Partnership creates literal lifeline

From Herts People First, Alex Morris has provided ongoing and emergency support thanks to Digital Lifeline – a government emergency response fund - and tech help from AbilityNet.

Alex, an advocate for Herts People First, a user-led, rights-based, self-advocacy organisation run by and for adults with a learning disability, intervened when she spotted a group member in an online video call who looked ill – potentially with Covid-19. 

“During the first lockdown, I took an emergency video call from a member and had to phone for an ambulance. I could clearly see they weren’t well,” recalls Alex.

The person was successfully treated in the hospital for pneumonia.

Unlocking community support

That potentially life-saving call pick-up was only possible thanks to Alex’s “steep learning curve” getting to grips with free tablets supplied through the Digital Lifeline Fund.

Before her involvement in the scheme, Alex and many of the recipients were unfamiliar with tablets, but their confidence grew thanks to AbilityNet’s free training and support.

Now, Alex is something of a tech expert.

She supports the adults she works with and others to develop their digital skills: “I was recently able to help an older neighbour who was struggling with his smartphone,” she said. “I made a few suggestions that would make the phone easier for him to use.”

A lifeline for people with learning difficulties

Digital Lifeline enabled 10 people at Herts People First to receive tablets, four of whom benefitted from AbilityNet assessments. Our specialist assessors recommended aids and adaptations, from sturdier covers to apps that created accessibility-boosting shortcuts.

“Getting the tablets was literally a lifeline,” said Alex.

She added: “We’re a small organisation and a lot of people we work with have little or no support. During Covid, a lot of support stopped. Using tablets for video calls meant people could still see each other when face-to-face contact wasn’t possible.” 

Some of the tips Alex picked up from training on accessibility and adaptations included how to install games on the tablets, enabling users to grow more familiar with a tablet touchscreen, something they had not experienced before. 

Keeping people connected during Covid-19

Pre-Covid, Herts People First relied on in-person meetings, so lockdown was a challenge for an organisation not set up with virtual contact.

“Before, we hadn’t been too concerned that people didn’t use a lot of technology because their preferred contact method was face-to-face. But suddenly we had to rely on phone calls…we couldn't see how people were doing. Video calls changed that.”

AbilityNet support helped embed a new Zoom social into the weekly diary.

Alex says: The weekly Zoom took off as people got used to the tech. It was a delight to watch people re-connect with friends and colleagues they had not seen in months.”

One tablet user joined church services via Zoom using a shortcut recommended by AbilityNet.

The challenge now, says Alex, is to encourage further use of technology as people return to their pre-Covid lives. To help people grow their skills, the organisation’s trustees, all of whom have a learning disability, continue with online meetings, acting as the charity’s peer champions for technology.

Herts People First is also taking advantage of AbilityNet’s volunteer network, with a tech buddy allocated to the organisation. The aim is to strengthen people’s knowledge so, as Alex says, the benefits gained during Digital Lifeline “last beyond the lifespan of the project”. 

How AbilityNet can Help

How AbilityNet has already supported individuals during the pandemic