Getting to grips with technology can be a mind-boggling experience for some of us at the best of times.
With so many gadgets and pieces of software now influencing every aspect of our lives, it is no wonder that it can all seem quite daunting.
Yet imagine if you struggled to even see the item that you are trying to understand, an issue that is a daily reality for the thousands of Kirklees residents who are registered as visually impaired.
Fortunately a pioneering organisation, formed by those living with eye conditions themselves, has been working hard to tackle this very problem; the Kirklees Visual Impairment Network (KVIN).
It was in 2008 that Martin Eatheridge and David Quarmby decided to get together to start a service that would give a helping hand to those in need in the area.
Together, with the help of dedicated volunteers, including computer whizz Martin Webster, they provide information to around 4,000 people on visually impaired friendly devices and software.
On top of this, they provide an important space in which people can test out and learn to use products before buying their own.
Martin, who is registered blind, said: “We bumped into each other at an event and decided that Kirklees needed to have a charitable service that would help people like ourselves to become confident in using technology.
“Having eye conditions ourselves means that we understand how frustrating using some technology can be, especially if you can’t find any information, because we’ve been in exactly the same position ourselves.
“It was frustrating when I lost my sight because I had to relearn how to use everyday objects.
“With technology, it’s easy to press the wrong button or get overwhelmed when trying to navigate around the many commands on items such as Iphones.
“But technology can make everyone’s lives easier and we didn’t want people to get left behind just because they have sight problems.
“As more services go online people need to know how to access them through computers and other devices so that they can continue to gain access to them.”
Stepping inside their office adjoining the bus station in Greenhead Row, Huddersfield, highlights how popular their service is becoming.
Up to 20 people visit it at a drop in during Wednesday to Friday from 10am to 4pm to try out laptops, smart phones and other gadgets that the team have researched and got hold of thanks to funding.
One popular item is the Dolphin Guide, a simple talking computer screen reading programme that helps people surf the web, access emails and even play games, even if they had little prior knowledge of computers themselves.
Martin said: “Some people can deal with devices such as smart phones whereas others, especially older people, may need simpler alternatives, partly because these devices haven’t played as large a part in their earlier lives.
“People are getting left behind by technology and we need to break that pattern to prevent them from becoming increasingly isolated.
“No one should feel like this and we want those who may feel like they’re currently stuck at home, whatever their age, to come to us and tell us what we can do to help them.”
Ensuring that everyone who comes to them feels confident with the technology before investing in it forms another big drive behind the group, due to the amount each piece costs.
The Dolphin Guide alone will set users back £450 on top of the cost of their computer.
KVIN’s work also goes a lot further than providing purely technological help.
By bringing people together in their lively hub they can help tackle the problem of loneliness and isolation that can occur with sight loss.
Martin said: “Our space is a place where people can meet others in the same position as them, discuss their problems and have a laugh.
“It’s easy to think that you’re the only one having problems if you don’t have a place like this to go to.
“By coming here people learn that they are not on their own and that we will try to help give them the confidence to use technology on their own and also learn about other useful services by talking with other users.”
They plan to set up a guided tandem cycling group to get people out and about over the summer months.
For more information, including how to book transport to the event or ask KVIN to demonstrate a piece of technology at a community location, call Martin on 07974 603699 or David on 07736 087019.
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