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Tech help for far north folks


By David G Scott

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A CHARITY that has its first volunteers in the far north is helping elderly and disabled people get to grips with modern technology.

AbilityNet supports people of any age and living with any disability or impairment to use technology so they can "achieve their goals at home, at work and in education".

Two recent volunteers with the organisation now cover Caithness and Sutherland – Jamie Robson, who lives near Watten, and Donna Murray in the Bettyhill area.

Jamie shows client Jenny from Thurso some basic computing skills such as taking photographs of her dog on a tablet device.
Jamie shows client Jenny from Thurso some basic computing skills such as taking photographs of her dog on a tablet device.

Jamie has been working with computer technology for more than 20 years.

“Technology can really benefit vulnerable people," he said. "It opens up a whole world of communication, entertainment and information.

"It can also reduce the isolation that some elderly and disabled people feel – especially in rural areas – and help them maintain their independence."

Jamie explained that as a volunteer with AbilityNet he provides specialist advice services and free information to anyone who fits the eligibility criteria.

"We want to get the message out there that there are volunteers up here who can make a positive impact on people's lives.

"People are often given things like smartphones and tablets without anyone showing them what these devices can do or how to use them. That’s where we come in."

Getting elderly and disabled people up to scratch with technology is especially of benefit within the rural communities of Caithness and Sutherland, he stressed.

Jamie shows how a special app on his tablet can read aloud the text in a Caithness Courier article to help people with sight issues. Picture: DGS
Jamie shows how a special app on his tablet can read aloud the text in a Caithness Courier article to help people with sight issues. Picture: DGS

At the Cliff Road office of our newspapers in Wick, Jamie showed how he can help people with visual impairment, for example, read a copy of the Caithness Courier by using a special piece of software downloaded on a tablet device. After he took a digital photo of the front page with the device he proceeded to initiate the software app which then read aloud the text with remarkable accuracy.

"There are many things we take for granted, like reading a newspaper, that some people can struggle with," he said. "We can help with that, as I showed today, and in various other areas too."

With many rural banks closing across the far north, customers are becoming more reliant on internet banking but for many it is a struggle to understand the technology. "We can offer free advice on that to help people feel more in control and less isolated within the community," Jamie said.

Elderly and vulnerable clients can rest assured that all AbilityNet volunteers have been screened through background checks but if they prefer then free advice can be given over the telephone or internet.

The snappy app reads aloud the text in a Caithness Courier article. Picture: DGS
The snappy app reads aloud the text in a Caithness Courier article. Picture: DGS

The service provided can help people choose the right equipment for their needs and give suggestions on hardware, software and assistive technology. The volunteers can also help install and set up new hardware and software, configure settings and adjust accessibility options.

Other areas include diagnosing problems, malfunctions, viruses, error messages and explaining software update requests. Guidance is given on how to shop online, make video calls to friends, play music or games and use other entertainment services.

The service is free and available for elderly and disabled people.

For more information call the free number 0800 269 545. The website is https://abilitynet.org.uk/at-home


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