Alexa, how do I escape social isolation?

Heather Sempey

This is the question we are answering as we embrace technology to keep the people we support in touch with the outside world.

In times like these, technology is a door to a locked out world and an invisible bridge to friends and family. It’s very much a case of assisting our residents and helping them with new technologies in a hands-on way.

Emma Bailie, Operations Manager, Northern Ireland

It's no longer impossible to imagine confinement within the walls of where you live. Many of us are now unable to go anywhere or meet anyone. Relying on your Alexa, iPad, Kindle, phone or tablet for contact with the outside world has become the norm.

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges. As a society we now face a fierce test of functionality and compassion.

Assistive technology isn't a toy, it’s a lifeline 

Nothing is more testing of human resilience than separation from family and friends. It’s frustrating to have choice withdrawn and personal freedom curtailed. It’s frightening to face barriers to employment and the weight of financial uncertainty. Life becomes fraught with extreme anxiety and loneliness. Millions of disabled people experience such disadvantages every day. 

At Leonard Cheshire, we realise the value of dignity, choice, opportunity and independence to disabled people. Social connectivity is vital for mental wellbeing and happiness. We’re creating opportunities to assist communication and human interaction. 

Assistive technology is becoming a feature of independent living across our UK services. By embracing technological innovation, we're helping people with the hardship of social isolation.

Staying connected in supported living

Natalie, age 31, lives at The Maples, one of our supported living services in Belfast. She relies on her Mum to provide support in everyday life. Changes in response to coronavirus meant Natalie could no longer have outside visitors.

For people in this situation, it can be a struggle to stay positive when cut-off from the outside world. Natalie turned to our Digital Inclusion Officer, Debbie Hoy-Wilkinson, for help. Debbie provided Natalie with an Alexa and installed a language app on her tablet. Natalie was able to achieve her life-long ambition of learning Spanish. Even with nationwide restrictions on movement and travel, Natalie can stay in daily contact with her Mum and extended family in the USA. 

'Technology has given me the chance to achieve something I have always wanted to achieve. It’s really important to me that I can stay in touch with Mum and to feel I still belong to my family. It’s really great to see Mum on my screen – I am practising my Spanish skills with her now.

'Disabled people have many more difficulties when it comes to spending time with other people. We don’t always have the same choices. Technology can help people like me have more choice and not feel separated from the people we love.'

On the computer at Newlands House

Technology can enhance our social connection

Technology brings enhancements in life and wellbeing to all our lives. We are championing technology as an agent of change. Doing so improves choice and increases control for people with disabilities. We know the transformative and enabling power of technology in everyday situations. 

The joy of human connection and connectivity to the world is important to everyone. Without the devices that fill our homes, loneliness and isolation could be hurdles to us all. Technology offers us ways to shop and access entertainment. It offers us opportunities to learn and tools to work. Using technology allows us to interact with the world.

Can Alexa and apps really save the world? 

The technology landscape is changing, as is human interaction. One size never fits all but we know technology can be right-sized to meet a person’s individual needs. Restrictions on daily life show the important role tech plays within vulnerable groups. Especially people requiring extra care and support.

Video conferencing or a specialist keyboard can open up a world of opportunity. There are now limitless ways to communicate. This can be as simple as having online access to a place of worship or community group. It can even be just sharing a virtual cup of tea with friends.

Connectivity and fast Wi-Fi are still an issue for 20% of disabled people in the UK. But, technology-based solutions are limited only by our imagination to build them.

Working with leading technology companies

Technological innovation, in large part, has been driven by the disability sector. Bringing what were once specialist devices into the mainstream market. The possibilities technology affords people with disabilities are vast and their impact life-changing. 

We are working in partnership with some of the world’s most influential tech companies. By doing so, we can develop solutions that will change and improve the lives of disabled people. We want to break down the barriers and help create stronger communities.

By using assistive technology, we want to deliver better choice and more independence for disabled people in all areas of their lives.

Protect our carers with PPE

We are doing all we can to stop the spread of coronavirus, save lives and keep people safe. More equipment to protect our carers is urgently needed.

Protect our carers with PPE