Supporting people with learning disabilities to gain digital skills

13 Mar 2017


Good Things Foundation came to work with VoiceAbility after Project Manager Sue Reed read our blog about what we were finding out from Learn My Way 4.0 user testing, back in its development stage. With a shared interest of supporting more people with learning disabilities to access the internet and gain digital skills, Sue connected with us to find out how we could collaborate, learn from each other’s work and help more people by connecting VoiceAbility’s beneficiaries with the Online Centres Network. 

We asked Sue to write a guest blog for Good Things Foundation to shine a light on the work they’re doing creating Daybook the Digital Diary (more on that below) and how user research and co-creation with people with learning disabilities and service providers has been key to the project.

What is the story?

VoiceAbility is an advocacy charity working to support people in their communities. We have seen the challenges that face People with Learning Disabilities to access online services and support.  We want to level the playing field and ensure as many people as possible can be heard online. This has important implications around democratic citizenship and human rights.

VoiceAbility applied for Innovation funding for the project from the Department of Health and were given a grant for 2 years to explore the model and set up a prototype that could be tested with People with Learning Disabilities.

Many people with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities do not use digital services. This can be for a number of reasons:

  • no access to digital devices, 
  • lack of confidence or training in using devices, 
  • websites and apps that are not accessible to People with Learning Disabilities 

Local and national services have a duty to consult with citizens about the services they provide and we want to make sure that People with Learning Disabilities can give their views and these are listened to, valued and acted upon. We want to improve the quality and impact of information and make sure people have a better quality of life. 

We invited Local Authorities to make a proposal to become one of three pilot sites. The three successful L.A.’s are: 

  • Gloucestershire
  • Liverpool 
  • South Tyneside

The three sites are very different in size, population and policy, which has the potential to provide rich information on how the model could be adopted by different authorities across England. 

Through the grant funding from the Department of Health, we have been working with designers and web developers to create Daybook. Originally the project was called Speak Out On Line (SPOOL), but this was changed to Daybook as the work developed with people who are using services.

How Daybook developed

Daybook is a digital platform designed and co-created with people with learning disabilities which aims to improve the conversation and communication between People with Learning Disabilities and those that provide support and services. Daybook has been developed around a social design model. This includes the design and facilitation of research, co-creation and prototyping activities with people who use services – people with lived experience.


Research and co-creation events took place with each pilot areas from March to May 2016 and again in September and October. In order to be as inclusive as possible, we developed a toolkit of activities and adapted session plans to meet the needs of the people in each session. We adopted the solution focused adage, “if it doesn’t work, do something different!” Sessions took place in residential services, day centres, arts and activities groups, advocacy groups, library drop-ins, social clubs and special colleges.

There were co-creation workshops with the three Local Authorities, who invited colleagues from CCG’s, Service Providers, Health Watch and Third Sector providers.  

Using an Agile approach, where the early focus is on using research, simple experiments and prototyping to explore the features and functions needed, we found out what could help People with Learning Disabilities access online support. Every experiment and prototype generated learning and we learnt as much from what didn’t work as we did from what did.


User research

The target groups for user research were in four broad categories:

  1. People with learning disabilities, particularly those people who do not participate in digital activities.
  2. Their supporters, including parent carers/support workers and personal assistants/advocates, friends and siblings.  
  3. Service providers within Local Authorities – commissioners, heads of service, frontline and transformation teams. 
  4. Service providers in Health and Health and Social Care integration. Community and voluntary sector.
Prototyping Daybook

Following the second co-creation visits in the pilot sites, the team worked on ideas that could go forward into early prototyping, using journey mapping storyboards to test the ideas and plot the activities for different people who would use the service.

This helped:

  • Explore how the experience of different users could be improved
  • Shape design ideas and shape decisions
  • Explore frame by frame the possible experience including emotional responses



Daybook the Digital Diary

The prototype of a digital diary had value, many people and services use paper diaries to record activities and we want to test if this could be extended so that People with Learning Disabilities could use a range of tech to record their day. Using different media: writing, photos, videos etc. people could upload their entries onto a secure digital platform. They could comment on things as they happen and look back at them, providing a more immediate and interactive record of what is important to each individual.

Most of the diary systems we have seen are paper based and are not used by the person with a learning disability but are written in by a family member, carer or service provider. We want the person to have power and control over their entries. 

The digital diary could:

  1. Be a place to share a story as a one-off or a place to go back to and build a bank of stories.
  2. Be a place to share stories about a topic of the user’s choice. There could be a prompt; “What is your story about?” before or after they upload, or about a topic.                              
  3. Give people the chance to reflect on past experiences as well as current.
  4. Be private; shared with select people; shared with service providers.

We moved into the “sprint” phase for Daybook in late Autumn 2016 and went through three iterations, changing and amending after each sprint.

Are we nearly there yet?

Daybook is now being piloted in the Local Authority areas. There are eight topic areas where people can comment on aspects of their lives by touching the icon:

People can:

  • Save their entries by topic, whether it is a good or bad experience and by date - This way people can go back to their entries when they are working with supporters or service providers to remind themselves and others of what has been happening. ​
  • People can give Local Authorities or services permission to view their entries - There is a dashboard for each Local Authority and for services within that authority, where they can see the number of entries made against each category and can ask permission to view the entries.

We have developed training packs and videos showing how to use Daybook:

  • How to log on
  • Making and saving an entry
  • Searching for entries by topic, date or feeling
  • Privacy settings
  • How you can use entries to tell people about yourself 
  • How these can support your choices and decisions. 


What do people think of Daybook?

Pilot session in a special college

“It's really amazing. Everyone's getting on with it. Even some of the pre-entry students are managing to navigate it" (teacher)
"You can feel the energy in here. People are smiling." (teacher)
"That one's a keeper!" (student, after taking a selfie, delighted)
"I was writing about my life. I did two different things, one at home and one at college. It was actually really good" (student)

Workshop in a Local Authority

A seminal moment came when a LA Commissioner gave feedback on a group activity and concluded by saying, “After doing and seeing that I’ve realised we have to do everything differently!”

Digital Skills workshop with a local authority

What next?

The pilot areas will be using Daybook for six weeks. During this time they will be reporting back to the Daybook team and working with an independent evaluator.  Watch this space……

For more information contact or