Online communication is a blessing for many - but we must tackle digital exclusion

Mary Langan wants more IT support and training in care settings.

Mary Langan wants more IT support and training in care settings. - Credit: Archant

One of the cruelties of the coronavirus pandemic has the enforced separation of families from loved ones in residential care or supported living.

Our adult son, who has autism, epilepsy and severe learning disabilities and lives in sheltered accommodation in Enfield, has been unable to come home for his weekly visits since March. He cannot talk and is fearful of technology.

We have missed him dreadfully. But with the help of skilled staff we have kept in close touch through WhatsApp which doesn’t frighten him. Every day we exchange many brief videos. From his end we see him enjoying activities in his own bubble of house and garden. These have reassured us and we hope he is reassured to see that we are still here.

The potential value of digital communications for people with a wide range of social care needs is one of the themes that emerges from Living Through Lockdown: lessons from Haringey’s most vulnerable service users, published by Haringey Healthwatch. This report is based on the experiences of nine groups representing different areas of vulnerability in the borough.

Living Through Lockdown notes that various forms of new technology can work well in some areas. Haringey’s Connected Communities scheme allowed residents to access essential items, including food and support. Internet and video links facilitated contacts between carers and families as well as hospital and GP appointments and assessments.

At the same time, the report highlights the all too familiar problems of digital exclusion, when vulnerable individuals and carers may lack the skills and the equipment necessary to use email and the internet.

Several of our families have loved ones in settings where staff appear to have no digital skills at all and contact with families has been woeful. We have been fortunate in that our son’s carers are adept at using computers and mobile phones – we have learned a lot from them.

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A key proposal of Living Through Lockdown is that care settings and families need more IT support and training to enable them to enjoy the benefits from modern communication technologies and have some respite from lockdown loneliness.

• Mary Langan represents the severe and complex autism and learning disability group on the Haringey Joint Partnership Board.