Galloway's Society for the Blind | Tackling digital isolation among visually impaired people in Lancashire



Why the work is being done

Galloway's Society for the Blind was set up to support blind/partially sighted people. We are the main local provider of sight loss services in Lancashire and Sefton. Our mission is to enable people with a visual impairment to gain greater independence, minimising the effects of reduced vision. 
There are over 50,000 people with sight loss in Lancashire and Sefton ( RNIB Sight Loss data 2019) -  our reach is to 7,000, and we actively support 4191 service users. 
Traditionally we have delivered services face to face and through our 4 community hubs – 3 of which are still closed. We have moved our services online and via telephone. For those without access to digital platforms however, it has become clear that we need to adapt our services in the longer term to reach more people with sight loss and enhancing our digital offer is a key way to do this.
During COVID-19 digital access has become an essential tool to access everyday life from booking appointments at GP surgeries to online shopping to interacting socially and pursuing hobbies. We’ve learnt from recent user surveys that loneliness and social isolation are the biggest concerns for our service users, exacerbated by social distancing requirements which have not been easy for our community.  This is backed up with RNIB research as 66% of people surveyed found people felt less independent post-lockdown.

The aim of this work is to design a programme of digital support for visually impaired people in Lancashire and Sefton to help tackle digital exclusion, loneliness and isolation.
The programme will include:
  • Hardware: tablets/devices to be provided (on a loan basis) for those with no access to devices  
  • Access to wifi connectivity: through data sim cards set up with the tablets (for users that are offline)
  • Set up of tablets  with relevant accessibility/assistive technology features based on user needs
  • 1:1 remote support for new learners with low digital skills and confidence 
Galloway’s have received a grant to cover the costs of the hardware, software and data packs for 15 tablets. The digital support partner will be expected to support Galloway’s with the design, implementation and learning of the support programme. 
This is a targeted pilot with a view of rolling it out across the wider visually impaired community. 
As part of the Catalyst programme organisations are asked to share their outputs and learnings with an identified network (informal or formal/ federated) of at least ten social organisations. Digital partners are expected to support organisations with this process. 

This project is part of the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response funding initiative; a partnership between The National Lottery Community Fund and CAST, supported by the Catalyst network.

Problem to solve

We want to ensure that users who do not have the digital skills, access or confidence are able to participate in everyday life.  

Having  conducted research with existing users, we’ve learnt how they’ve been using technology, what barriers they face and how they can benefit from it. We learnt that lack of digital access was not just related to age but also lack of knowledge and awareness on how technology could benefit them and what digital support was available. available to families. This will help organisations which offer services to spot gaps and avoid duplication.

Who are the users and what do they need to do

Key user groups will be visually impaired people without access to the internet or equipment. Many users  may be newly diagnosed.
User needs:
As a visually impaired person with no knowledge of using assistive technology, I do not know where to start. 
As a visually impaired person on a low income I need to ensure that investing in assistive technology will benefit me.
As a visually impaired person I am too old to use assistive technology.
As an assistive technology staff member I need service users to have internet access and equipment before I can help them.
As an visually impaired assistive technology volunteer, I need service users to have a simple device to use so I can support them
Expected outcomes for this work:
To provide 15 service users, not currently using technology or equipment, with wifi-enabled tablets (loaned out) and 8 hours of 1:1 online remote support. 
Through this approach we want to test whether this is an effective way to mainstream technology throughout our visually impaired network. 

Short term outcome:
  • To increase participants’ awareness of how technology can help and improve digital skills. 

Long term outcome:
  • To improve the emotional wellbeing of blind/partially sighted people by enabling them to feel connected online and become more digitally confident

Key project resources

Discovery files
Work already completed during discovery