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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is providing free devices to people with learning disabilities to keep them connected with friends and family.
As part of the government’s new Digital Lifeline scheme, 5,000 tablets will be provided to people with learning disabilities who may not otherwise be able to afford them.
“The pandemic has been incredibly tough for disabled people who have struggled to get online for basic things like catching up with loved ones,” said digital minister Caroline Dinenage. “The Digital Lifeline fund will tackle this divide head-on by putting thousands of devices in the hands of those who need them most, with free data and tech support on standby to help people with learning disabilities.”
The devices, distributed as part of a £2.5m fund aimed at improving the lives of people with learning difficulties, will include data and free tech support to ensure users can access the internet and use the devices.
As suggested by Dinenage, social exclusion has increased for some as a result of not being able to go out or meet with friends and family during the pandemic, so the government is aiming to use technology to break down some of the barriers to digital inclusion faced by underprivileged people, such as those with learning difficulties.
The UK was already suffering from a digital divide before the coronavirus outbreak, with 700,000 people in the UK having no access to digital devices at home, and more than half without the digital skills needed to complete basic tasks, preventing them from taking part in activities such as online shopping or looking for work.
Helen Milner, Good Things Foundation
The pandemic has further shone a light on the scale of digital exclusion in the UK as people have been increasingly forced online to complete day-to-day tasks, leaving many of those who don’t have access to technology without the means to shop or contact people outside of their households.
Good Things Foundation and AbilityNet are helping the government with its free tablet programme, which will see the first devices distributed at the beginning of March, by offering advice about accessibility and assistive technologies to participating organisations.
Organisations that already work with people with learning disabilities can apply to take part in the programme and benefit from the Digital Lifeline Fund. Participating organisations can then apply for and distribute devices to digitally excluded adults with learning disabilities. Funding is also available to help organisations ensure those being given devices can use them properly.
Other measures the government is taking to support those with disabilities include a £4.6bn fund for local authorities to support adult social care and donating £1.2m to charities aimed at helping those with autism or learning disabilities.
“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to highlight just how essential being online is for day-to-day living,” said Helen Milner, CEO of Good Things Foundation. “But millions of people are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. People with learning disabilities face even more challenges. Staying connected is an essential lifeline they depend on and must not do without.”