Disabled people are 50% more likely than others to face barriers in accessing online and digital services, according to research – largely due to inaccessible websites and resources. However, there are also issues around the affordability of devices. For example, the 2021 NHS Digital report found that only 5.1% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and much more of our daily lives moved online, the digital exclusion for disabled people became even worse.
In response to this, My Life My Choice, a self-advocacy charity for adults with learning disabilities in Oxfordshire, launched Computer Buddy, its digital inclusion project. The project supplied the charity’s membership with free laptops or tablets and provided support and training to help members learn to use email, video conferencing apps and other tools, as well as how to stay safe online.
As a result of the project, the trustees – 100% of whom have a learning disability – decided to add digital inclusion to the charity’s five-year strategy and made the continuation of the Computer Buddy project a key objective. The project is now embedded into all areas of work across the charity, offering its members meaningful opportunities to improve their IT skills.
It has expanded its reach by partnering with local day centres in Oxford and Bicester and has set up a referral process through the national charity Guideposts. Additionally, My Life My Choice has linked up with the local NHS occupational therapy teams, through which it has received multiple referrals.
The demand for the devices and support was so high that the charity has now employed a digital inclusion project coordinator to run the project full-time. As of February 2023, the charity had provided support to 133 adults with learning disabilities across the county, provided 103 devices and delivered 271 training and support sessions.
Although none of its full-time staff has a learning disability, My Life My Choice employs 40 freelance staff with learning disabilities, ensuring their hours don’t exceed 16 per week so as to protect their benefits.
The Charity Awards judges were impressed that the charity’s entire board was comprised of people with learning disabilities. Karin Woodley said: “That in itself is innovative. To have a project that is entirely led by people with direct lived experience is something we need more of in our sector. I think it immediately increases the impact of the charity, both for the beneficiaries and for those who are on the board.”
Judge Chris Sherwood added that the charity demonstrated a deep and genuine commitment to being user-led.
Judge Sarah Ellis said that it was a “really practical and supportive digital inclusion project, straightforward in its purpose and outcomes, which could be rolled out further in the future”.
CC Reg no. 1187726