THE BLOG
30/06/2015 07:32 BST | Updated 30/06/2016 06:59 BST

Thousands of People With Sight Loss Still Not 'Switched On' to The Benefits of the Internet

Can you remember wandering around unknown streets clutching an A-Z in an effort not to get lost, having to actually go inside a travel agency to book your holiday, or checking Teletext to see whether you needed to take an umbrella out? The internet has changed my life, and chances are that it has changed yours too.

It is certainly true that in today's digital world we take being online for granted, whether that is for banking, applying for a job, chatting to friends and family or grabbing a last minute bargain.

Anyone reading this can surely relate to that building sense of urgency as you wait for a webpage to load before you lose 4G, or the frustration of not being able to download the latest viral video because the WiFi connection is too weak.

However, for thousands of people living with sight loss, not being able to get online and access the huge range of benefits that comes with it, is a daily reality. Whilst we must respect the fact that some people simply do not want to be online, we know that four in five older blind people say their sight loss is the reason why they are not. It does not have to be this way.

Being online is not just a nice-to-have; it is how we live our lives. With the government's ambitious digital-by-default programme, more and more key services are moving online so it is essential that every member of society can use them.

The financial benefits of being online cannot be understated; how on earth would we find the time to shop around for the best value insurance, holiday, mobile phone contract or mortgage if we couldn't just log-on to an easy-to-use comparison website? The trend over recent years for 'discount shopping' has seen many people benefiting from cut-price meals, bargain haircuts and special offer hotel stays. Cashback, vouchers, discount codes...everyone should have the right to enjoy these great online offers.

And of course there's the social side of being connected; Facebook, Twitter, Skype and email are all fantastic ways for us to stay in touch with friends and family. For blind and partially sighted people, many of whom tell us they feel isolated from the world around them and that they cannot get out and about as much as they would like, surely being online is even more important?

So why then are some blind and partially sighted people still not using the internet? We know that in many cases, it is simply a lack of confidence and understanding of the assistive technology and functions that are available. Many smartphones, tablets and laptops now come with in-built functions such as zoom capabilities to increase the text size, and text-to-speech technology which reads out what's written on the screen. But, for someone who has never used this technology or surfed the internet, or perhaps for those who have lost their sight later in life, knowing where to start can be hugely overwhelming.

As part of our Online Today project I am delighted that we will give 125,000 people with sensory loss across the UK the confidence and skills they need to get online and enjoy the many benefits this offers. But we cannot reach this ambitious target alone. That is why we are working in partnership with 37 partners, including Action on Hearing Loss and Sense, who share our belief that in 2015, no one should be at a digital disadvantage simply because they cannot see or hear.

Through workshops, demonstrations and one-to-one sessions, people will learn how to use the internet to get exactly what they want from it; from Skyping their family in Australia to doing their banking online and downloading music.

As our ambassador Paralympic gold medal skier Kelly Gallagher, who herself is partially sighted, said: "Nobody should miss out on all the great benefits that being online can offer just because they have a disability and that's why I'm supporting Online Today and encouraging people with sensory loss to find out how it can help them get online in no time."

Online Today is open to anyone who has sight or hearing loss, whether from birth or later in life and I encourage anyone who would like to find out more to visit www.rnib.org.uk/onlinetoday