Real Lives: I help visually impaired people get online

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Kathaleen Jackson volunteers with the RNIB’s Online Today service, giving people with sensory loss the skills and confidence to use modern technology

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29th November 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

I’ve always been interested in technology – I got my first iPhone in 2010 and my first Macbook the year after. It all took off from there.

I was amazed that the Macbook had a comprehensive screenreader built in. Not everyone knew that the function was there, or if they did then they might not know how to work it.

These days, we all need to be tech-savvy. I thought I could help teach people with visual impairments how to use their computers. I wanted to share my own knowledge. If you aren’t prepared to do something to help then you can’t really complain when no-one else does, can you?

I had been going to the Central Library in Edinburgh to use their resource centre for blind people. When that closed down, the man who was in charge suggested I look into volunteering. I couldn’t decide whether I’d rather work with the library or the RNIB, so I decided I’d wait at my bus stop and whichever bus arrived first, that was where I’d go. As luck would have it, the bus that took me to the RNIB came first.

I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them build up their confidence around technology

Once a week, I volunteer at the RNIB’s Online Today service. We help visually impaired people with their technology. I’m most comfortable with Apple, so I tend to show people how to use their Voiceover products, but other volunteers are experts with other technology so between us we can help most people no matter what device they have.

Most of the people we see are beginners. We show them the basics and let them decide what’s best for them. For more advanced users, we help with solving particular problems.

What we’re really trying to do is get people online and tech-literate. These days everything is geared towards being able to use a computer. Some people want them to disappear – that’s just not going to happen!

That said, I think society has jumped ahead of itself in some ways. Technology is still in its infancy, and sometimes even I find it’s easier to use a phone than some websites. And we do have to respect people who just have no interest in modern technology. But there’s so much out there for people who are blind. Even something as simple as an app that reads out the names of bus stops can be a massive help.

I really enjoy what I do. I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them build up their confidence around technology. We get all kinds of people coming in. One of my colleagues helped out a man who’d been given an iPad for his birthday. After chatting for a while, he told her he’d just turned 100!

Volunteering has also helped me personally. I feel like what I do is valuable, and I love sharing information. I’m investigating the idea of starting up my own business now, doing the same kind of thing but for more advanced users. Before I started volunteering, I would never have considered that. But volunteering has made me realise just how much I love helping people. 

Kathaleen Jackson is a technology support volunteer with the RNIB’s Online Today service in Edinburgh. For more information on the service and find out what support is available in your area visit the RNIB website or call 0303 123 9999.