, not having the equipment, not being able to afford the equipment, no support to use the equipment or lack of broadband or 4G connection.

We know that not everyone in Wales has good digital skills and this is reflected in the social care workforce, leaving some people who need support with support workers who do not have the necessary skill to support them. Technology in social care settings needs to be ‘de-mystified’ and staff supported to increase their skills in this now essential area.

We also heard that information about technology is often not very accessible, or the support to understand existing information is not available.

There have been some stories of service providers or parent/carers not supporting someone from getting online or even preventing them. This can be due to both real and perceived risks about being online but can be overcome by person centred positive risk assessment and considering “what are the risks if they do not get online?”

Another big factor is no broadband in someone’s home or in their supported living house. Across Wales, especially in more rural areas, there is still infrastructure problems leading to poor broadband or 4G services. Even at the meeting a significant number had poor connection and could not be heard clearly or kept losing their connection.

Poverty is also a factor we heard about, with people not being able to afford up to date technology, although there are some excellent scheme either gifting or loaning equipment to those who need it.

Getting the equipment

Some People First groups have been successful in getting money to buy iPads for their members. Some supported living organisations are providing equipment, such as I pads, laptops and smart technology through their budgets.

Stephen and Bryn from North Wales Advice and Advocacy Association (NWAAA) are glad they have their own technology, especially during the pandemic. Stephen uses Zoom on the iPad that he has had for 8 years. Stephen’s dad logs on for him as he can’t remember his password. “I like to talk to people using Zoom,” said Bryn. “It makes me feel fine”. Bryn also has help getting online from his next door neighbour, and NWAAA have been helping Bryn learn how to use Facebook.

The question needs to be asked is why are people not buying their own equipment? Is it because they can’t afford it? Or is it because there isn’t any support to help them? Or is it because people don’t realise that a lot of it is quite affordable, like smart plugs (a device that allows you to connect an appliance to it and then control it via an app on your smart phone)?

Support to learn skills

Technology can be confusing for anyone – it isn’t always easy getting a computer or smart phone, knowing where to start and what it can do. We often need support or a little help to do these things. To learn the skills, you need to have the equipment. Then there is a lot to learn. With Zoom, even when you have learnt to get on it, there is the long number to enter, the password number, sound, muting/unmuting, camera and the angle of the camera. What if you want to talk to someone who has a communication aid and you need to see it on Zoom?

At Leonard Cheshire they support people to learn how to use technology with their families involved. A lot of learning is being done through their six co-ordinators in the UK using video calls. They have hosted an online safety quiz for social media, uploaded activities to YouTube, and gifted a lot of equipment to people, such as Amazon’s Echo Dot, Google Home and iPads.

What are people doing on-line?

At the meeting we heard of a variety of things people are doing on-line. People have been adapting really well and are being creative and innovative.

Diverse Cymru has worked to take their ‘Have Your Say’ events online during the pandemic. But 20 people can’t join in so they need to be supported in other ways such as phoning and writing to them.

Cindy works with 16 – 25 year olds and puts on activities which are now held online. They rely on their parents/carers to get them online to do the activities. One of the volunteers doesn’t have access to Wi-Fi so he has My-FI, which uses a 4G signal instead of phone line. (MiFi dongles are compact, wireless devices, usually a little smaller than a smartphone, that create a localised Wi-Fi signal that you can use on the go.)

Rob Symons at Able Radio is using Zoom to record their radio shows. The difficulty has been getting it set up to get people to record the show in their houses. He has had to wear full PPE. They have been using Facebook Live and Facebook chat rooms for online quizzes and exercise classes.

At Learning Disability Wales we have been holding all our events online during the pandemic. We have created an easy read guide to Zoom and held free sessions on making information easy to read and understand. Our Gig Buddies have been meeting online, using Zoom and Facebook Live to hold virtual socials with quizzes and karaoke. In November we will hold our annual conference online, and we are currently working with Digital Communities Wales to put on sessions to help people get online.

Insight App

Nick French, CEO of Innovate Trust, a supported living provider supporting 400 adults, told the group that they have been really busy expanding their Insight App. The app includes many features for users – from a wider community group where individuals can communicate with each other and share how they are spending their time in lockdown, to a private digital diary for each user that can only be seen by those who have been granted access, such as close friends, family and support workers.

One of the first activities was to take a ‘selfie’. This was a first for many of the users. Around 40 activities have been put online each week for people to connect to. Some are live and some are recorded. Innovate Trust have gifted devices to people on an individual basis, with the devices then owned by the person – not the organisation. People have also received help in using the devices, while Innovate Trust run a weekly advice surgery to help people to use the app and get support if they get stuck.

Nick wants other organisations to work together and share their activities to create a large calendar of choices. They have already connected with other organisations that are part of the ‘neighbourhood’. This includes ourselves, Gig Buddies, Cardiff People First, Vale People First, RCT People First, Spectacle Theatre, and Electric Umbrella.

There are now more than 500 people using the app. People are enjoying the activities and some people are taking part in activities for the first time. Some people are getting involved who wouldn’t normally attend real life meet-ups due to lack of confidence or lack of support or time to attend. They can now do them virtually. People have more control and are more independent.

Join our group

Learning Disability Wales is continuing to work with people and organisations to increase the digital inclusion of people with a learning disability. We are holding our next meeting in the autumn. Please contact us if you are interested in joining. Contact simon.rose@ldw.org.uk. See our page on the group all Wales Personalised Community of Practice.