Written by Tony Flower
WHEN lockdown hit, it didn’t take long for Talkback to realise how their members would be negatively impacted. The group activities they relied upon for social interaction, independence skills, community activity, sports and wellbeing, drama, arts, employability training and much, much more were cruelly curtailed. Routines disrupted and services restricted, something had to be done to at least maintain engagement.
Enter the Personal Development and Skills team with their dogged determination to provide a new virtual experience. The first stage was to provide virtual sessions from art to dance to yoga and everything else in between. That created two audiences, those who had technology access and those who were digitally excluded.
Bearing in mind that many members had either no access to or aptitude for the required technology, this would prove to be quite a challenge. Undeterred, and with financial support from the Rothschild Foundation, forty tablets were obtained for distribution to a wide range of people, some in care homes, some in supported accommodation, and some in their own or family homes.
Wherever they resided, the members needed a simple and easy way to connect, using as few buttons as possible and without the necessity to create email and Zoom accounts or to check emails daily and click on long links. A search for a tech company to assist with this proved fruitless, although some promised and gave enough hope to create a bid. But ultimately, when the time came, they couldn’t deliver. The decision was made to use Talkback’s extensive experience of disabilities to adapt existing technologies for their use.
The old adage that, ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’ beckoned, and the Talkback team rallied round and pooled their many talents to make it happen. From assessment of software and hardware options, the set-up of a straightforward yet secure tablet infrastructure, an agreement for members to sign, an easy-to-read guide, to the management of costs and allocations, all angles were covered.
Others contacted care homes and individuals to talk through the process and arrange distribution, whilst delivery of the tablets and easy-read guides was undertaken by a few intrepid explorers of the backroads of Bucks.
At the same time, work was going on in the background to deliver new content for additional and longer sessions. Activity packs were emailed and posted to members to keep them engaged. All group plans were adapted for online participation, and the team worked tirelessly to provide fun and engaging activities.
To date, 28 tablets are in use in some form of supported living, 14 in independent or family homes, and 6 are in shared use due to living circumstances. In some of the homes, there are now 3-6 people engaged, all of whom had previously been digitally isolated. Between the beginning of January and mid-February, the number of members attending a virtual session on Zoom or Skype calls rose from 114 to 316. An incredible achievement by dedicated and ever-enthusiastic staff.
Follow up calls to members are ongoing to help them understand how to use the tablets and to ensure as many people as possible are connected. The tablets and support have proved invaluable for those who are isolated, shielding, or housebound due to COVID restrictions.
People now have access to a virtual version of all their scheduled days at Talkback, plus the opportunity to strut their stuff and socialise at the monthly online discos. There is also plentiful content on Talkback TV, where a variety of activities like dance, exercise, mindfulness, and art, can be enjoyed by anyone, whenever they feel like it.
Members can post on the Your Voice Wall www.yourvoicewall.co.uk, which captures and expresses their experiences whilst showcasing their creativity and unique perspective. It contains artwork, photography, poetry, short stories, and reflections on this challenging year.
Manager, Aylesbury Supported Living said:
“All tenants are finding the tablets very easy to use and can start the activities from the calendar easily. The tenants are enjoying the sessions very much; the tablets are set up so well with the ease of logging into the activity session or Zoom etc. One tenant has used hers to speak to her family a few times and has talked for hours to them, which is great.”
Now, that’s some good medicine!!