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Vital Tech: Decoding assistive tech for all

It’s easy to take technology for granted. New devices and apps are being designed and built faster than most people’s appetite and understanding can keep up with, particularly in the rapidly evolving world of assistive tech (AT).

Despite this, there are surprisingly few resources available to help people navigate the sometimes-overwhelming world of AT. Vital Tech, a newly launched online platform, aims to change this by helping blind and visually impaired people get the most out of a range of assistive technologies.

The concept is simple: the Vital Tech site provides comprehensive information for visually impaired users on how to use all kinds of AT around the home, with the goal of increasing independent living. This advice is divided into themes (including health and wellbeing, jobs around the house, reading and magnifying, staying in touch, and computing), with different devices and solutions highlighted and explained within each category through easy-to-understand text, videos and audio.

The site has been designed and developed by staff at sight loss charity Thomas Pocklington Trust, with input from other charities and partners. Crucially, products are never sold or pushed, as a key principle behind the platform was that it should be remain impartial, giving users an objective view of what technology is available to suit their needs.

Although the overall concept may be simple, the task at hand is still huge. Vital Tech already covers a lot of ground, but there’s much more to come, as Chris Jenkins – Technology Innovation Lead at Thomas Pocklington Trust – explained when e-Access Bulletin spoke to him to find out more.

- E-Access Bulletin: What are the aims behind Vital Tech and what do you want it to achieve?

Chris Jenkins: “Vital Tech is a website guiding UK consumers through the world of assistive tech. We provide information and advice on simple and hi-tech solutions for blind and partially sighted people.

“We would ultimately like our site to demystify tech and give people the confidence to make decisions that work for them. We want to allow blind and partially sighted people to become more independent and confident in their daily lives, by using AT.”

- What is the background to the project?

“Vital Tech expands on the Assistive and Inclusive Home Technology guide published by Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) in 2016, which informs blind and partially sighted people and their support networks about smart and simple tech solutions in the home. The guide generated a lot of interest and enquiries about products and services, so rather than updating a brochure, we wanted to develop an interactive self-help web platform.”

- Was it important to ensure that Vital Tech was run by staff who are blind and partially sighted?

“Yes. Darren Paskell, who is Tech Information Champion, and myself are both screen-reader users at TPT, and we are responsible for content and accessibility on the site. We also had valuable help from our sighted colleagues. Authenticity and our insight are important factors when establishing something new on this scale.”

- Why was ‘technology around the home’ decided on for the focus?

“TPT has a history of research and a great knowledge base regarding accessibility in the home. In future, we want to cover more than just the home, including navigation and employment. Home is where we should feel the most comfortable and secure, but there are still lots of blind and partially sighted people who struggle to find their possessions, do household chores and manage their finances, to name a few issues.”

- Even by itself, ‘technology around the home’ is still a huge topic. How did you decide what to include?

“The 2016 home technology guide I mentioned was a starting point. The hardest and most time-consuming part was ensuring our content is jargon-free and keeping everything as straightforward and simple as possible for our entire audience.”

- Is Vital Tech directly linked to Thomas Pocklington Trust?

“Our team are TPT employees and we see this project as part of the great work we do to help blind and partially sighted people. Vital Tech is a brand-neutral project that won’t sell products and services. We were advised by a focus group of blind and partially sighted people and professionals that they would value an impartial point of reference and no direct selling.

“Vital Tech is a signpost to other services and providers, and we provide our own advice and guidance in collaboration with other sight loss organisations. We really want to foster cross-sector collaboration and partnership, to allow us to reach more people in the future.”

- How will the platform evolve?

“Now Vital Tech has launched, we would love to hear feedback from users. It’s a flexible platform and the sky is the limit, but we can only grow with users’ help. We look forward to working with people and other organisations to provide an invaluable service – by blind and partially sighted people, for blind and partially sighted people. This is only the first chapter and the story is just beginning.”

Find out more and start using the platform at the Vital Tech site. The Vital Tech team are keen to receive comments or suggestions about the site. Please email any feedback to:

Find out more about the work of Thomas Pocklington Trust at the charity’s website.


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