By Matthew Lloyd, programme manager, Digital Communities Wales
There is one person I think is really brave, and that is my Mam. She uses technology and benefits from having that skill in her life. My Dad, for the last three years now, has been suffering from vascular dementia. Things in the family have massively changed, in a nice way as well. Dad is very loving at the moment, and has not always been that way. He’s like, “Do you want a cwtch?” – which is very unusual.
Mam wanted to use technology so she could nose on me on Facebook, then realised that WhatsApp was going to be really useful to keep in touch with me and my sister. For Christmas we got her a Google Home, so that my Dad had someone to speak to while my mother wasn’t there. We still need to encourage him to speak, to ask what the weather is going to be like or play some music or where Liverpool are playing next. It’s been really good to listen to my father trying to speak to it, or shout at it when he’s too far away from the speaker.
The point is that if my mother didn’t have these skills, she wouldn’t be able to do a lot of the things she does now. If she didn’t do it online, she would be calling on public services to check symptoms or see what’s going wrong. It’s brought to life for me just how important digital inclusion is.
When we started on digital inclusion, we used to work on desktops and ask people to point the mouse at the screen – and people would lift the mouse up and point it at the screen. I was up in the Rhondda doing a presentation to people who were mostly 60, 65-plus, with half online and half not. One woman said she had no interest in getting online, but unprompted another woman, who had recently suffered a stroke, piped up. She said if I didn’t have technology, I wouldn’t have the independence that I still have. Because she could use technology before the stroke happened, she was still able to message people and look on Marks and Spencer. The first lady started to think, hang on, maybe I need to have a look at this and invest some time.
There are a lot of people who are lonely, and having the ability to connect online through Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook really helps those individuals – and helps us to save money. If they can do some of this stuff, it can hopefully take pressure off other things. But while about 15% of people in Wales are not online, it’s 40% for those who are 75-plus.
As we bring in new digital services, we have to help people to use the systems. An example of this is our health boards. They are currently bringing in new technology for us to take more control of our health where we will be able to view results and appointments, in this instance it is crucial we help people to use that system properly. If this is considered, I feel they will miss out on benefits for the individuals and the NHS.
When we talk about how brave we want to be or how do we put people at the heart of digital reform, I think the key thing is that we can’t afford not to. When we do this, let’s think about the people who are going to use the services, how they are going to use them and put some support in for that. Think of the people you know who are affected by dementia or a stroke – they get an awful lot from being able to use the internet and the resources that it gives us and takes the pressure off them and our public services.
This is based on Matthew Lloyd’s talk at the Socitm Cymru conference in Cardiff on 21 May 2018