Communication in a time of COVID - An Individual AT Story

14 March 2021


The Pandemic has impacted all our lives and no more so than the elderly. This AT story begins with my own community and the need when the first lockdown happened  to maintain communication with church members. Within the first week we were able to transfer our weekly Sunday meetings online using Zoom.  It became apparent that not everyone had the equipment or the skills to join in. Using a landline to connect to a meeting proved difficult and not as powerful as being able to see each other. The isolation the lockdowns have brought has been one of the major impacts of the pandemic. So the church purchased low cost  Android tablets for the few senior members of the congregation and I was tasked with giving training and support in running them. 

That is when I helped Sandra who started from no knowledge and fear of technology to being able to use the technology happily and confidently. As an AbilityNet volunteer it is my role to help such people and enable them to move just that one step forward. The first problem to overcome was how to give that training when we couldn't meet physically? The solution was paper-based step by step instructions coupled with help videos on the devices. The tablets came with a mywifi device as none of these church members had internet. So again training on video was done to show them how to connect. 

The first month support was needed to help them get online. The church provided the necessary link - keeping it the same to avoid problems over time. A generic email was set up for all the tablets so those details can be reminded. Of course, I had to teach how to open an email again via demonstration in the garden or through a window or via a video accessible on the desktop of the device.

After the first month help and support wasn't needed so much. The occasional dropped signal or access issue occured but general this group of seniors as they were of that age group were doing and are doing really well. We have had over 50 zoom meetings this way over the past year. 

AbilityNet provided information about community groups connecting with Zoom and used our examples as part of the guidance. Things like data costs and ways to support people was part of the information.

Sandra's story

Once Sandra mastered the meeting technology she asked if she could connect with her husband who was in a home and he suffered from dementia and associated medical health needs. Sandra asked if Skype could be put on the tablet and the church were happy to extend her data package. Sandra had not seen her husband for over 12 weeks at that stage of the pandemic. She would usually visit weekly prior to COVID-19. The home had a tablet and so meetings were set up. We managed 2 such meetings and then COVID struck the home and sadly Richard ( Sandra's husband) contracted it and died. Sandra connected on Skype with him the day he passed away. She said:-

" Just to see him was such a blessing to me, especially as so many relatives could not be there to be with their love ones. You don't know how much this means to me."

What happened next?

The story might have ended there but for my wife who nominated me for an award our local BBC radio station was running on " Making a Difference" during the pandemic. The prize was to have your name on a high speed train. I got to the finals but didn't win. I thought this was the  end of the story but I  received a phone call a few weeks later saying that GWR had contacted them. GWR said that they had extended the awards to include more names and the radio station said that they were so touched by the story that they wanted to put my name on a train! I said that was great but as Richard (Sandra's husband) was a train enthusiast I boldly asked if his name could be included - and they said yes! This gave some good news to the family who had suffered loss that his memory would be recognised in this way.

Since then Sandra has been interviewed by a student on a journalist course for her assignment and just recently by ITV news about "Grief in COVID" for the anniversary of lockdown. This will be shown around the 23rd March 2021. 

AT played a part in the story by providing vital communication at a time of extreme need and shows the value of technology in keeping people communicating during a pandemic like this one. 

When will the name on the train occur? Not sure now but it will!

Myles Pilling, BATA Council Member & AbilityNet County Co-Ordinator