Simon's Story


Simon lives in Bristol. He lives alone, but his parents live close-by, as do his daughter and granddaughter. They are a close-knit family, and Simon helps his daughter out with babysitting, just as his parents help him to get around. 

Simon has sight-loss. He has total sight-loss in his right eye, and a cataract in his left. He wears glasses, which help, but he feels that his sight is deteriorating. Each time he goes to the opticians, he needs a new prescription. Simon has had some laser treatment on his eyes, but his doctors feel that it would be dangerous to do any more laser treatment. 

Simon has been unemployed since 1999, after 20 years of warehouse work. He left work because his health was deteriorating quickly. He lost his sight in 2001 as a complication of diabetes, which he has had since he was 16. Simon’s kidneys stopped working, and he had to receive dialysis treatment for three years. He received a transplant in 2008, and has been steadily regaining health, though his eyesight remains a problem.

Chapter 1

In the last year, Simon’s Jobcentre advisor suggested that he was well enough to be actively seeking work. At this time, he went from Employment Support Allowance (ESA) to Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), a transition in benefit which meant that he was subject to job-seeking targets, and more scrutiny from the Jobcentre. Simon sometimes finds this frustrating, because he feels that he has to keep reminding the Jobcentre about the extent of his sight loss. In Simon’s mind, the Jobcentre ‘keep pestering me to go back to work, I’ve got to go down every month, you know, it’s a bit of a drain’. 

When he moved to Jobseeker’s Allowance, Simon was also required to access computer classes by his Jobcentre. As he says: ‘I’m on this Jobseekers thing at the Jobcentre and they’ve asked me to come up and learn how to use a computer, because I’ve never used one in my life before.’ Out of work, he missed learning about computers on-the-job. Now, his re-engagement with work has been the catalyst for learning about computers. This has only happened because his health has improved. 

Simon’s first referral from the Jobcentre was to RNIB Bedminster. It was at the RNIB that he first came across iPads. He found that using an iPad was completely different to trying to use a normal desktop or laptop computer. The big difference for him was that he could lift the tablet to his face, and look closely at the text on the screen: ‘the iPad [...] more than the computer because I can put it right up to me, literally in me face, you know’


Chapter 2

Although he enjoyed attending the RNIB, Simon found it hard to travel there, which is several miles from his home. As a result of this, the Jobcentre referred him to the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL). WECIL are a specialist disability and work organisation, and an Online Centre. WECIL is just a ten minute walk from Simon’s house, which makes it very easy for him to get to. The Jobcentre seemed positive about Simon attending computer classes at WECIL, even if they still ensured a certain level of job-seeking activity from him. 

Although, as Simon says, his health is ‘a lot better’, he doesn’t feel ready for work, and is much more comfortable with the idea of volunteering. When we first interviewed Simon a year ago, he was concerned that the Jobcentre were not taking his sight-loss into account when they suggested jobs for him to apply to. Simon’s entire working life was spent in warehouses, and he is now very conscious that he would be lost in that kind of environment:

‘I used to carry things and lump things around and do the filing and pack boxes and everything, I couldn’t do that now [...] And if I go in a dark building, you know, I’m lost. I couldn’t see my way around, it’s got to be light. [...] I told the Jobcentre, but they keep pestering me to go back to work.’

At the 12 month interview with Simon, he was not employed and he hadn’t taken up volunteering. He was concerned that his eyesight was deteriorating, and was gradually losing vision through an inoperable cataract. As a result of this, he was transitioned back from JSA to Personal Independence Payments:

‘I’m in the RNIB, they’re helping me with a new benefit coming out, PIP, but I’m still waiting for that, I’ve been waiting about 18 or 19 weeks now for it to come through [...] it said 16 weeks on the form but there’s a hold up apparently, they said down the job centre there’s a hold-up. I’ve still got to go down the Jobcentre, they’re still trying to get me into work and courses’.

By this point, a year after he was first introduced to iPads, Simon had bought an iPad himself. By having the device at home, he was much better able to develop skills quickly and explore the internet. 

In the first interview, Simon had explored Google and Wikipedia. He felt that he was ‘pretty good’ at searching for information, but would ‘probably need help on attaching CVs’. He said that he would ‘like to learn’ how to use email. Although he had been introduced to email, he felt that he still needed ‘a bit of coaching on that’. 

By the second interview, Simon had been on an iPad course. At this point, he reported that he had been taught ‘how to do the emails’. By the third interview, he described email as ‘another thing I can do’: ‘I can do emails, I’ve written emails’. He describes the process of learning this skill

That’s okay now, yes. At first I was struggling with that but now I‘ve got the iPad I can practise at home. [...] I could ask at the job club and people would help me. They did explain when the chap came round and explained about the iPad, but I forgot. They were explaining different things and I forgot about that one.

Although Simon had been taught how to email by a tutor, it was not until he had an iPad at home that he felt that he had consolidated this skill. This was the case, even though he said of WECIL: ‘if I do need help then there is somebody there to help me.’

