Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Tackling digital poverty

Digital poverty is especially concerning at a time where we have all been reliant on technology to stay connected. The Employment and Skills team at Thames Reach run the iReach project to help people access the internet and learn digital skills; we spoke with digital skills support officer Annabelle to see how the project works remotely.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Tackling digital poverty

20 May is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which looks to increase awareness around issues of digital access and inclusion. At a time where we are particularly reliant on technology to keep us connected, it is a concern that ‘digital poverty’ is affecting people who do not have access to either a device, a computer or data. The support required must come from a place of understanding and patience, and Annabelle Ferary, who runs Thames Reach’s iReach project, helping people develop digital skills, is an expert at providing this.

“I’m Annabelle, a digital support worker within the Employment and Skills team.  I first started at Thames Reach in 2016 as volunteer; I was impressed with the wrap-around service that the Employment and Skills team were delivering, and this inspired me to take on a paid role to help people develop and utilise their IT and digital skills in Southwark.

“This also led me to take on a further role delivering IT skills within the iReach digital project, which has been funded by the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists for several years. I delivered this within community and housing settings, supporting clients across Thames Reach.

“iReach consists of on-going weekly classes for those who would like to improve their confidence with accessing the internet and other online services independently. For example, many of the people I work with face challenges of setting up and accessing email accounts, accessing their Universal Credit independently or completing job searches.  The importance of IT skills has grown significantly since I started running iReach; it is becoming increasingly important to gain digital skills within a supportive environment.

“Since the pandemic I had to adapt how I delivered iReach. For example, many did not have access to a device, laptop, tablet or smart phone and broadband due to limited income.  This meant delivering the sessions remotely, leading to clients feeling isolated and frustrated. Several attendees shared that they wanted to have classes face-to-face due to anxiety levels and lack of confidence using devices. Digital poverty is a serious issue in society today, even more now than five years ago when I started, especially for the cohort of people we work with.

“Many of the clients I have supported have gained the confidence to complete a range of accredited courses; a great deal have been successful in obtaining employment. It is an exciting time for digital skills; the need for them will only keep growing, now that so many programmes have moved online.”

Thames Reach recently featured on Hubbub’s podcast ‘Down to Earth’, which discusses digital isolation through lack of tech access. Alessy Beaver in the Employment and Skills team discusses the ‘Community Calling’ project with her client, Paul. It’s a lovely podcast with a powerful message, available on Spotify here.