Breaking down the barriers to digital inclusion

11 Dec 2017

Picture the scene. There are four or five people seated on sofas and bucket chairs, iPads in hand, watching films on YouTube, playing games and reading jokes or the news online, not so unusual in today’s world. But did you imagine that their average age is 85 and ten weeks ago most of them had never even picked up an iPad? This is Jewish Care Explore, based at The Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus in Golders Green. It feels like a cool, buzzy internet café and offers short courses and drop-in sessions in digital skills for every life.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics highlighted that nearly a third of older people have never used a computer and only 27% of older people have used social media, compared to 96% for 16 to 24-year-olds. In addition, recent internet usage by people with disabilities, across all age groups, is also much lower in comparison to those without disabilities.

At Jewish Care Explores’ pilot ten-week iPad course, participants went from being observers of the digital age to being actively engaged online. By the end of the course they were using iPads to develop interests, watch films, read the news and stay in touch with family across the globe.

Sandi Wassmer, Jewish Care’s Digital Services Development Manager explains, “Breaking down the barriers to move people from digital exclusion to inclusion is vital to connecting people to the world around them and empowering them as social citizens in the 21st century.”

Jewish Care Explore, formerly The Karten Centre, has a broad offering providing basic digital skills to people of all ages and abilities. Sandi explains, “When people come here we want them to enjoy learning and feel relaxed, there’s a sociable atmosphere, which is the opposite of what people think of when we think about people isolated by their phones and iPad.

“Many people haven’t had access to the digital world in their everyday lives, but once they have retired or their children get older, they have time to learn these new skills. People with physical disabilities are also often excluded because they haven’t got access to the assistive technology and software which makes it possible to go online.

“Another group we are seeing are members of the Orthodox community, who are 35+ and are coming here to gain access to learning digital skills, some find it can help make their lives easier with things like internet shopping. They can do so also thanks to the Kosher Internet service that was introduced a few years ago and is a much welcome addition to the The Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus.”

Cynthia Benjamin, 86, went along to Jewish Care Explore for support to learn how to use her lap top at the regular drop in and she soon became curious about using the iPads. The team guided her to download apps and showed her how to find iPlayer and YouTube.

Cynthia said, “My life has changed with this course. I’ve learnt so much and there’s more I can manage on my own. I want to come back and do another course on the iPad. I have a lot of grandchildren across the world and they are all contacting me on email, I’ve learnt how to communicate with them online.”

“I watch my great grandchild who is just two years old, finish playing with toys and go on the tablet to watch cartoons whilst I tidy up the toys and have had no idea how to do that. Now I really do. In fact, I read a joke the other day saying that an adult was going back to school to learn more and their new teacher is nine years old.”

Another participant, Barry Yarrow, 86, has graduated from the iPad course under
the guidance of the Jewish Care Explore team. Barry says, “Today, I’ve been looking up how to pickle cucumbers on YouTube which I’d like to start doing and getting tips on how to prune the apple trees. I love to watch a short opera too but I’d still go shopping because I like to look at everything in the shops.”

Doreen Jay, 85, enthuses about the benefits of the course, “It’s a new vista and as you get older, you need this, it’s fantastic. I can read my news online, watch operas on YouTube and find things out, I no longer feel like a prisoner at home, I feel connected. I was so frightened when I came in first and the team have been so patient.”

As part of the service, thanks to continued funding from The Ian Karten Charitable Trust and The Shoresh Charitable Trust, as well as the new look for the centre, Jewish Care has been able to invest in a range of new technology and assistive technology for people with disabilities. There are iPads with switches that can be activated by hand or head pressure, large joysticks, adapted keyboards, mobile phones, VR headsets, desks for laptops and screens that can be adjusted to the right height.

Marietta Adami, 56, is a resident of Rela Goldhill at Otto Schiff for people with physical disabilities, who drops in to Jewish Care Explore regularly. She says, “I am on email and use the tablet to follow my interests, like watching Eastenders on the iPlayer at home. I like the new look, it’s brighter and all the assistive technology and adapted facilities work for me.”

Eirini Dermatzaki, who works at Jewish Care Explore offers tips on supporting people to go online for the first time; “If there’s one thing you can do for other people it’s to give them the space and time to learn rather than doing it for them. “If you have family or know older people who would like to learn more digital skills, technology can really bring the generations together.

“Speak slowly so they have time to process what you are saying. Give people control of the device so they are in charge and can make their own mistakes and learn. Most important of all, be patient and of course, tell them to come to Jewish Care Explore”.

If you're interested in learning more about what Jewish Care Explore can off you, please click here.