A short history of the Technology For Life team

Post date: 9 October 2019

In October 2019, our Technology for Life team celebrates a year since volunteers were integrated in to the service.

RNIB has a long history of helping people with sight loss use technology. We're going to take a look at how we got here, and celebrate some achievements along the way.

Technology and RNIB

Thomas Rhodes Armitage founded the precursor to RNIB in 1868 to promote the use of embossed literature. In 1935 RNIB introduced Talking Books, which is still one of our flagship services, and in the 1950s technology volunteers became part of RNIB, helping customers to fix their Talking Book players. We still have a loyal team of volunteers in our Talking Books service, refurbishing old players, wherever possible. Some volunteers have been with us since the 1970s and we are so grateful for their longstanding support.

In 1982 volunteer computer programmers demonstrated computers to blind and partially sighted people, and RNIB experts started to adapt calculators, thermometers and other everyday gadgets to use synthesised speech. By 1990 more than 1,000 people per year started contacting RNIB for technology support, as a result of the increasing popularity of personal computers. This led to the formation of RNIB's computer volunteer service in 1993 which started with 200 volunteers visiting customers in their homes to help with technology. Again, some of these volunteers remain part of our team today.

The invaluable role of volunteers

In 2005, roles expanded within the technology volunteering program to meet the increasingly diverse support requests from our customers. In 2015, the launch of Online Today, a National Lottery Community Fund backed programme to get more people with sensory loss online, led to another increase in technology volunteers. The service included training delivery to customers as well as troubleshooting common tech issues. 

Today we have a wonderful team of 700 volunteers all around the country, carrying out home visits, delivering sessions and tech surgeries, training, troubleshooting, carrying out research and supporting people with sight loss to increase wellbeing and transform lives through the power of technology.

The service has been invaluable, (the volunteer) has made such a difference to me in teaching me to use my phone with Siri to make calls. When RNIB first reached out I did not want to accept help. Now I cannot say how much it has changed my life, it has given me so much independence.

Customer Feedback Survey 2019

Technology For Life today

The Technology For Life team are here to help any person with sight loss with their technology. We are on hand to help with a range of technology-related questions, from simple to complicated, offering advice and guidance, sometimes through our network of partners and volunteers. In our first year we handled 5,565 technology queries in total with 33 per cent being dealt with by volunteers.

So happy birthday Technology For Life team, and thank you to all the staff and volunteers that are a part of it.