Chapter 3

In the second interview, at 6 months, Simon hadn’t yet used Facebook. He had accessed the site, and looked at profiles and comments, but hadn’t opened his own account. At the point of the second interview, Simon was very confident searching on the internet, he could ‘do it without thinking now’. By the third interview, 6 months later, he said that he had been ‘dabbling in Facebook’. He had set up an account, and was using it to keep in touch with family members: ‘I feel comfortable with it, yes. I’m only getting in contact with people I know at the moment’. ‘When I get more used to it I’ll get in contact with my friends in New Zealand and my family’. In our final interview with Simon, six months later, he had been using Facebook ‘every day’, to ‘talk to people in New Zealand’. As well as using it to communicate with family and friends, Simon was using Facebook to share photographs with his daughter, and to pursue his interest in history: 

I joined the Gloucestershire Now and Past Club. There’s pictures of old buildings and that and what people were doing years ago, it’s quite interesting. That’s on Facebook, so I joined that.

Until he had an iPad at home, Simon seemed to limit his internet use. He continued to use skills which he was confident in, and did not explore different applications, even after he had been introduced to them through a six week iPad course at WECIL. As Simon says, ‘a man came in and helped us learn how to use the iPad. Some things were a bit complicated but I found it quite helpful [...] maps he was on about and Skype and things like that. [...] The camera, he showed us how to use the camera, so he told us all sorts of things’. 

Although the class was helpful, and Simon was introduced to a number of different applications on the iPad, he hadn’t ‘come round’ to using what was shown in class, and was still ‘mostly using it for searching things’. Although Simon would like to use applications like Skype, he says that he would ‘need a bit more advice and help on that and [...] wouldn’t be able to do that on my own.’ The class may have been useful to introduce him to different things, but it wasn’t enough to give him long-term skills. 


Simon was very positive about the support available at WECIL. He often said that the staff at WECIL ‘would help me’, or that a particular staff member is ‘very good, you know, helps me out’. Although Simon was very aware that help was available, he seemed not to ask for help very often. Before he attended the iPad course, he felt that ‘somebody to prompt me and guide me [...] will be handy’, but he didn’t seem to actively seek this kind of support when he attended WECIL for drop-in sessions. After eighteen months, Simon was still using WECIL consistently, less for support than for social contact and structure. 

Simon had broadband for ‘a couple of years’ before he had an internet-enabled device to use at home. He seemed to maintain this connection, with the intention of it being ready for when he bought a device. Reflecting on that time, Simon talks about how he hadn’t thought to ask his daughter to show him how to use a computer, she had ‘always been really busy at college and school’, and had never really thought about using computers ‘because of me sight loss’. After he started attending drop-in sessions at WECIL, Simon used Amazon on a couple of occasions. On these occasions he had support from his daughter. As Simon describes, he was happy searching the site, but was unable to transact without support:

First of all I was looking to see what goods they have got you know clothes wise and toys and things for my granddaughter [...] getting around the site was easy to do. It was just ordering it, I needed help, you know.

Although Simon seems to be able to receive support from his daughter, he seems to undervalue the amount that she could teach him: ‘I don’t think my daughter knows how to do that to be honest, I did ask her [how to use Skype]. She’s not into that at the moment, it’s more Facebook and email’.

Although Simon lacked confidence to use specific applications that he wasn’t familiar with, his exploration on the iPad led him to use information on the internet in a wide-ranging and sophisticated way. This included incremental use of new applications, like Youtube or Facebook. At six months, Simon was using a genealogy website, searching for information about british history, transacting on Amazon and Argos, and using Youtube. After another 6 months, Simon was ‘using [his iPad] quite regularly, I’m using it every day really when I get home’. By twelve months, Simon had used his iPad to ‘look up local tilers and decorators’ when he was decorating his bathroom. After eighteen months, he had used the internet to research a recent holiday, and had magnified Google Maps to find his way around. He had also used ‘the iPad to learn a bit more about [government benefit] PIP and things like that’, both for himself and for his ageing parents:

my parents are not too good on their feet at the moment so I’ve been finding out about the attendance allowance [...] I’ve told them to go on the attendance allowance so they’ve applied for that and they get a blue badge for their car whereas before they didn’t want to bother.

Chapter 4

In our final interview with Simon, he described how he had struggled with his health over the last six months. He had been hospitalised after an accident, and was in the process of being temporarily relocated by his housing association. Simon is stoical about the complexities in his own life, and talks instead about how he has been supporting his ageing parents. 

As Simon has become more confident using the internet, he has also found new ways to help his parents. In our final interview, Simon talked about how he had used the internet to support his parents’ health. Simon looked on the internet for Age Concern, and made contact with them. Age Concern then supported Simon’s parents to successfully apply for PIP: ‘they came round, very helpful, and filled them out and yes they got the benefits’. When it became clear that Simon’s mum needed a wheelchair, he looked on the internet again. They had been ‘quoted about £210 for one”, but didn’t have enough money, so Simon looked for rental services: 

I found a place where you can hire wheelchairs, which I didn’t know about, and the hospital didn’t know about, that’s the British Legion, which is based in Bristol. So we went down there and yes he said we can hire one.

Discoveries like this have materially changed the ways in which Simon can support his parents. Simon’s internet use has gradually become more complex, as he has increasingly used digital technology to enhance his life in small ways.

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