AbilityNet Tech4Good winners change lives for one million families with disabled children

“Women use Facebook, men use Twitter, men email us late at night and want straightforward information when they can't sleep and are worried, women have more contact at other times” says Naomi Marek founder of Sky Badger, an online charity supporting parents of disabled children.

“When your child gets diagnosed with a medical condition or disability, it can feel like the loneliest place to be. You don’t know what to do, you don’t know where to turn” she says.

Nearly seven years ago Marek and four other mothers who'd found themselves in this situation formed an online support network called Sky Badger for others like themselves. Three of their children were disabled and two had life-limiting conditions. They knew the importance of finding the right help at the right time and how that help could dramatically improve a family's experience.

BT Connected Society Award winners

Last month, the team won a coveted AbilityNet Tech4Good Award in the BT Connected Society competition for there dedicated work.

“This work has helped us, as well as parents of a million children around the UK since we started in 2011, so much,” says Marek. We, and our team, spend a lot of time researching educational, medical, financial and social support material to bring the best information to parents and cut through old information, misinformation and broken links. We make it less overwhelming to find the most useful stuff for families to have a better life.”

The charity shares information about new organisations, services or opportunities on social media and helps people across a whole range of issues and subjects - from understanding more about a diagnosis, to knowing whether a specific feeding bottle works for a baby with a cleft lip.

“Who knows what to do when your child can't go swimming because they are considered too much of a risk, or when they don't get invited to birthday parties because other parents are too nervous? We didn't when we started out and now we are always at the end of an email and run a confidential helpline three times a week to help others having these experiences.”

Analytics has the answers

Which tech helps the team the most? Perhaps the most helpful thing over the last few years, she says, has been access to analytics.

“Being able to understand our audience, what they want and how they want it is so useful and very interesting. The most fascinating thing has been the gender split; women use Facebook, men use Twitter, generally. We didn't realise the high proportion of men on our website, so we are adapting our information and fact sheets with more straightforward, shorter information, which is what we've noticed seems to work for them. Dads often get isolated in the system, and divorce rates end up a lot higher. Keeping families together is something we are taking very, very seriously. This is of colossal importance."

Winning the Tech4Good Awards is a big deal for Marek and the team (she is pictured below at the awards, with fellow winner and presenter of Tomorrow's World Maggie Philbin OBE, right). “At the networking event in the BT Tower earlier this year, everyone I chatted to seemed to be finalists in our category, and they were all such great organisations,” Marek explains. “This is very prestigious for us and it means a lot, as it is opening up connections.

Naomi Marek pictured holiday her award with fellow award winner Maggie Philbin from Tomorrow's World

What do they need to keep enhancing their offer? “We want to develop more corporate partnerships in IT. We have businesses that donate their skills to us, but more support in IT systems would be very useful for us at this stage, so we're turning some of our attention to getting help in this area.

Educating school kids to stop bullying disabled children

“There's always more to be done, such as increase the hours on our phone line or work with more school children to prevent the huge amount of bullying disabled children suffer, we work with paid staff but also need lots of volunteers.”


Tech4Good AbilityNet Special Award: “Diverse, inclusive tech teams create more amazing products,” TV presenter Maggie Philbin


There's some shocking statistics around this. Appallingly, at least 90% of children with learning disabilities are bullied and one in four physically attached, according to Enable Scotland. Another, heartbreaking statistic outlines the trauma that Sky Badger is inevitably helping to alleviate. A news article published by the BBC in 2010 includes results from a survey by the Princes Royal Trust for Carers that discloses a disturbing 45% of carers surveyed at the time wanted to run away or felt depressed and unable to cope in their role, with 15% turning to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping.

“Ultimately, we believe that family life should be full of fun and adventure – this is especially important if you have a disabled or life-limited child,” says the entrepreneur. “This is at the heart of everything we do.”

  • For help with making the most of technology for someone with a disability, see abilitynet.org.uk or call our free helpline on 0800 269 545