How to use technology to reduce social isolation

Image shows app icons on a phone including those for Facebook, LinkedIn and InstagramThe COVID-19 crisis has forced many of us into a period of physical distancing— currently, 1.5 million people are self-isolating for health reasons. In reality, many older and disabled people were already more likely to be isolated from the rest of society. 

Half of the working-age disabled people “always or often” feel lonely, according to Scope. Age UK says there are already 1.2 million chronically lonely people living in the UK, and as we have witnessed recently, a prolonged illness can cause isolation.

Watch the recording of our FREE webinar about fighting loneliness with technology to hear how charities are tackling loneliness by delivering free tech to those most in need

Predictions are that the number of over 50s experiencing loneliness will reach 2m by 2025/26. 

This crisis has revealed the difficulties many people face every day in terms of accessing essential services such as a supermarket delivery, of meeting healthcare needs such as having prescriptions fulfilled. 

Tackling social isolation using technology

AbilityNet believes that technology has a vital role to play in terms of tackling this loneliness and isolation. In usual times, our network of over 300 volunteers provides at-home support to older and disabled people with technology.

Here are eleven ways technology can help.

1. AbilityNet Live! webinars to help you use technology

We continue to offer remote support and, in direct response to the coronavirus crisis, we’ve launched AbilityNet Live!.

Our series of webinars show you how to use technology to keep in touch with family and friends, and how to use technology to find the local support that you need. Leading UK charities have joined us in delivering these webinars including Action for Carers, Age UK, British Red Cross, Carer for the Carers, COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK, Stroke Association and others. 

Find out about future webinars and register at AbilityNet Live!

We’re also running webinars for employers and employees to ensure that those who need reasonable adjustments continue to have their needs met while working from home, including learning how to run an accessible online meeting

2. Connect with loved ones using technology

Technology makes it easy to connect face-to-face when you’re physically separated.

The company No Isolation manufactures KOMP.

KOMP is a one-button computer aimed at those who have little or no experience of using smartphones, computers and tablets. It enables families to connect through an app and to send messages, pictures and make two-way video calls. 

For those who do use smartphones and tablets, it’s easy to connect via Zoom or to make a video-call using apps such as WhatsApp, which also lets you set up a WhatsApp group; for family members.

3. Listen to the radio

Historically, the radio has provided a source of company for those without it. You can access it via a smart speaker. On a tablet, phone or computer, there are various ways of tapping into radio stations free of charge. TuneIn is a great radio app that provides easy access to a plethora of radio stations including music, talk radio and regional shows. 

You’ll also find many radio stations have an option on their websites to ‘Listen Live’.

You can also stream music and access podcasts for free via Spotify. The free version comes with ads, or you can subscribe to an ad-free service.

4. Join an online community 

Hands all joined together in an act of celebrationThe internet gets a bad rap sometimes that it isolates and excludes people, but it can also help you to forge new social connections, and to connect physically with others. For those experiencing disability or illness, charities are an excellent first port of call. 

Recently, we’ve highlighted forums to connect with if you or a loved one are living with MS, are a stroke survivor and for those with arthritis. Scope also has forums for “disabled people, parents and carers”.

Many, notably the stroke association, will signpost to local groups you can join. 

For older people, Age UK has local forums to help you connect with others.

5. Invest in a Smart Speaker

Smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are powerful tools. These voice-activated devices act as a bridge to the fountain of knowledge on the internet. 

Practically, it can help you to stay more organised, or access news, podcasts and books.

The voice interface means for those who might be socially isolated; they get to hear their voice in the room and to get a response creating a sense of dialogue.

6. Listen to a podcast

There are literally millions of podcasts available to list to, and many are available free of charge. Find out how to access free podcasts and books in our celebration of World Book Day.

7. Get support from AbilityNet

While our network of DBS-checked volunteers can’t visit you for at home, we can still support you by phone or remotely. Our experts can advise you on all aspects of technology, including setting up a smart speaker or getting you connected to the internet. 

They can also help to adapt to the technology you use if you’re older or disabled.

Call our Helpline on 0800 269 545.

8. Do some volunteering

Giving something back, if you’re able is a way of connecting with others. Opportunities can be small, or larger if you wish. 

The app Be My Eyes allows you to help others with visual impairments. The app connects blind and low-vision individuals with sighted volunteers and companies from all over the world through a live video call.

More than 2,000,000 volunteers have signed up to assist blind and low-vision users. It is a great way to volunteer and is an essential service for blind and visually impaired people during the lockdown.

Ordinarily, can find a volunteering activity at a time that suits you using Do It

9. Keep an eye on loved ones

There are easy ways of monitoring the people you love in a way that’s non-intrusive. Howz, for example, offers a Home Care Kit. 

The kit is a series of smart plug and sensors that learn a person’s natural routine such as what time they get up, how much energy they consume.

When there’s an anomaly, it texts someone. How costs £149 plus £9 per month after the first 30-days.

10. Free technology to combat loneliness

The charity Wavelength gives technology to people who are lonely or living in poverty to help them to reconnect with the world. It supports unwell people, disabled people, people who have suffered domestic abuse, the homeless, and more. 

You can apply for help as an individual or a group. Be aware they are currently experiencing high demand.


11. Robo-companions

In the not-too-distant future, we may find some robots can care for us or provide companionship at home. You can read about the types of robots caring for people in Japan and closer to home

How AbilityNet can help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm on 0800 269 545
  • We have a range of factsheets that talk in detail about technology that might help you, which you can download for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.