By Alan McCrorie
Staff at Momentum Scotland, the volunteer network which helps people meet the challenges of living with disability, delivered a sobering message along with their thanks to BT after the telecoms giants gifted the group with a laptop and free internet access for a year.
Momentum, who run their Adapt & Assist service to help those with serious spinal injuries access computers and the internet, were made the award by BT Community Connections and are one of 6,000 groups to have benefited from the scheme since 2000.
Assistive Technology Co-ordinator, Garry Ryan, and Volunteer Co-ordinator, Doug Ross, told a gathering at Momentum’s Yoker offices that a disability may only be the beginning of a person’s problems unless their world is adapted around them in order to help them cope.
Professional and private lives can collapse, Doug explained. One in six people who become disabled lose their jobs while the incidence of divorce rockets and, for some, isolation threatens – all this and more on top of lives that have changed beyond recognition.
Garry said: ‘Simply being able to do their own shopping online and communicate with others via email or social networking sites can help ease the challenge of living with a disability.
‘By learning new skills and working with members of our volunteer team we can boost confidence and social inclusion.’
He also explained the use of such devices such as the head mouse, where a camera mounted on the screen will track a dot attached to the user’s forehead or spectacles, allowing the computer to interpret movements of the head and cue the computer.
BT Scotland’s Senior Partnership Manager, James McClafferty, gamely volunteered to work a voice recognition programme, and joined John Roberston, Glasgow North West MP, Co-Chairman of the All-Party Communications Group and former BT manager, in struggling to operate a keyboard that resembled the controls of a melodion.
‘This is what it’s like to live with disability,’ said Garry, looking on. ‘Everything changes completely.’
Mark Longhill, the Chairman of the BT judging panel who made the award to Momentum, tested a remarkable retina-based mouse control programme, while a sip and puff switch, which controls the mouse with the mouth, was also demonstrated.