Disability and Digital Inclusion

03 Dec 2014 |Written by Emily Redmond

Following on from Helen’s recent blog about the great news that we’ve won a new contract with BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) to deliver a Future Digital Inclusion programme, I thought it was a good time to share what Tinder’s Research & Innovation team have been up to in support of the project over the last few weeks.

One of the target audiences for the Future Digital Inclusion programme is disabled people and I have been out and about meeting members of local disability self-advocacy groups and academics doing fascinating work in the disability field to find out more about the barriers to digital inclusion facing disabled people, and their thoughts and opinions of technology in general. It’s been great to carry out this work alongside Tinder’s development of new partnerships with national organisations including Mind, Scope, Leonard Cheshire and Abilitynet.

30% of the disabled adult population (3.5 million people) have never used the internet, compared to 7% (3 million) of adults reporting no disability. In terms of baseline and trends, the proportion of people in households with internet access increased from 60% to 84% amongst non-disabled people between 2005 and 2010, and in contrast the percentage increased from 40% to 58% amongst disabled people. So disabled people are one of the hard-to-reach audiences in terms of combating social and digital inclusion, and by working with national partners we want to see what we can do to tackle this, both as part of the Future Digital Inclusion Fund and in the longer term.

First stop was Disability Sheffield where we met members of People’s Power Advocacy (previously called Speaking Up For Action) a group of people with learning disabilities who meet every Thursday to have their say about what matters in their lives. We had a really good meeting with them where we talked about everything from if and how they currently access the internet, what people use it for and what they’d like to do more of in the future like emailing and research.

Next it was on to Our Vision Our Future in Chesterfield to a focus group we ran with over 30 members of the self-advocacy group including representatives from Enable. We met where the group hold sessions every week and the atmosphere was really relaxed. It was great to see some of the members of Our Vision Our Future taking on the digital support roles for the group.

From the discussions I have got some really good insight into the barriers for individuals, including:

  • Accessibility - inaccessible websites and devices.
  • Cost of devices, internet access and specialist software
  • Lack of literacy skills
  • Lack of awareness about support on offer including where to go for help and what software that’s out there.
  • Fear and misconceptions amongst disabled people and/or their carers about the dangers of being online.
  • Lack of confidence
  • Generational divide particularly for those in their 40s and 50s who haven’t grown up with technology and might feel it’s “not for them”

Given the austerity measures set out by the government, digital inclusion is not high up on the agenda for many disability service providers. This is compounded by additional barriers such as lack of basic digital skills and confidence of staff and volunteers and a lack of awareness of the support on offer and the benefits of digital for those they care for.

What was clear from my meetings was that groups like People’s Power Advocacy and Our Vision Our Future like getting together as a group. In terms of how individuals feel that digital support and the internet could benefit them:

  • Social contact and learning from one another in a relaxed environment
  • Independence/Information such as checking bus timetables, shopping online and looking up holidays.
  • Communication especially cheap and convenient communication like Skype, Facebook and email.
  • Hobbies and interests such as sharing photos, games and listening to music.

In addition to the focus groups, I also attended a great event as part of the Sheffield ESRC Festival of Social Sciences entitled Activism, Ambition, Action... and Austerity? Disabled People Speak Out. At the event I met lots of people passionate about how the proposed funding cuts in the health and social care sector are going to affect disabled people. I was inspired by their rejection of negative stereotypes places on disabled people in society and their call for more peer support and peer advocacy. The messaging again was about the importance of organisations collaborating and that it’s disabled people that are best placed to bring out the solutions.

Something we will be looking into with the help of our new national specialist partners is the role our UK online centres can take to support more disabled people and how we can upskill staff and volunteers in the disability sector to support learners with digital skills.

Thanks to Clare, Jo, Tom, Lucy, Kirsty, Jenny and everyone who got involved in the discussions and made us feel so welcome. It was fantastic to meet so many people passionate about disability self-advocacy.

If you’d like to get in touch to find out more about the work we’re doing around disability and digital inclusion, or if you’d like to tell us about what you’re doing, email us at hello@tinderfoundation.org.