AbilityNet and RNIB celebrate their volunteers

Across the UK AbilityNet has a network of 300+ friendly, disclosure checked volunteers who provide IT (information technology) support to older and disabled people through home visits and remote support. Last week, at an event organised by AbilityNet and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), we celebrated the amazing contribution of our volunteers.

Sarah Brain, the event organiser and AbilityNet's Free Services Manager, said "The Tech Volunteer Event is always the highlight of the volunteer calendar for me. It's great to collaborate with RNIB to create a day that not only covers the latest technology, but just as importantly brings together a remote team of volunteers on one day. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of enthusiasm and commitment the volunteers have to enable our service users to be part of the digital world."

Around 100 volunteers from across both charities came together in person to experience the latest technology and network with each other and representatives from other charities and organisations. The event was also streamed live to satellite locations at RNIB offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

AbilityNet and RNIB volunteers standing together at the event, smiling facing the camera

The event started with Gary Moore (AbilityNet’s CEO) and Gary Brunskill (Specialist Lead for Assistive Technology and Digital Inclusion at RNIB) both sharing a message of thanks and celebration, and speaking about the importance of volunteer engagement and training.

We understand the importance of making sure our volunteers are engaged and knowledgeable about the latest assistive technology which is why our volunteer event is very popular and annual. Throughout the day there were presentations from various organisations and charities whose support and technology greatly impacts the users of our IT support at home services:

Volunteering towards a digitally-inclusive society

Michael Vermeersch from Microsoft presenting as the front of a room to seated volunteers at our eventMichael Vermeersch from Microsoft spoke about how volunteering can be a key ingredient for a happy and fulfilling life with many volunteers observing a greater sense of purpose and improved health. Michael also spoke about the benefits for beneficiaries and society including enabling people to play an active role and contribute in society, breaking down social and cultural barriers and contributing to national wellbeing.

If you start looking at barriers, barriers can be broken down…

In many cases what our volunteers are doing is educating the public about features and technologies that are readily available on their devices and can break down barriers to access in the digital world. Michael spoke about many things including Microsoft’s Ease of Access settings which allow the user to turn on features including a magnifier, on-screen keyboard and narrator (which reads text on screen out loud). Michael wanted to particularly highlight Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk – where customers with disabilities can get support with Microsoft Office, Xbox Accessibility and Windows.

Tackling social isolation and loneliness through warm technology

An estimated 72,000 children miss school due to long-term illness. “Social isolation can cause major educational and social consequences…” commented Harriet Gridley, Head of Business Development UK at No Isolation. At our event Harriet demonstrated the AV1 robot which was created by No Isolation to make it possible for children and young adults with long-term illness or disability to take part at school via an app on their phone or tablet. It’s not just at school the robot is being used though – check out this moving video about the impact the AV1 robot has had in Jack’s life:

Harriet also spoke about KOMP which was specifically designed for older people who are not tech literate and feel isolated due to distance from family or because their health limits how frequently they can leave their home. Did you know 50% of people over the age of 80 have reduced circulation and leathery finger tips? This often means they struggle with and can’t easily use technology. KOMP has only one button which turns the technology on and off - relatives can send pictures, messages and video chat with their relative via an app. KOMP won the Nesta Smart Aging Prize in 2018 and is described as ‘the one-button screen for seniors’. Watch this video where Alice shares her experience using KOMP:

Dolphin – Making a difference

In the last of our morning presentations we heard Noel Duffy (Managing Director at Dolphin Computer Access) speak about the software and apps available to support users with all degrees of sight loss, computer experience and reading ability. There are 2 million people in the UK with sight loss, and of this 80% are over the age of 65 - Noel highlighted the importance of product selection criteria for older people based on their adeptness with technology.

Noel spoke about Dolphin EasyReader for iOS and Android. Best in class, most accessible and free – this accessible reading app is ideal for people who are experienced using apps and allows the user to access books, newspapers or copy and paste text. Dolphin Guide Connect was suggested for those who don’t use smartphone apps regularly, as it comes (in the UK) with 2 hours of training.

Workshops and our Marketplace

A representative from Dophin demonstrating their assistive tech to event attendeesIn the afternoon attendees rotated through 3 workshops gaining further insight into assistive technology and inclusive apps, hearing from experts in disability and technology. During the day we also had a marketplace area with representatives from AbilityNet, RNIB, Age UK, the Stroke Association, Blind Veterans, Action on Hearing Loss, Dolphin and No Isolation. Speaking about their experience at the event one of our volunteers commented “It was good to see the work being done to benefit from the expertise and experience from leading charities in the disability sector, which can only benefit users of our IT support at home services.”

Find out more

If you’d like to use your IT skills to support people in your local area you can enquire on our website about becoming an AbilityNet ITCanHelp Volunteer.

If you or someone you know could benefit from free IT support at home you can request a home visit on our website, call our helpline on 0800 269 545 or email us at enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk.