We all need to be asking people about their digital skills

The recent Coronavirus crisis has taken us all by surprise. When you were making plans for 2020 I’ll bet they didn’t include being at home for 23hrs a day, queuing 2m apart to get into a supermarket, or home schooling your kids.

The virus has highlighted how important digital technology is in helping most of us cope. Imagine if there was only a landline, four tv channels and the physical books on your shelf to see you through! For people without video calls, kindles, online learning, gaming, music and tv streaming services these quarantine days may well feel even longer.

Rapid response

Local Authorities, NHS, charities and voluntary groups – you’ve all been amazing.

The speed at which you’ve acted to put emergency measures in place, to support the most vulnerable in our society, must be applauded. Lists of the most vulnerable to the virus (older and disabled people and those with health conditions) were distributed and everyone manned the phones to find out what people needed:

How are you feeling? …

Do you have any friends or family that are keeping in touch with you? …

Do you need a food delivery? … Are there things you can’t eat?

Do you need someone to collect your prescriptions? …

Do you have a pet that you need help looking after? …

What’s missing from this conversation, though, is asking about people’s digital capability. It’s true that not being able to use the internet is unlikely to be anyone’s biggest problem. But technology is such a key enabler to improve so many areas of our lives such as: health and wellbeing, financial resilience, accessing information, and better employment opportunities. If people in these at-risk groups could register as a priority shopper and order online shopping or repeat prescriptions themselves, then the risks they face and the pressure on essential services would be reduced.

Here’s what we are calling for

We urge all organisations contacting and supporting people to ask about what they can do digitally:

  • Do they have a device to connect to the internet?
  • Do they have a decent connection via mobile or wifi?
  • Have they got the skills and confidence to access the benefits of the internet?

And if not, here is the perfect opportunity to help them. If you’d like to discuss designing surveys or questions in more detail, please get in touch.

Here’s our suggestions for people wanting to help digitally excluded people:

  • Join the Digital Champions Network. You can find champions in your local area who may be able to help, and develop your ability – or that of your staff/volunteers – to help people
  • You may have a local service or services offering remote digital help (try this list of UK online centres). If not, you can direct people who need help with basic digital skills or support getting online to our free helpline: 0808 196 5883. One of our team of trained digital champions will offer friendly, patient support over the phone. You may also find it helpful to signpost disabled people or anyone who might benefit from understanding assistive technology to the AbilityNet helpline (0800 048 7642).
  • Register with EveryoneConnected to access donated devices, and explore the Reboot project’s resources and our own recordings of webinars in a series around setting up digital inclusion and skills projects.

Perhaps your organisation has people willing to take on this digital champion role to help others? We have lots of information to help. Please get in touch to find out more. For general business enquiries, you can call us on 0203 916 5484 – we’ll pick up your message and get back to you.

We know that 48% of people that don’t use the internet say “nothing would motivate them” to go online. A positive outcome from this lockdown might be encouraging many of these people to start a new digital journey that could literally save their life.