We are Digitally Included! - debate of the e-convinced at the EU Conference on Innovation for Digital Inclusion

The first debate of the EU Conference on Innovation for Digital Inclusion at Gdansk, Poland was introduced by Piotr ŁUBA, presenter, musician and translator, who introduced the panel as "people that actually do things with digital technology" and feel good about being part of the digital community - as most of them are from an age that still made a conscious decision to become part of the eWorld - unlike today's kids who take this world for granted.


The first witness was Marco D'ANGELANTONIO, from Health Information Management SA, Belgium who presented the ICT based elderly care project DREAMING.

The intention was to connect through the project's videoconference possibility with the former director of the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste, Italy: a 76 year old man with a high level of education who wanted to witness on how the project has reduced his feelings of insecurity through a mobile alarm system and how important it is to feel in control of his own life. Due to an internet connection problem in Trieste, the conference could not be held face-to-face, but Mr. D'Angelantonio reported on how stimulating it can be for the confidence of elderly to know that they can get in video contact with someone on the other side of the screen when they are looking for support, help or just a conversation that reduces their solitude.


The second witness came from Anne BELLEMANS, who works as an IT manager for the Belgian television channel RTBF.

In 1993, after she stayed at home for 6 years to take care of her kids, she wanted to take up again her former profession as a medical representative but found out that at the age of 33 her skills, knowledge & former training had became completely obsolete. She then decided to follow a 10 months IT course to upgrade her knowledge, got back into employment, set up a helpdesk for the pharmaceutical industry and after 10 years of experience became in charge of a global helpdesk of about 10.000 people.

She witnessed that it's hard but possible to become digitally included as a single mother, combining an IT training and maintaining her family. According to her, thanks to ICT she has transformed her weaknesses into strengths and advises anyone to always try to transform problems & challenges into opportunities, being creative and pragmatic.


The third witness came from the UK through Nick JEANS from Making IT Personal: Joining the DOTs. A "DOT" is a "Digital Outreach Trainer" who uses the infrastructure and the website of the project to become a personal eMentor and to give guidance to the digitally excluded. This scheme of IT skills through mutual support is based on the observation that most of the digital included actually learned IT from themselves, with the occasional help of a friend - mostly when they're stuck with something.

The project also acts upon empowering the trainers, who most likely are disengaged young people that possess IT skills and can obtain the accreditation of "eMentor", thus improving their qualification level while reaching out to their own digital excluded community (often their own family). This type of volunteering program is especially atrractive for them, as they don't have to "get up to be somewhere" at a particular time.

Paul THOMAS is such a young "highly IT literate" DOT and witnessed that he could feel the impact of his efforts on many people around him and that such an experience of helping others truly empowered him. He considers the DOT scheme to be far-reaching and an opportunity for many persons living in digital excluded communities.


The last witness, Rafal CHARLAMPOWICZ from the University of Gdańsk explained how digital technology has changed his life since he lost his sight 20 years ago. He witnessed how he gradually used ICT to better organize his life.

Now a blind person can read internet contents through applications that read text for him, which is a great sensation after being limited for so many years to a few audio cassettes. Today he can just take a book from a shelf, scan it and have a computer read it for him. When before writing a letter was simply not possible, today he can use email just like everyone else, the same with looking for information on the internet. Internet gives him the sensation of not being blind at all, for example when his CV gets rejected, as people with whom he interacts simply don't perceive his disability.

Space orientation is of course still a problem - it's still very dark - but his 'non-electronic' dog is helping him out with this and the GPS system also helps to always know where he is when he takes a walk. Mobile phones were the last devices to get on the track of accessibility for people with a visible disability, but finally it is now possible to know who's calling and to read messages without needing a separate scan device. New problems though showed up recently with all the touch screens around (you must see them to use them!), but it seems it's just a small step to make a touchscreen speak. The biggest problem though is that many websites are still not accessible for the blind.


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