Digital inclusion is challenging. Throw in a pandemic and it becomes even trickier. But yet, Covid-19 also presented a huge opportunity, shining a light on the need to be online and accelerating digital engagement like never before.

For organisations at the frontline, with communities relying on their services and support but without the means or skills to do it digitally, it was frankly overwhelming. So many new and different scenarios to consider, set against a time where people’s health, wellbeing and personal circumstances were being challenged to the extreme.

As part of Learning Disabilities Week (14 – 19 June 2021), we’re delighted to be recognising over 20 adults with learning disabilities and their supporters who have used their creativity to help others with digital skills.

Over the past few months, these brilliant volunteers from purpleSTARS, WEL Enterprise and Tower Project JET have got involved with our new Aspire Network, an online platform that helps adults with learning disabilities develop digital and workplace skills.

Caroline Davies, Digital Champion at Age Cymru Dyfed has been helping dozens of older people with digital skills remotely during the pandemic.

In our recent webinar with Age UK, she shared some of her brilliant top tips on how to get started with teaching digital skills, building learner confidence and, importantly, having fun along the way.

Over the last year, helping people with digital skills remotely, whether that was by telephone, Zoom or email, became essential. But supporting and inspiring people to use the internet and technology when you're not with them in person can be tricky. And throws up a whole bundle of questions and conundrums.

Healthwatch Islington logoHealthwatch Islington supports people who use health and social care services in Islington. Before the pandemic, their Digital Champions were actively helping local communities with digital skills through regular drop-in sessions.

Throughout December 2020, we encouraged people to support others to use digital technology to get – and stay – connected in our Connect@Xmas campaign.

From virtual reality to voice notes, Facebook communities to grief support on Zoom, the inspiring stories we heard showed the magic of helping others get and stay connected in simple and clever ways.

Love it or loathe it, Zoom has become an essential way to meet, teach and learn over the past year. And, when it comes to digital skills, it has become the number 1 video tool for providing essential remote support.

Digital Unite has been enlisted by the UK’s leading learning disability charity, Mencap, to help their independent affiliated Network Partners improve the way they use digital technology and create a better future for people with a learning disability.

Throughout December 2020, we encouraged people to support others to use digital technology to get – and stay - connected.  As we will all remember for years to come, no doubt, the 2020 festive season was like no other. With in-person connections being hard if not impossible, we all had to use digital tech more and more creatively.

Logo of Aspire, a new employability programme for people with learning disabilitiesAre you helping adults with learning disabilities build their skills for work? Would you like to do this in a better, more supported way?

Then you’ll want to join our new free employability programme called Aspire.

Image from a connector top tipZoom teatimes with Nan.  Virtual reality experiences for the less mobile. Online book clubs. Voice notes and screen recordings for communities where English isn’t their first language.

These are just some of the brilliant stories and ideas we’ve been hearing from people who are helping others connect through digital.

Our brand new Connect@Xmas website has festive, digital resources that are easy to use and will spark new ideas and know-how to help people all year round. Because after all, digital skills are for life, not just for Christmas ?.

It’s a scientific fact that helping someone makes you feel good. The simple theory is that being generous, compassionate and selfless produces endorphins in the brain that boost positive emotions, otherwise known as Helper’s High. Better still, acts of kindness lower stress levels and can lead to better health and wellbeing.

In our world of digital skills and digital inclusion, we only have to glance over at the Digital Champions in our Network to see the Helper’s High in full glory.

Connect at Christmas banner

If you want to learn a little more about how you can connect people this Christmas and beyond then check out our new and free mini courses.

Fife Council has been firing up its digital skills support in the last month by enlisting over 140 new Digital Champions.

These new Digital Champions are all employees working across the Council and all signed up to help fellow colleagues and tenants develop their essential digital skills. As a Fife Digital Champion, they improve their own digital know-how through Digital Unite’s Digital Champions Network, our online training platform packed full of courses and resources.

Digital Unite is leading a new skills programme to help adults with mild or moderate learning disabilities into work and enable organisations to benefit from a thriving and valuable workforce.

There are an estimated 800,000 working age people with mild-to-moderate learning disabilities in the UK but only 17% are in work¹. The onset of Covid-19 means that people with learning disabilities are at further risk of being excluded from work opportunities due to the increasing reliance on digital skills, the move to remote working and rising unemployment.

Digital Champions Network home page100 people have donned new Digital Champion capes in recent months as they have been helping people to stay connected and stay informed during Covid-19.

Picture of Aishwarya who joined Digital Unite as a Digital ChampionThere's no doubt that the last few months have been, well, different.

Someone help another person with digital skills using skypeWe’ve been chatting with lots of our Digital Champions about how they provide digital skills support - whether that's remotely or face-to-face.

Here is a quick-fire round-up of some of the top tricks and tips...

When it comes to engaging people with digital technology, motivation has been a steadfast and stubborn barrier. This has been reflected in research many times over. Indeed, last year’s UK Consumer Digital Index from Lloyds showed that, of the 4.1 million people in the UK who are offline, three million (75%) had no interest in understanding the benefits the Internet can offer. Nearly half (47%) said that ‘nothing’ would get them to go online

Online learning on a keyboardOnline learning has been around for a long while but its popularity has exploded over the past few months as people use their time during lockdown to build their knowledge and skills. Indeed, Google has reported a 300 per cent rise in searches for the term ‘online courses’ since the pandemic took hold.

We hope that you'll find these guides useful - for yourself and for anyone that you are helping to stay connected.