BCS scheme aiming to IT-enable the disabled

A scheme for putting volunteer IT specialists in touch with disabled people to help them with IT has been launched around the four BCS branches in...

A scheme for putting volunteer IT specialists in touch with disabled people to help them with IT has been launched around the four BCS branches in Scotland.

IT-Can-Help is mainly a project of the BCS Disability specialist group and has been running in some parts of England since the mid-1990s with sponsorship from the likes of the Post Office, Canon and IT services group Delphi.

In Scotland BCS member Alison Crerar has taken the initiative.

She is a senior lecturer in computing at Napier University and a member of the Edinburgh branch. She also has an extra interest as a member of the British Human-Computer Interaction Group, a BCS group, and of the Disability specialist group.

IT-Can-Help volunteers provide help ranging from setting up a PC to giving basic training in word processing or getting on to the Internet. Volunteers are generally called on occasionally rather than being expected to provide constant help over a long period to one person.

In Scotland the project has already helped a lady with multiple sclerosis who now has a PC for interest; an arthritic lady in a wheelchair who relies on her computer for communication, and an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy who uses the Web and e-mail. "Social exclusion is already emerging as a common thread," Crerar says.

She adds that volunteers have to be conscious of non-IT issues and advise people, for example, on the cost implications of spending long periods on the Internet, especially as many of those they visit are on low incomes.

The scheme itself is using the Internet. For example, instead of putting one volunteer on the spot with a request, Crerar sometimes e-mails the full list to see who has the right skill and the time.

She says this also enables everyone to keep in touch with all calls for help and is creating a team spirit.

IT-Can-Help volunteers are also bringing new life to a project run by the Leonard Cheshire Foundation charity, which offers secondhand PCs to disabled people but lacks resources to support people at home.

IT specialists and experienced end-users interested in joining the scheme in Scotland can contact Crerar. The contact for the scheme in England is Tom Mangan.

The overall leader of the whole project is Ken Stoner. He helped launch it after being affected by motor neurone disease, which put him in a wheelchair and took away his speech and handwriting ability.

"I know how IT can help people with severe disabilities - but if I hadn't had previous experience and a son in IT, my progress would have been a very different story, so I know the value of a scheme like this," he says.

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