John's story: The benefits of digital inclusion

RNIB Volunteer John Casley and his dog Archie

IT expert John Casley, volunteered with RNIB to raise awareness of the benefits of digital inclusion for blind and partially sighted people. He tells us about his rewarding experience.

“I have worked in IT support for more than 20 years and have gained numerous IT skills, project and team support experience. When I decided to volunteer, I had two thoughts: one was what skills did I have to offer and the second, which charity or non-profit organisation would I apply to?

As we live in a digital age, I wondered about people who are digitally excluded, the older generation, those who had sight loss and those who have no experience of computers, who would not know what a smart device was or any of the benefits to be had in this digital world we now live in.

After some research, I found RNIB and it appeared to be the perfect fit. I called their number and offered my IT support experience. It was at this point, I found out about the Big Lottery funded project called Online Today, a project aimed at helping people with sensory loss get online.

The beginning of a journey

So in August 2016, I joined as a volunteer to support the project. I was introduced to the team and the main four people I would be working with directly, the volunteer coordinator and three AT’s or Assistive Technology trainers.

My role would be supporting not just the ATs but, the Online today training events, to raise awareness of the benefits of digital inclusion to blind and partially sighted people.

Every training session, the group dynamics would be as different as the people we met, which made the training interesting each time. To see the learning taking place and the positive change in people is just wonderful. Each person was valued for their contribution, respected for who they are and what stage they were starting from, as we aimed to support them on their first steps to digital inclusion.

Volunteering has been and continues to be for me a fulfilling and rewarding experience. I have grown as a person and understand now that our current skills that we don’t always appreciate can be transferred to new roles, and in my case, can make a real difference in people’s lives and that in itself is just wonderful and an honour.

A transformative experience

Meeting people at a point in their lives where they are making a positive change to move forward, to be independent, and technology plays a large part in this. I have seen the change in the people as we go through the training. I can see the learning and experiencing taking place, and the benefits of digital inclusion and the freedom it can bring is transformative for the individual.

Sometimes there are no words when you as a volunteer are a part of this transformative experience, and for those who volunteer you may know what I mean.

I have used the words wonderful and an honour, but for me it’s much deeper; a human connection that is very different to what I have experienced in my work life to date and I thank everyone I have had the honour and pleasure to meet on Online Today training.

To date, I have supported just over 80 plus internal and external Online Today events, including "train the trainer".

Being nominated for an award

I was pleasantly surprised to be nominated for the Tech Volunteer of the Year Award at the Tech4Good 2017 Awards, in recognition of my outstanding commitment and contribution as a tech volunteer at RNIB.

I also received a formal Thank You Certificate for my continued commitment and contribution as a volunteer with Online Today which I did not expect but was greatly honoured to receive.

Since working as a volunteer at the RNIB, now just under two years, I have gained knowledge and experience and I would like in the future to apply for a permanent role teaching and supporting volunteers and service users in digital inclusion for blind and partially sighted people going forward.”