Creating Digital Communities: “There’s an answer to every barrier”

Whether it be lack of access, skills, motivation or trust – no digital barrier is without its answer, no one should be disconnected from the digital world. As over 100 community members gathered to find solutions to support the one in five Australians not online, this was the resounding takeaway message.

The platform for this message was the inaugural Creating Digital Communities forum and interactive workshop hosted by Leep in partnership with Uniting and Ability Links this June. Attended by a range of community members and stakeholders, it was the ideal arena to spread the message that, as one attendee put it:

Digital inclusion is everyone’s responsibility

Julie McCrossin, of Radio National and ABC fame, led the audience on a journey as she ducked and weaved through spontaneous mini-interviews, facilitated rapid-fire Q&A sessions and summarised the essential messages.

Helen Milner OBE presents via Skype at Creating Digital Communities forum

Helen Milner OBE presents via Skype at Creating Digital Communities forum

Things got really techy from the get-go with a call-in via Skype from Helen Milner OBE, of the Good Things Foundation. Helen ran the crowd through how their digital inclusion movement has grown over the last 10 years in the UK. Their work has resulted in over two million people gaining basic digital literacy!

Next, Kelly Schulz, Senior Advisor on Accessibility and Inclusion at Telstra, inspired the crowd. Kelly’s message of the power of language for telling the stories of people with disability struck a chord with many audience members. She reminded us to put inclusion and accessibility for all at the start of product and service design, and to encourage others to do the same.

Kelly Schulz discusses the power of language with her guide dog Gallia by her side

Kelly Schulz discusses the power of language with her guide dog Gallia by her side

So while Kelly gave us a solution to the barrier of how to get the message out there, Design Director Kim McGuire from syfte outlined for the audience how key perceived barriers for people with intellectual disability, preventing them from getting online, can be recognised and overcome. Kim cited the recent research undertaken by syfte, Leep and NSW CID, which highlighted some barriers which may be more obvious, such as:

  • how to ensure that the person remains safe while online (solution: cyber safety awareness and software for both the person and their carer)
  • the impact a lack of digital literacy by the carer may have on the person’s access and experience with technology (solution: digital mentoring for both – they can learn together!)

More barriers were tackled by Dr Manisha Amin, CEO of Media Access Australia. Manisha confronted the reasons why both individuals and organisations might shy away from working with people with disabilities. Her answer, garnered from recent research by Media Access Australia, was simple – it was because of fear and shame. The fear of the unknown prevented people from approaching or working respectfully with a person with disability and the shame that arises because of this fear stops them from trying again. Identifying and acknowledging these barriers are the first steps to overcome them.

Mel Tran shares her expertise at the Creating Digital Communities forum

Mel Tran shares her expertise at the Creating Digital Communities forum

Our final speaker, Lead UX Designer at Ability Mate and Leep Board Member, Melanie Tran, had a strong and clear message for the audience:

Accessibility is not a “nice to have”

Mel addressed the lack of consideration tech designers have for people with disability. She argued that technology has the power to break barriers, but with accessibility features often being a last-minute add-on, rather than central to the design process, that opportunity is being wasted.

Creating Digital Communities forum discussion panel (seated): Leep CEO Cecily Michaels; Leep Leep In Lab Volunteer Digital Mentor Chris Babet; Leep Digital Inclusion Senior Project Officer Himalee Raj

Creating Digital Communities forum discussion panel (seated): Leep CEO Cecily Michaels; Leep In Lab Volunteer Digital Mentor Chris Babet; Leep Digital Inclusion Senior Project Officer Himalee Raj

A panel, made up of Leep’s Digital Inclusion Team (CEO Cecily Michaels and Senior Project Officer Himalee Raj) and one of Leep’s Leep In Lab Volunteer Digital Mentors, Chris Babet, outlined the steps for creating a digital mentoring program, with hands-on feedback from Chris. Chris’ skills and knowledge are key assets to the Leep In Lab – he’s highly sought out by the learners as no tech problem is too hard for him to solve!

Attendees left the day inspired and ready to take the digital inclusion movement forward

Attendees left the day inspired and ready to take the digital inclusion movement forward

Attendees left the forum with the knowledge and confidence to start their own digital mentoring program. It’s really very simple:

  1. recruit your digital mentors
  2. gather your learners
  3. get your wi-fi and devices on
  4. put the kettle on
  5. have a cuppa and let the learning begin!

Call Himalee on 4721 1866 (ext. 230) or email us today for support to create your own digital mentoring program!

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