Disability Handbook Launch

14 Dec 2016

Written by Emily Redmond

Good Things Foundation is proud to support a Disability Specialist Network of 115 Online Centres. We know there are lots of community organisations out there working hard to help disabled people learn how to use computers and benefit from what the internet has to offer. But why is there still such a large proportion of disabled people who have never used the internet, and for those that have, what is making them stop using it? We’ve been carrying out some research and have put all of our findings together in a new Handbook, launched today. 

Through our research into disability and digital inclusion, we wanted to start addressing why so many disabled people are digitally excluded and find out what organisations can do about it by learning from people already leading the way in this area. I wrote about this in my ‘Disability and Digital Inclusion’ blog, during the research phase at the end of 2014

The stats tell us that 25% of disabled adults have never used the internet, compared to 10.2% of the entire UK population, and disabled adults make up 50% of the 0.9 million lapsed internet users (those who last used the internet over 3 months ago). 27% of learners attending Online Centres are disabled, which includes those who are physically disabled, learning disabled and/or have a mental health issue. 

So why is it that disabled people are using the internet but then not coming back to it?


In 2014-2015, Good Things Foundation ran focus groups with 40 people at local disability groups and conducted semi-structured interviews with Online Centre Managers about the challenges they face supporting disabled people, the barriers disabled people face to getting online and what they find works for them. 

The research highlighted the social model of disability, which says that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. It informed the way we designed our research questions, and how we now talk about disability and design our resources - focusing on the ways that Good Things Foundation and the Online Centres Network can remove barriers that restrict disabled people from being digitally included. 

As well as being more likely to have never been online, be lapsed users, and less likely to have internet access, disabled people are also less likely to be employed, they incur additional costs relating to their disability, and are more likely to live alone than non-disabled adults.  But there are benefits to digital, including the potential for increased social connection, money and time savings, improved wellbeing, progression to further learning and employment progression. This further highlights the need to overcome the barriers to digital inclusion and learn what Online Centres and disability support organisations can do.

Presenting our findings

On 28th November, myself and Tom from Good Things Foundation’s Research and Innovation team presented at the Technology For Independence (T4I) conference in Sheffield. As well as exhibiting at the event, Tom and I presented findings from our research. Our paper entitled Disabled people crossing the digital divide: Supporting independence with digital skills in the community was launched at the conference and today we are formally launching the next in our Handbook series - ‘Doing Digital Inclusion: Disability Handbook’.

t4i.jpgThe conference, attended by health practitioners, academics and assistive technology innovators, provided the perfect platform to introduce the handbook and to share our knowledge on digital inclusion. We met lots of interesting people doing great work. The things they most wanted to know about were what Online Centres do as well as our Learn My Way platform. For people working in assistive technology, they spend time trying to meet the needs of an individual, understanding how technology can increase their independence. But what if the person lacks basic digital skills? Delegates were keen to hear about Learn My Way and how it could really help them support people to learn the basics of computers and the internet.

Our presentation was well attended, including  Online Centre representatives Ryan McMurdo from Starting Point, Stockport and Alicia Ridout for mHabitat, Leeds. We led a workshop asking delegates to consider what we need to think about when designing online resources and technology solutions for disabled people who have never used the internet or who lack basic digital skills. There was lots of interesting debate including the worry of internet safety and what we can do to support more vulnerable individuals to stay safe online, as well as the importance of showing people with accessibility needs how they could benefit from personalising their user experience, before showing them how to go about it themselves and entering the world of accessibility settings!

What Good Things Foundation Are Doing About It

We think it’s really important that our research informs useful and practical resources for the Online Centres Network and those delivering digital inclusion in the community. That’s why the Handbook links to current research on disability digital and social inclusion, useful tools and resources to help with digital inclusion and best practice from within the network including from Cumbria Libraries and The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL)

We think our diverse network can help tackle the digital divide amongst disabled people. The 115 Online Centres in our Disability Specialist Network can be reached by disabled people and partners on our centre search. They receive marketing materials specifically to help them target potential learners, receive specialist newsletters, and help us to identify specialisms within the network and form partnerships at a national level. 

Good Things Foundation also offers specialist training, including Digital Champion training, and training to help Online Centres develop partnerships and build their capacity within their community. One of our biggest organisational aims is to provide advocacy support, including helping disability organisations understand the importance of digital by sharing research, forming partnerships and presenting at events like the T4I Conference. At a much more detailed level, we are committed to user research and user testing to ensure our products are accessible to all. Finally, with pilot projects such as the Library Digital Inclusion Fund Action Research Project and Reboot UK, we are able to test and learn from different models of support, see what works, share best practice, and use it as evidence for more support where necessary. 

What You Can Do

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve got any successes or challenges you’d like to share in helping disabled people to get online. Get in touch at hello@goodthingsfroundation.org if you want to find out more about delivering digital inclusion for the first time, or take a look at the Online Centres Network Centre Search to find your nearest Disability Specialist Centre. Consider becoming an Online Centre if you have people on hand to support others with digital and take a look at the interactive courses on Learn My Way to help learners learn how to use the internet, by using the internet. 

Thanks to members of Disability Sheffield, People’s Power Advocacy, Our Vision Our Future and Enable for participating in the focus groups that supported the development of this handbook, and the partners and Online Centres Network members who provided invaluable contributions.