A safe space for digital

21 May 2018

Wirral Mencap is a local independent charity that promotes equality for people with a learning disability and they’ve been teaching basic digital skills to some of their learners, as part of a project run by Good Things Foundation and funded by TalkTalk.

Based in Birkenhead, Wirral, the organisation supports ‘people with a learning disability and their families by providing information, support and opportunities’. Using computers and the internet is a big part of daily life for everyone, and it’s important that the learners have access to this information to enrich their lives.

Embarking on a digital skills project was a completely new approach for Wirral Mencap. This change in approach has mainly come from the impact of Universal Credit on the centre’s learners. Lizzie, the manager of the project, explains: “Part of the reason that we wanted to do the course was that one of our members has recently been told that he’s moving to Universal Credit. He’s never used a computer and all of a sudden he’s going to have to manage everything to do with his money online.”

Lizzie also recognises the importance of teaching broader digital skills to the learners - skills that will give them increased independence and prepare them for living by themselves: “We want to make IT a sustainable part of what we do. We live in a digital age, and people with a learning disability will get left behind if local communities and charities don’t do something to support them.”

Dave, a learner at the centre, has a keen interest in shipping and the Mersey. He regularly visits the waterfront. The centre has given Dave a digital camera which he takes full advantage of. His buddy, also named Dave and a volunteer at Wirral Mencap, says: “He’s got all this information about shipping in the Mersey, notebooks and things, so we travel to different waterfront locations. Dave likes to take photos and the camera that Mencap has lent him appetises him with the IT, because he’s able to see his own photos coming in.”

Siobhan, another learner at the centre, has gained a lot since attending the classes. She has an iPad at home which has changed the way she uses technology in her day-to-day life. She says: “I use my iPad to look up stuff, I watch websites on it, I use it to FaceTime, I’ve got my own Facebook page… I use it to look at the daily news headlines and stuff. I find it very interesting.”

The Online Centre has benefited greatly from the additional funding received from the Staying Safe in Your Digital World project. Lizzie explains: “The money that we’ve received for this project has covered a few different things, such as room hire, WiFi access, volunteers’ expenses. Oh and tablet devices!”

The Gateway Award is an activity-based personal development scheme in which people with a learning disability can take part in. The award is run at Wirral Mencap and the newly purchased tablets have assisted in this process. Lizzie says: “The learners have a website where they have to log all of their evidence of the different activities they’ve been doing, and now because we have tablets they can do that themselves.”

Lizzie concludes: “This project has made a massive difference to our centre and our learners.”

(At the request of the case study subject, Siobhan, her name has been changed.)