Over the past 12 months, many people, including people with learning disabilities, have felt lonely and disconnected. Working in partnership with Learning Disability England (LDE) and their members, SeeAbility launched a six-month programme called Creating Connections. Funded the by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport via the National Lottery Community Fund, Creating Connections tackles isolation and loneliness among people with learning disabilities by helping people to connect with others online.
Veronica Mulenga, the Programme Lead, explains:
“The project started during the pandemic when we were concerned about people with learning disabilities feeling isolated and lonely. SeeAbility’s all about helping people to be involved in their communities, and we could see the pandemic being a real barrier to that.
“Even before the pandemic, more and more aspects of life were moving online. The last year has just seen a real acceleration of that process, and more and more people, especially with learning disabilities, are finding that process difficult. It affects every aspect of inclusion, from education to employment to just staying in touch with friends and family. There are huge parts of life that have become inaccessible if you can’t get online. We had to step in and do something, and that’s what Creating Connections is all about.”
At the heart of the programme is collaboration. SeeAbility is acting as a facilitator, bringing together lots of organisations and self-advocacy groups from across the country. It’s a project that is ultimately led by people with lived experience, designing a programme that works for them.
“It’s a real partnerships project” says Veronica. “We’ve linked up with LDE and there are 23 self-advocacy groups from across the country who have been delivering the activities of the project. They’ve been instrumental in making all this work and building connections within their communities.
“The other aspect of the project is our role in recruiting volunteers to support people to learn digital skills. This is exciting as it’s a whole new approach to volunteering. Traditionally volunteering has always been face-to-face, but we’re pushing the boundaries of how people are able to volunteer and get involved online. Many of these volunteers have learning disabilities themselves.”
Together with our partners we have reached 1473 people and delivered nearly 400 online sessions. Crucially, this work is helping people to develop skills, build meaningful relationships and support their peers.
Thanks to support through Creating Connections, people like Jess are going on to act as a peer supporters and create change for other people with learning disabilities.
Training to get online and access video calling has opened up a world of opportunities for Jess. Since learning how to download Zoom and join calls, Jess has attended social and activity groups that have helped her stay connected and meet friends.
Jess, 35, is passionate about sign language and has been supported to facilitate a virtual British Sign Language (BSL) group. In the future, Jess wants to gain a qualification as a trainer of BSL and become an interpreter.
Jess says: “I want use sign language as a way of helping other people. I have lots of deaf friends and they wanted me to teach them. Now I want to help more people to communicate how they feel through sign language.”
In a digital society, access to technology enables people to connect with their communities. We’re working to extend the Creating Connections programme to end isolation and digital exclusion for people with learning disabilities, autism and sight loss. We know that communities are stronger when people pull together and connect to support each other.
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