Digital inclusion for people with sight loss

RNIB is a national charity that supports people with sight loss to live independent lives. We have many services, including a dedicated helpline offering emotional and practical support, a free talking book service, a radio station called ‘Connect Radio’ and we also run schools and hotels specifically designed for blind and partially sighted people. Furthermore, we have a range of services dedicated to helping people use technology. This could be anything from a liquid level indicator – which you clip on your mug and it beeps when your tea is near the top of the cup – to special software that reads information from your computer in a synthetic voice. Our most recent technology project is called Online Today. Online Today is supporting 125,000 people with sensory loss to develop the skills and confidence to use every day digital technology to get online.

Online Today is a Big Lottery funded project led by RNIB, delivered in partnership, to help 125,000 people with sensory loss across the UK get online. We’re focussing on supporting people with sight loss along with Action for Blind People (amongst others)…

Many people who develop sight loss believe that they can’t access digital technology. Touch and texture have traditional been the way for blind and partially sighted people to navigate technology, and the lovely smooth touch screens of our modern smartphones and tablets can seem completely off limits if you can’t see. Our mission is to raise awareness of all the incredible features built into modern devices that make them accessible. Our goal is for no one to be excluded from the myriad benefits of being online due to sight loss.

Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss. That’s approximately one person in 30. One in five people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss. We are here to support them to be independent, assured technology users, and enjoy the multiple uses of technology in everyday life and in their own communities.

In 2011, RNIB and BT wrote a report called ‘Tackling Digital Exclusion,’ looking at use of technology of people with sight loss over the age of 65. 82% of those surveyed reported that their eyesight was a reason why they were not using the internet.

When asked “Why aren’t you using technology?” responses included “Well it’s obvious; I can’t see the screen to use it. I’m blind” and “I used to have a computer before my eyesight started to fail but I got rid of it.”

The fact is, losing your sight is not a reason to no longer use technology, and we are here to spread that message.

Back in the day, blind and partially sighted people would have to buy special equipment in order to use a computer.  Our current digital technology has features for blind and partially sighted people built in, which is a revolutionary development. If you want to find out more about how blind and partially sighted people use digital technology, please watch our video, ‘Getting interested in technology; screen readers and magnification’

Action for Blind People are running Online Today workshops across the country, from Luton to Lancashire, in which they demonstrate accessibility features to groups of people with sight loss. These are brilliant – you see genuine moments of revelation where customers realise that they can actually use smartphones.  You can read a bit about one of the group sessions here

Another important element of RNIBs delivery of Online Today is focussed around our Technology Support Squad. The Tech Squad is a UK wide volunteer force empowering blind and partially sighted people to get the most out of technology. Our volunteers visit customers in their homes to give them free, one-to-one support. This personal support has been described as life changing by some customers. Our volunteers take the time to help individuals use their own devices for whatever they would like to do, whether it’s setting up email, learning to use Skype, getting used to banking or shopping online or simply reading the news. There are lots of cool apps developed specifically for blind and partially sighted people – like navigation apps and image-text-speech apps – and our volunteers help raise awareness of these.

RNIB Tech squad

The impact this support can have is enormous, one of our customers explained: “The training I had with a volunteer has improved my day-to-day life tremendously. I feel more organised and I’m not afraid of the Ipad or Iphone anymore. The volunteer has helped me use technology to keep in touch with friends and family and also my parishioners too. I feel this is one of the best support services RNIB has ever made available. It has really helped my confidence with IT equipment. I feel that I’m not excluded from day-to-day technology because of my sight loss.”

You can watch a short film of one of our Tech Squad volunteers, Richard, supporting a customer

We’re looking for more volunteers to join our Tech Squad and give life changing technology support to people with sight loss.

Whether you’re an internet enthusiast, a smartphone whizz, a gadget lover or an IT aficionado, you’ll be a valuable member of our team. If you have plenty of patience, love talking to people and are IT confident, we need your help!

Written by Rosie Martin, Volunteering Coordinator – Online Today!
RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People)