The UK government has set up a £2.5m Digital Lifeline Fund, which will arrange for devices, data and digital support to be given to low income groups with learning disabilities.
As part of this new Digital Lifeline scheme, 5,000 internet tablets, preloaded with free tech support and data, will be available from March 2021.
The new Digital Lifeline scheme will help in supporting people facing digital exclusion because of unaffordability regarding internet access and increased social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision was taken by the government following revelations by recent ONS data, which found nearly 75% of the people with a learning disability thought that their wellbeing had been affected ever since the coronavirus pandemic raised its ugly head across the globe.
Other studies have shown that technology can play a big part in helping those with learning disabilities to feel less lonely, thereby supporting their mental health and wellbeing.
The Digital Lifeline Fund will ensure that thousands of financially challenged people enjoy the benefits of technology while having a semblance of normality in their lives, until pandemic-ruled restrictions are prudently eased.
Digital Minister Caroline Dinenage said: “The pandemic has been incredibly tough for disabled people who have struggled to get online for basic things like catching up with loved ones.
“The Digital Lifeline fund will tackle this divide head on by putting thousands of devices in the hands of those who need them most, with free data and tech support on standby to help people with learning disabilities.”
With device deliveries slated to begin this March, the government has also introduced other measures such as issuing £4.6bn in funds to local authorities to support adult social care and £1.2m towards seven learning disability and autism charities.
The UK government is helped on the project by digital inclusion charities such as AbilityNet and Good Things Foundation, both of which have immense experience in aiding disabled people strengthen their mental health through digital technology.
Isobel, 31, from Alness, Scotland, suffers from a learning difficulty. Although living with her dog, she felt very isolated due to the Covid-19 pandemic but was helped by AbilityNet volunteer Chris Grant, who helped her to keep in touch with her family and friends through technology.
Isobel exclaimed: “Chris linked me in with a local charity to obtain a tablet and AbilityNet’s team of volunteers showed me the best way to use it, and how to use it safely. I’m gaining more confidence and will be supported by Chris from AbilityNet to learn more so I can do more with my tablet.”
For this project, AbilityNet provides tech advice on assistive technologies alongside accessibility assessments for individuals having multiple and/or profound disabilities. Good Things Foundation guides and supports local organisations in distributing the devices safely and securely.
Local organisations will also be funded as part of the support to help recipients in learning to use their devices safely and confidently.
AbilityNet CEO Gary Moore said: “AbilityNet has been helping disabled people harness the power of tech for over 20 years and the Digital Lifeline project offers a wonderful opportunity to help people with learning disabilities get their hands on tech, which will transform their lives.”
Good Things Foundation CEO Helen Milner said: “This investment from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, giving digital access and skills to people with learning disabilities, couldn’t have come at a more important time.
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight just how essential being online is for day-to-day living. But millions of people are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. People with learning disabilities face even more challenges. Staying connected is an essential lifeline they depend on and must not do without.”