Boyzone's Shane urges students to claim extra funding

Boyzone's Shane Lynch is urging UK higher education students to check whether they are eligible for extra funding as part of AbilityNet's DSA Claim It Campaign. Shane has described his experience of living with dyslexia and the impact it has made on his life - as well as the amazing sense of relief he felt when he was finally diagnosed.

Many students live with conditions and impairments that limit their abilities, but don't realise that they can claim Disabled Students' Allowances to cover the cost of specialist hardware, software and study support, including travel expenses.

AbilityNet's CEO Nigel Lewis explained that figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest that as many as half of eligible students did not claim DSAs in 2013/14:

"Disabled Students' Allowances are a lifeline for many students, even if they don't think of themselves as disabled. They can pay for specialist software and hardware as well as extra learning support to ensure that students complete their studies successfully - our DSA Claim It Campaign aims to make sure that everyone who is eligible gets the help they need."

"One big problem could be that people just don't know that it exists. Many parents, teachers and students still don’t know that students with a disability such as dyslexia are eligible for DSAs at university or college, or they don't realise that DSAs are a direct grant that doesn’t have to be paid back.”

Too embarrassed?

"It could also be that people are too embarrassed to ask for extra help, or think it will count against them. That's why it's great having Shane's support for our campaign, as he knows the difficulties that conditions such as dyslexia can bring and can show how much can be gained when you ask for help."

DSAs have been a vital part of helping disabled people achieve success in higher education for many years, meeting the cost of extra learning support, specialist software and hardware and even travel expenses. Students with hearing impairments, visual impairments and mobility impairments are eligible for DSA, as are students with a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, mental health conditions such as depression and health conditions such as diabetes.

Who is eligible for DSAs?

As Nigel explains there is no specific list of conditions that are eligible, and many people don't know they can apply:

"AbilityNet has a specialist DSA service that assesses students once they have been told they can get the grant. In the past year we've helped people with conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety, Aspergers, Autism, Chronic Fatigue, Depression, Diabetes, Dyslexia and many more. There is no one size fits all solution - our experts review the person's study needs and identify personalised solutions."

"We're also concerned that people think that DSAs have been stopped. there is a lot of uncertainty about their future but for the time being they are available and people should find out whether they are eligible."

Abbie C* is a first year student who received DSAs and passed on her advice:

“Get it. It's worth it and will help you throughout your studies. You shouldn't worry about disclosing your disability or learning difficulty because by doing so, you'll get all the support you can possibly think of and makes your experience at university a lot more fulfilling."

Find out more about DSAs

Check our DSA pages for more information about who is eligible and how to claim.

*Abbie asked for her identity to be kept confidential.

Visual impairment and computing - common questions

Many people who contact AbilityNet describe themselves as “visually impaired” but that term can describe a lot of different conditions. You could have a condition such as macular degeneration, you could have a genetic condition or you might have had an accident in the past which has affected your life. 

AbilityNet helps people with a range of visual ImpairmentsVisual impairment can affect your eyesight in so many ways. The good thing is that technology can certainly help you in your work.

According to Fight for Sight there are over 2 million people living with visual impairment in the UK and 360,000 of those would describe themselves as being registered blind. However a lot of people have difficulties with their sight, but would not describe themselves as being "visually impaired".  Famous people who are visually impaired include UK politician David Blunkett (picture below) and soul singer Stevie Wonder.

Common questions about visual impairment and technology

My Dad is struggling to distinguish between different colours on the computer. Can these colours be changed?

They certainly can, and it is a fairly simple process. We have a very easy step by step guide at which can help. By trial and error you ought to be able to find colours that are easier for you Dad to see.

I’m 27 and my sight is getting worse.  I use an IPhone. Can I still use it if I lose my sight?

Yes you can! Every Apple device is now built in with some very nice accessibility options.  One of them is called Voice Over and is a screen reader.  So it will read emails, documents and web pages and allow you to stay connected. Another good piece of software is called Siri and this will allow you to use your voice. Here are a few commands:

“Send a message to Kerry on her mobile saying ‘I am running late'”

“What’s Justin’s address?”

“Call my mother on her work phone”


My gran is 91 and her sight isn’t that good. She uses a magnifying glass to read mail. Is there something similar that she can use on a computer?

There is a magnifier which is built into both Macintosh and Windows computers. This ought to help you if you have some slight difficulties, if you have a requirement for greater levels of magnification you might want to consider some paid for software which can also feature “screen reading” technology. She might also benefit from a larger keyboard with high-visibility key tops. Surprisingly if you have a tablet or smartphone you can also magnify the screen.

Case study; Changing font size and colours

John rang us to ask for some advice for his husband William. He's already looked at our factsheet on visual impairment.  William is in his 60’s and is starting to struggle with using his technology. He's had an accident and his sight isn't as good as it was but he still has some vision in one eye. We had a chat with them and have come up with some ideas that might make it easier to use the computer. These include changing the font size, and also changing the colours on the screen to make it that little bit easier for William to see.

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about visual impairment useful.
  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet IT Can Help volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Surviving a stroke and learning to type again...

Emma is 26 and had a stroke in 2014Our focus this month is how computers can be adapted to help people who have survived a Stroke and so we met up with Emma, who is 26, lives in Hertfordshire and works for the Scout Association in the International team. In May 2014, a few days after an evening of fun on the climbing wall with the Cub pack she leads, Emma collapsed in the car park at work. Fortunately a trained first aider recognized that her symptoms may be that of a stroke and so Emma got the help she needed incredibly quickly, which helped save her life.

How has stroke affected you?

My Stroke was a left side ischemic stroke and initially, I lost my speech and all movement down my right hand side. I was able (with the help of hospital and rehab staff) to regain my speech, (though I still forget words or stumble over my words) learn to walk again and use my right hand. Now, exactly 12 months on, I still have weakness in my right hand, I find it difficult to write, type and text. This is due to finding it challenging to isolate the fingers on my right hand.

What tasks do you find difficult now on the computer and how has it affected your ability to use the computer?

My speech pattern has changed and this makes it difficult to use voice recognition software. The main challenge I have on a daily basis is the speed I type (it's much slower and one handed!) and I can't double click on the mouse with my right hand, so I end up using two hands!

Do you find your computer makes day to day living easier for you?

Yes. I'd be lost without my smart phone and iPad!

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.


Vote for Robin Christopherson and AbilityNet in the DL100 Awards

Robin Christopherson is Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNetAbilityNet and our Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson, have been nominated in separate categories for a prestigious digital inclusion Award. The UK Digital Leaders 100 honours the highest digital achievements from across the UK’s public, private and non-profit sectors, celebrating individuals and organisations who are using digital to transform the UK’s public services and its social and economic opportunities. There is now a public vote to decide the winners across 10 categories.

AbilityNet Chairman, Dr Michael R Taylor, said:

"Technology can be both a blessing and a curse, but for disabled people it makes it possible to work, study, enjoy friends and family, as well as fulfilling their true potential. It's wonderful for AbilityNet and Robin to be recognised in this way, and reflects just how much can be achieved with digital technology."

Robin is a huge champion of digital inclusion, and his practical, personal approach influences policy-makers, developers, designers, academics, businesses and many other charities. Drawing on his personal experiences of dealing with visual impairment, Robin combines cutting edge technical knowledge with practical stories - with a dash of wit that never fails to hold his audience entranced.

As Michael says,

"Few people leave the room with a dry eye, yet everyone leaves with a much better understanding of how technology can be used to help others."

"My 25 year old son, himself a wheelchair user, was initially helped by AbilityNet way back in the late 1990s. Their expert assessors were able to recommend technology that enabled him to attend university, to achieve BA and MA degrees and to fulfill his dream of becoming a journalist. 

Digital Leaders 100"Over the 6 years that I have been Chairman of AbilityNet, Robin Christopherson has been an amazing ambassador for our work. His legendary talks at conferences and community events offer powerful insights into how new technologies can help disabled people. To me, Robin has always shown genuine leadership in the use of digital technology and for him to receive a Digital Leaders 100 award would be recognition of his skills, passion and commitment as a genuine Digital Leader.

"I'm sure many of you will have already cast a vote, but for anyone who hasn't yet please do vote for Robin - and AbilityNet."

You can cast your vote until the end of May by going to

Web hosting for just 1p - and donate the difference to AbilityNet

LCN is offering web hosting for 1p - donate the difference to AbilityNetLeading UK web hosting company, has launched a 1p web hosting campaign to raise £15,000 for AbilityNet. is offering a fully-featured web hosting package that usually costs £50 for just a penny and encouraging customers to donate the savings they make to AbilityNet. has also donated £1,500 to kick off the campaign and aims to reach a donation target of £15,000 with the support of its customers.

As well as the 1p web hosting offer has an ongoing policy of offering free domain names and web hosting to any UK registered charity. 

Nigel Lewis, AbilityNet CEO, said:

“We’re delighted to partner with The help they offer UK charities is something which has a very positive impact on non-profit organisations, particularly at a time where many of these organisations are taking a greater focus towards using digital technology to spread their message”.

What you get for 1p - wordpress, free web deisgn software and freiendly supportMark Boost, Managing Director, said:

“AbilityNet makes a tremendous difference in the lives of disabled people, their family and friends, their employers and other people who care for them is. We are very proud to contribute to this incredible charity and give our customers an opportunity to do the same. Through this, the company has provided free domain names and web hosting to almost 500 UK charities to date and hopes the support for AbilityNet will increase awareness of the free charity hosting offer.”

What you get for 1p

  • One-click WordPress, free web design software and friendly UK based support

  • Business class web and email hosting

Your donation to AbilityNet

Anything you donate to AbilityNet will support our work with disabled people.


Election 2015: Disabled Website Users Vote ‘None Of The Above’

This is the closest election for generations, as well as the most digital we have ever seen. AbilityNet conducted industry standard tests on all seven of the main party websites, including checking the code, disabled user testing and manual checks for best practice. The results are bleak for disabled people as none of the websites tested achieved legal compliance and many of our testers failed to complete the tasks we set, which included downloading manifestos and looking for policy information.

Ballot PapersOur list shows how well they performed against each other, but it is important to remember that none of them achieved the internationally recognised minimum standard.

1. The Labour Party

2. The Scottish National Party

3. The Liberal Democratic Party

4. The Green Party

5. The Conservative Party

6. UK Independence Party

7. Plaid Cymru

Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

“If web accessibility were to determine the outcome of the General Election on 7 May then the top three parties would be Labour, SNP and the Liberal Democrats. What our tests do show is that disabled people are being denied access to information that could help them make an informed choice."

“In an election where every vote counts, the political parties should take note and put web accessibility at the top of their agendas.”

Aside from the obvious concerns about our main political parties not complying with current legislation, there are many millions of people of voting age who may have impairments and disabilities who would be prevented from effectively using these websites. Some of the quotes we gathered from our testers show the frustrations in accessing the information about the parties and their policies: 

"This website is too busy and not well-signposted. I felt frustrated with it quickly and would have to be have been really determined to stay on it in search of info."

"I think it should be much better sign-posted that it’s possible to ask policy questions."

"I tried to download the manifesto as a PDF but for some reason my anti-virus said it was dangerous and wouldn't allow me to open it. I don't usually have this problem!"

Although some comments from our testers were very positive many users struggled to complete the tasks that we set and every site failed to achieve the recognised legal requirements.

Many of the issues identified can be resolved quickly and easily, often at no cost, so it is disturbing to consider how many potential voters will be hindered from actively engaging in political issues through these websites.

Download the full report from our eNation section

Image: BBC

Using your computer after a Stroke

Imagine for a moment that you couldn’t use one side of your body.  Your foot, leg, arm, or hand all stop working - sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.  This is how a stroke might affect you. Strokes happen when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, or is blocked. It also might affect the ability to communicate and process information. It's a devastating blow, but the good news is that there is a lot of technology that can help you.

Winston Spencer ChurchillHow many people in the UK are affected by Strokes?

According to the Stroke Association there are approximately 152,000 strokes in the UK. That's one stroke every three and a half minutes.Famous people who have suffered a stroke include BBC TV presenter Andrew Marr, and former prime minister Winston Churchill.

Common questions about using a computer after a Stroke

I have issues with hitting the wrong keys on the keyboard - is there anything out there that can help me?

There are a lot of alternative keyboards available. Some have really large keys so that it’s easier for someone to identify and hit the key they want. Some keyboards are very small so this makes them easier to use for someone with poor mobility. Both types of keyboards can be fitted with a keyguard and this makes it harder to hit two keys at once.

I find it really difficult to use the mouse as it is too fast for me. Can you tell me how to slow it down?

You can easily slow the mouse down by going into Ease of Access within the Windows Control Panel and then slowing down the mouse. You can configure the speed of your mouse to your own requirements.

Apple's System Preferences can be found in the apple menu

You can do the same on a Mac by opening System preferences and clicking on the Mouse options.

I sometimes find it difficult to hold two keys down at once. How can you help?

Built into every new computer whether it is a Mac or a Windows PC is a really useful freebie. It’s called Sticky Keys and means that if you want a capital letter you can just hit SHIFT and then hit the letter that you want and then hit SHIFT again to turn this function off (

My Mum has difficulties making herself understood since her stroke but she can use the keyboard. Is there any technology that can help?

Software such as Natural Readers for Windows Computers or the Mac’s inbuilt Voiceover technology can certainly help with small pieces of text being spoken out. 

There are also a lot of dedicated communication software packages available if your needs are greater. One example is Proloquo2go.

Using a tablet computer or smartphone may also help as they also include Virtual Assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana that can repsond to commands and dictate messages.

Take a look at our webinar about How to Control Your Computer With your Voice for more details about the options.

Case Study

Jane's mum Gloria has had a stroke and now she finds it difficult to communicate with her grandchildren. We've steered her towards some software that will help her "speak" her thoughts.  Gloria has some memory problems too so we've explained that there is software available that can help with reminding you about important tasks.

How can we help?

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

  • Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any kind of computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm on 0800 269 545.
  • Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.
  • We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.
  • My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tables and smartphones.

Survey: Will Privacy Fears Kill The Apple Watch?

A survey conducted by AbilityNet to mark the fifth Tech4Good Awards shows that although most consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable devices such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit or Jawbone they are unlikely to use them because of fears about who will have access to their data. Almost 80% of people would be happy sharing personal health with doctors and 60% with the NHS. But only 10% would be happy sharing it with private health companies, and just 2% with private companies who collect and share the data as part of these new services.

The Apple Watch is available from todayThe survey was conducted in April 2015 and asked about the new generation of wearable devices and the personal health data they can collect, such as heart rate, body temperature, distances run, and so on. Would the potential health benefits of sharing that data outweigh people’s privacy concerns? Who would they feel comfortable sharing it? And who would they definitely not want to be able to access it?

The results showed that whilst half the sample could see potential benefits of sharing health data using these devices, the large majority would not share it with private companies. People said they would not trust them without guarantees of anonymity.

As one survey respondent said, “I would want to know that it was for my benefit - or for general health research - and not for private companies to try to sell me something." Another respondent voiced a common concern, about "how the data would be used e.g. would insurance companies use data to increase premiums for people with particular health conditions?"

Robin Christopherson is AbilityNet's Head of Digital InclusionRobin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet said:

"We know that Apple sees the Apple Watch as a health device, and has done a lot to allay fears about data usage. The survey also shows that consumers can see the potential health benefits of wearable technology such as the Apple Watch or FitBit Flex but, with so few people trusting private companies with their health data, the case for sharing personal health data still needs to be made.”

"The results show that it comes down to trust. People only want to share their personal data with people or organisations they feel they can trust such as doctors or the NHS - or if they know it will be used anonymously in” research for the public good. They don’t feel happy having private companies using their data for their own gain.

“Whilst the idea of smart, wearable, technology is becoming much more familiar and we are increasingly looking to technology to solve some of the problems of modern life, healthcare providers and private companies interested in data gathering need to provide greater reassurance to their customers before everyone will be happy to have their health tracked and shared with the cloud."

Tech4Good Awards has a digital health categoryThere is some good news for General Practitioners and the NHS however; the majority of people surveyed felt most confident about sharing digital health data with their doctor or with the NHS. 81% of respondents were happy to share their digital health data with their doctor and another 60% were also happy to share this information with the NHS.

In stark contrast to the trust put in doctors and the NHS to treat personal health data appropriately, only 12% of respondents felt happy to share their personal health data with private companies and as few as 2% felt comfortable sharing their personal health data with private companies that collect and share data with third parties.

There was particular concern about private companies that share data – which can include the makers of the devices, the owners of the networks used to share the data, the companies that make the apps that use the data and the many companies that trade in personal data.

A survey respondent said:

"I would not want anyone other than my doctor or close family seeing any medical data and would not want it passed on to anyone else without my explicit permission."

Another said:

"I would be most nervous of my health data being used by the wrong people e.g. being sold on to suppliers such as insurance companies. I am concerned I would be discriminated against because of the data I have shared."

AbilityNet's digital health survey was conducted ahead of the charity's Tech4Good Awards, which includes a digital health category, won last year by PEEK – an app for diagnosing cataracts.

Entries for this year’s Awards close at 5pm on Friday 8 May.

  1. AbilityNet conducted the survey in March/April 2015, there were 89 respondents who completed the questions anonymously.
  2. The survey was commissioned to inform the Tech4Good Awards new award category on Digital Health. The survey report is available on request.
  3. The Digital Health Award is open to any individual, business, charity, social enterprise or government organisation with a base in the UK.
  4. The judges are looking for inspiring examples of the way that computers and the internet can help improve people's health.
  5. Entries for Tech4Good Awards close on Friday 8 May at 5 pm.

Two weeks left to enter this week's Tech4Good Awards

Now in their fifth year the Tech4Good Awards are organised by AbilityNet and supported by BT and a network of partners that include Tinder Foundation and The Media Trust. Past winners have included small charities, outstanding IT volunteers, multinational banks and Prof Stephen Hawking. Entries are free of charge and are open to any business, charity, public organisation, school or individual with a base in the UK.

Tech4Good AwardsEntries for this year’s Awards close on 8 May, so there’s just over two weeks to go before we close nominations for 2015 and we’ve already received some fantastic entries. From discovering the young people giving up their time in the local community to learning about the innovative ways people are using technology to make the world a better place, the judging process will be harder than ever this year.

Entry is free and open to any business, charity, public body, school or individual with a base in the UK.

Entries close on 8 May.

Free Workplace Webinar Series

AbilityNet is running a series of workplace webinars to help employers, HR professionals and other specialists support disabled people in the workplace. These short practical sessions explain the issues and potential solutions in a friendly jargon-free way, with plenty of time to ask your own questions and will be useful to anyone with an interest in helping disabled people in the workplace, including HR professionals, managers, occupational health professionals, colleagues, advisers, friends and IT staff.

If you are interested in any of these webinars but can’t make it during the session, a captioned video recording of each webinar will be shared in our Webinars On Demand section after the event, where you can already find videos of the previous webinars in the series, including sessions on RSI and workstation ergonomics, in addition to range of previous AbilityNet webinars. 

Upcoming Workplace Webinars

How to Control Your Computer With Your Voice, 1-2pm, Tuesday 14th April

Voice control for computers, tablets and smartphones is evolving at an amazing pace, from asking questions of Siri or Cortana to dictating emails and issuing commands.

This session will review current voice-recognition technologies, offering practical advice as to how they can be utilised. 

How Computers Can Help Reduce Stress At Work, 1-2pm, Tuesday 12th May

Many will feel that computers and the advent of the always-on culture is a significant cause of stress in the workplace - and a growing cause of absenteeism and long-term sickness. 

This session will explore strategies and techniques that can help employees use their computers to reduce stress and any associated mental health issues. 

Dealing With Visual Impairment In The Workplace, 1-2pm, Tuesday 9th June

Vision can be impaired in many ways and by many different conditions, including the effects of ageing. The pervasive use of computer monitors is also having a direct impact on people’s vision and can lead to expensive claims from staff.

This session will explore the impact of impaired vision in the workplace and identify the support that can be offered to address them.

Dealing With Hearing Impairment In The Workplace, 1-2pm, Tuesday 7th July

Action on Hearing Loss estimates that at least 800,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf, but this is a small proportion of the 10 million people with some form of hearing loss, of which it estimates that 3.7 million are of working age. 

This session will explore the impact of impaired hearing in the workplace and identify the support that can be offered to help employees.