As we move into the third year of the Online Today programme, we want to share what we’ve learned from evaluating the project so far.
The internet and new digital technology are transforming the way we communicate, work, shop, access services, and find information. But we know from our My Voice survey that only one in three blind and partially sighted people felt able to make the most of new technology.
Online Today is a three year, Big Lottery funded programme which aims to ensure that people with sight loss are not shut out of the opportunities that new technologies offer. The programme is being delivered in a range of ways across the UK: from home visits by volunteers, to locally run group sessions, training, and one-to-one support.
As we move into the third year of the programme, we want to share what we’ve learned from evaluating the programme so far.
Many beneficiaries have increased in knowledge (58 per cent) and developed skills ( 57 per cent) to use access technology to get or stay online. Furthermore, Online Today has helped increase beneficiaries confidence (53 per cent) and ability (53 per cent) to use devices. Being online has helped beneficiaries to communicate and find information, have more leisure time, save money, and improve their health and wellbeing.
‘[more] confident definitely...I can now...use cursors...I can change that into different colours and sizes depending on the websites. She showed me how to use the magnifier and how to turn it on and off...I know I can’t break anything’ Online Today Beneficiary.
Individual’s progress towards getting or staying online is dependent on their own specific needs and expectations, as well as their prior knowledge and experiences of using devices and the internet. Whilst only a minority of people (14 per cent) have never been online, 20 per cent of Online Today beneficiaries are ‘lasped’ users, and 65 per cent are online but at risk of losing their their online engagement as their sight deteriorates. Our findings indicate that the more specialised and tailored the digital inclusion activities, the more likely it is to help them move along their online journey.
‘I have found over the last year that I have stopped using the computer because my sight has got really bad. I was forced to use my hand held magnifier to see some of the things on the screen – and my confidence to use the computer was getting less and less.’ Online Today Beneficiary.
Partnership working has been positive across Online Today. It has increased the programme’s reach and has strengthened or built relationships with a variety of delivery partners. Organisations involved have told us that being involved in Online Today has:
‘Transformative in regards to our approach to people with sight loss and helping them to negotiate digital technology and go online ...although not there yet we have a firm pointer to the right direction. Knowledge that Online Today is there...for consultancy is great’ Digital skills charity.
Online Today has engaged volunteers within all aspects of its delivery; through providing one-to-one progressive digital inclusion activities, supporting digital skills officers at events and providing administration. Volunteers have been vital in the programme delivery and many have gained a sense of achievement by seeing first-hand the difference they have made to blind and partially sighted people. It has been a driver for change within RNIB Group Volunteering especially in transforming the profile of technology volunteers and how they support people with sensory loss to get online.
‘Inclusion is a great thing and a lot of devices have accessibility built in...but people don’t know how to use it. If I can help people get more out of their tech then I feel that I’ve made a real contribution and improved things for people with sight problems’ Technology Volunteer.
After Online Today intervention beneficiaries still face a range of barriers which prevent them from getting online or doing more online. For example, lack of confidence and skills to use access technology and devices, worries about safety and lack of localised digital skills provision.
Ultimately, we’ve learned that future digital inclusion activities need to be local (‘easy to get to’) and accessible for people with sensory loss. This will mean having a focus on accessible technology and a continued emphasis on working closely with delivery partners.
In this month's Expert series blog Tracey Dearing, RNIB Evaluation and Design Officer, shares learning from the evaluation of Online Today and highlights the continuous journey towards getting, and staying online.