IT can change lives

Yusuf Patel, Adult Learning and Development Officer.
This week my colleagues and I were hit by a local power outage that disrupted our internet connection; so dependent are we on the internet to access information, check client records and communicate with the world outside that many of us suffered withdrawal as we frantically waited to hear when our internet connection would resume.

At the Centre we recognise that technology plays an indispenable role in all of our lives. There is an assumption that everyone knows how to use a computer. Those without IT skills do not have the same access to information and services as the rest of us. Online banking, managing your gas/electricity account, online shopping, getting a job are all out of reach for millions of people. If you do not have IT skills, you are unable to bag the online bargain that the IT literate have grown accustomed to. The ability to use a computer opens up opportunities, but what about those that do not have the skills that enable them to do so? There are an estimated 9 million people that have never used the internet. There is a clear digital divide between the technollogical haves and have nots, where some people are disenfranchised due to a lack of skills.

Over a year ago we responded to a clear pattern of low IT skills amongst our clients by introducing a new service. It follows a simple recipe, a volunteer supports a client for one hour, once a week to help them build and improve their IT skills. The IT coach starts with whatever the client wants, some clients request support to set up an email addres to apply for jobs, one client recently said he wants to use Facebook to re-connect with his brother who lives at the other side of the country.

Just this week I spoke with a client, Anthony, who has just completed 12 weeks of one to one IT support with of our Home Office volunteers – Valerie. Anthony would have been classed amongs the digital underclass 12 weeks ago, he like 9 million others, had never used the internet before. He remembers the fear of computers he once possessed and the point in his sessions with Valerie, where he realised he was able to use a computer. He says he began to believe he could use a computer before acquiring the skills to do so practically and this makes him believe he can do anything he sets him mind to. Did I forget to mention he is 56 years old? In short it has opened up avenues previously closed to him.

That is why people like Anthony need to be given the chance to be supported by an IT coach that can patiently awaken the self-belief that exists in all of us to acquire a new skill and to learn, however young or old we may be. A few weeks earlier I spoke with Lule who achieved her goal of finding a job as a result of working with Adrian, her IT coach. She was helped to gain the crucial web skills to search for a job that led to her applying for and being offered a position as a care worker.

We could not have made the difference in the lives of people like Anthony or Lule without Valerie, Adrian, Daniel, Denise, Sandra, Nikki, Sarah, Catherine, Geraldine, Stephen, Ken, Graham, Madeline, Tim, Susan and Landry. Volunteers who take time out from their busy lives to invest in the centre as IT coaches, 11 of whom do so in their lunch break whilst working full time at the Home Office. Thank you to them all.