Thursday, 18 May 2023, marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day, a day to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access and inclusion. The DigiKnow alliance is vital to achieving our aim to be a 100% digital borough where no one is left behind or faces inequalities due to their digital situation. DigiKnow partners provide trusted support to their service users, understand their needs and are ideally placed to assist with digital. In this blog, Naomi Mather, Operations Manager – Deaf Services at Walthew House, describes the support they can offer residents with sight or hearing loss.
We run a Tech Group for people with sight or hearing loss on the second Thursday of every month 12 pm – 3 pm. The aim of the group is to inform and help people to make the most of the assistive technology available to them, as well as provide hands-on practical support. Some of our service users come along and want help researching products. Others want to learn how to use their devices so that they can better connect with family and friends. We also share technology updates with the group, help them to set up new devices and invite companies in to demonstrate their products.
I hear about apps, get them put onto my phone by family but then there is no help afterwards. Apple just fix faults, they don’t help with apps. Tech group is great because you get help and learn at the same time.
The service users and volunteers share their knowledge and experience with each other, so it doubles as a friendly social group too, and the lovely Brian is on hand keeping people supplied with tea, coffee, and biscuits.
It has been good coming here because people are in the same boat as me. I feel comfortable getting help because we are all in the same position. It was a lot to adjust to and get my head around when I was first diagnosed.
We also have ‘Tech one to one’ in place, where we can send a volunteer out to a service user’s home if they have a particular need or are struggling with mobility issues in coming to the group – this is assessed on an individual basis.
We’ve supported many people over the last few years. Some people pop in as and when they need support. Some use it on a regular basis to help them to retain what they have learned and also to keep as up-to-date as possible with our ever-changing technology.
“This chap today has fixed both my problems. It kept saying it had messages. He’s found out it was a notification about an update. And my email wasn’t working. I needed my email back to arrange to get picked up from the bus stop in Poynton to go out with my cycling group. (I’m on a tandem!). I use my phone to get out and about using the bus. It keeps your memory working, turning left and right. If I’m lost, I ring my nephew, and he can check where I am on his phone and tell me which way to go.
“The bus drivers are usually really good. They tell me when it’s my stop. But this morning, I got off the bus to come here and walked straight into a lamppost. A lady who helped me said it wasn’t a lamppost but the bus stop sign. Once, I asked a bus driver if he was going to Mersey Way, and he said err, yes, but when we got there, I was on the wrong side of the road. I said how can I cross a main road? So, he turned the bus around, dropped me where I wanted to be and turned the bus around again!
“Another time I used my phone to find the right bus and the walking directions to get me to a bank in Manchester. But when I got there, I couldn’t find the bank door. I waited for ages leaning against the wall, asking people for help. Eventually, a lady came over and asked me what I needed. When I said, she took me straight in. I think people thought I was begging, but I didn’t have my hat out. The man in the bank was good and took me back to the bus stop after.”
My husband is totally blind and we have been struggling to find out what there was out there and what he would be eligible for. This group is very helpful for us. Our son, who lives in London, also helps set up our phones and tablets for communication whenever he visits us.
I’m also interested in learning things myself, so it’s useful to learn about DigiKnow and the helpline. Language is a barrier for me. I didn’t know about the translation tool on the website*. We’re very happy to have this service available.
Andrew is a regular visitor to the group and is working to expand his tech knowledge with the help of a regular volunteer, Ian.
“Today I’ve been learning about apple maps for my contacts. My family all live down in South. I have their addresses in my contacts. If I click on the map, it tells me how to get to their destination. With the settings changed to default to public transport, if I click on it, it tells me the journey there. It gives me all the train times, in real time, the turnings, everything. It even says which platform. I could get the train, the tube and the bus to Fareham today. I told my brother I could just turn up at his house and surprise him! It’s got me really excited for getting around because before I had real trouble getting around.
“Next, we’re going to look at the National Rail enquiry app for getting me tickets because machines just aren’t accessible. I can understand why paper timetables are disappearing as finding out all this stuff online is amazing. I’m excited now to learn how to buy train tickets.I do a lot of swimming and I was starting to lose count of the lengths. I tried Fitbit but it doesn’t talk on your phone. Now I use an Apple watch. It records the length of time and so on and I can then listen to it on my phone later. Now I’ve improved by 200 metres an hour!”
We are very dependent on volunteers to run our Tech group. We prefer our volunteers to come regularly so they can offer some continuity for the people who attend the sessions, but we would always accept support offers! A knowledge of signing would be a bonus, but people can offer plenty of help without any specialist training.
If you could offer some time as a volunteer, please email us or call us on 0161 480 2612.
How would you manage without your phone? It hasn’t affected me yet fortunately but if you have any disability, you’re more dependent upon it. 34 years ago, I helped some blind students at Keele university. Now I’m an RNIB volunteer and I’m surprised how little technological help there is still. There’s a gap between what the technology can do and accessible information on how to use it. I’m helping Andrew make the most of the features on his iPhone. Each week he comes to me with different questions, and I can research it for him. I record it on memory sticks as MP3s. He can play them back on the computer or on a device that plays Talking Books. Once we have them all we want to share them with others.
Naomi, I just wanted to say what a credit to Walthew House this group is. There is nothing like it that I know, and the atmosphere is so lovely. The people are friendly, and two gentlemen I didn’t even know were happy to help me today. It’s fabulous, and I have learned so much today! Thank you.
Assistive technology for council services
*Stockport Council’s website has a toolbar called ReciteMe to enable website visitors to customise their digital experience to suit their own specific needs. You can find it at the top of every web page under ‘Accessibility’. It can translate text into over 100 languages, there’s a text-to-speech option, a magnifying glass, and you can change colours, typefaces, and so much more. Please read our blog about our ReciteMe or watch a demo.
Sign up for email alerts for regular updates from the #DigitalStockport blog.