Digital Lifeline shows how partnerships can close the digital divide

AbilityNet is proud to be a partner in the Digital Lifeline project that supported over 5,000 people with learning disabilities during the pandemic. An evaluation report has now been published by the Good Things Foundation and the government, showing the positive impact that technology can have on the lives of people with learning disabilities, and underlining the power of partnership in addressing digital exclusion.

Cover of Evaluation Report

Closing the digital divide

People with a learning disability face higher risks from health threats like COVID-19 as well as risks of loneliness. Many also experience digital barriers.

Digital Lifeline was a time-limited pandemic emergency fund which ran from March to June 2021. Funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) it was led by Good Things Foundation in partnership with AbilityNet, Learning Disability England, VODG (Voluntary Organisations Disability Group), Digital Unite and 146 other national and community partners.

In four months the network identified and helped 5,500 digitally excluded people with learning disabilities - and the evaluation report clearly shows the benefits this brought to their wellbeing, independence and digital skills.

Ongoing support is vital

“We’re really proud to be sharing the data and lessons learned from this amazing project," said Amy Low, who led the work for AbilityNet. “The report clearly shows that getting access to a device is one part of the jigsaw - the real benefits only come when experts such as AbilityNet and other charities have the resources they need to offer ongoing support.”

"Our specialist staff provided a helpline and one-to-one assessments to identify the accessibility needs of the people in receipt of devices," explains Amy. "Our team also provided accessibility training to community partners, and our network of volunteers were connected to community partners for ongoing support."

"The pandemic exposed a deep digital divide for many people, and the disproportionate impact on disabled people. Digital Lifeline is a great blueprint for the way that charities and Government can work together to help fix the divide and build a digital world accessible to all.”

More support is still needed

As Amy explains, the evaluation report highlights the life-changing benefits which digital inclusion can bring, but also points to the urgent need for sustained support, awareness and coordinated action to fix the digital divide.

“AbilityNet worked closely with DCMS and Good Things Foundation from an early stage and in the end the Digital Lifeline Fund received requests for nearly 10,000 devices. This indicates the scale of digital exclusion among people with learning disabilities in England."

"It’s quite clear that more support is needed to sustain the benefit of the work so far and to extend a digital lifeline to people with learning disabilities and disabled people who are still facing digital exclusion.”

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