New platform to boost digital skills of people with intellectual disabilities

16 Dec 2021

DigiAcademy instructor Fionn Angus and project lead Dr Esther Murphy. Image: DigiAcademy

WaytoB CEO Talita Holzer discusses the new digital skills education platform that is expected to launch next year.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have partnered with Irish start-up WaytoB to create DigiAcademy, an e-learning platform to teach digital skills to people with intellectual disabilities.

The platform is part of Digi-ID, a European project looking to address the challenge of digital inclusion and digital literacy among people with intellectual disabilities. Approximately 250 people including adults with intellectual disabilities, professionals, families and carers have helped in its development and testing.

An online event is taking place today (16 December) to showcase the platform and discuss the project’s goals for the future.

‘What we found is that a lot of people weren’t really able to communicate even with families and close friends because they were in lockdown’

WaytoB CEO Talita Holzer told that the platform is expected to launch early next year. Her company, which has made a navigation tool to make independent travel easier for people with higher support needs, is the tech partner developing the platform.

Headshot of WaytoB CEO Talita Holzer

Image: Talita Holzer

Holzer said the project was created to help teach people basic digital skills such as making an email address, using a web browser or calling someone on Zoom. This is something that became critical when the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.

“What we found is that a lot of people weren’t really able to communicate even with families and close friends because they were in lockdown. So they would need support to do that.”

She added that the platform is designed for anybody who needs help learning basic digital skills, and this could include older adults or people with vision impairments.

Holzer said the initial reach for DigiAcademy is expected to be in the tens of thousands thanks to service providers including Stewarts Care and the National Learning Network. The project is backed by EIT Health and received €500,000 in funding this year.

Personalised learning

The project is being led by Dr Esther Murphy from Trinity’s Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability. Holzer said Murphy and her team have worked to create a “fun environment” while keeping users engaged by offering badges and personalised goals that are tailored to the individual. She gave the example of someone wanting to use Zoom so they can speak to their mother.

“So once you finish that course, you have a personal goal associated with that course – for example, now I have a weekly call with my mom or something like that. Then we also collect that information and you earn more rewards. So we really want to see the impact that this can have, especially on the person’s health.”

The courses have been developed with the help of a citizen advisory panel (CAP), a group of seven individuals with intellectual disabilities hired as paid experts supporting the project.

Digi-Academy instructor Mei Lin with the Digi-Academy logo in the background.

CAP member and DigiAcademy instructor Mei Lin Yap. Image: DigiAcademy

Holzer said there are plans to create specific courses and videos for project partners such as Microsoft, which has agreed to become a global partner for next year.

“We’re going to be creating videos with them on how to use Microsoft Teams, for example. So these are going to be available to anyone who joins the platform, but we’re also going to expect to have videos that are very like courses that are very specific to certain audiences.”

She added this could be a way for companies like Microsoft and Zoom to acquire users in a market they have not tapped into yet.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic