Positive change emerges from Chrysalis project

Cumbrian charity, Chrysalis, which supports adults with learning disabilities, has enabled significant changes by helping people incorporate accessible technology into their leisure activities.

Chrysalis Cumbria applied for tablets for 16 people it supports under the government’s Digital Lifeline Fund, an emergency response project delivering devices and digital skills to people with learning disabilities.

“Tablets are built into people’s routine now,” says Joanna Burrow, Chrysalis Cumbria learning and development officer. “If people are using them three or four times a week, it’s something they’ll continue for the rest of their lives…everyone seems to be enjoying them.”

Delivering a sensory experience

Image shows a woman at a computer. Someone is standing behind them resting a supportive hand on their shoulderTablet users might watch relaxing sensory scenes on their devices when they visit the Chrysalis centre, listen to music, or look at news websites.

As a Digital Lifeline partner, AbilityNet provided free training and support sessions to encourage online skills with Chrysalis and the people it works with. In addition, we carried out needs assessments for all tablet users, resulting in individualised settings, apps, adaptations and equipment like accessible keyboards and hardwearing cases.

Joanna says AbilityNet’s help was invaluable: “Not a lot of people we support had technology in their lives. They didn’t have access to the Internet or tablets. I also wasn’t familiar with the operating system, so it was hard to get used to an Android device.”

Personalised recommendations meant the group “didn’t all get the same things - they all got what they actually needed”, says Joanna.

Building blocks for change

Images shows a screenshot of the little mix websiteFollowing contact with AbilityNet, Chrysalis staff felt that they could support people better, and they felt more confident about using technology.

The most popular change we recommended was installing Action Blocks, shortcut buttons enabling users to jump to a task from the home screen directly.

This proved really successful for one non-verbal young woman with complex needs who, with one tap, now listen to songs by her favourite band Little Mix.

Adapting devices for dexterity issues

A young man with dexterity problems benefitted from our suggestion of an adaptive switch to turn the tablet on and off. “If he hadn’t had that switch, you might as well have thrown away the tablet. He’s now in full swing with it, whereas before, they didn’t have funds or ability to go out and buy something like that.”

Joanna adds that the equipment we recommended, like robust tablet cases and carrying handles, were essential for people who used walking aids: “No one was worrying about carrying the device under their arm or dropping it."

By far the biggest hurdle, adds Joanna, was the six-week timeframe of the Digital Lifeline project, “a bit too short for people with learning disabilities”.

Completing assessments, getting equipment delivered and installed and encouraging to get online was time-consuming.

Providing ongoing support

Joanna says Chrysalis also benefits from being matched to an AbilityNet technology “buddy” from our nationwide network of 300+ volunteers.

“We know we just give her a shout if we need help.”

AbilityNet, adds Joanna, is "a lifeline to support us”: “We don’t know everything about technology, and technology’s the way forward, so it’s good that we’ve got a backup. As a free service, it’s brilliant that we’ve got that opportunity.”

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