A new network of 51 specialist organisations across England have been funded to help local computer users with a disability or learning difficulty to get online and use government services.
The Disability Network initiative has been launched by the national technology access body UK Online Centres ( http://www.ukonlinecentres.com/ ), with specialist learning providers across England receiving funding of £7,500 each to provide training and support to disabled computer users.
Sarah Stabler, network manager at UK Online Centres, told E-Access Bulletin that the learning centres will introduce learners to basic ICT equipment and online resources, and show them what online government services are available which could be of use to them. “For example, a disabled person could register for a blue disability badge online, find out about benefits and support available to them, or use the part of the NHS Choices website with information for people with long-term health problems”, Stabler said.
Some learning providers have used the grant, which runs from 1 April 2012-31 March 2013, to invest in new equipment, such as iPad tablet computers, which allows the organisations to take the technology out to disabled learners, sometimes in their own homes. “The idea is for learners to use the iPad to give them an initial hook on the internet, and then progress on from there. Individuals may choose to then come into a learning centre and take up training on a more formal basis”, said Stabler.
As well as basic ICT skills such as using a mouse and sending emails, some learning centres offer programmes on areas such as using Facebook, studying family history, and digital photography.
“Once we’ve got people online, we can find what the personal hook might be to keep them online. It could be about communication, like using Skype to keep in touch with friends and family”, said Stabler. “What we’re hoping is that the Disability Network makes the end user a little more independent, and opens up access to a range of resources to things that might not otherwise have.”
The learning providers that make up the Disability Network include a range of community and training centres and grassroots organisations, and are all specialists in their field, including several organisations from mental health charity Mind, and centres that focus on assisting deaf learners and learners with mobility issues.
As part of their bid to UK Online Centres, each provider was required to demonstrate their specialist skills and estimate the number of learners they hoped to engage with during the funding period, and how many of those would complete an online basic skills programme, and how many of these learners would progress to using online government services.
UK Online Centres is in the process of looking for new specialist learning providers for the network, as there are still funds available. Interested organisations can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.