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Full-time Report

Statement from Andrea Brown CEO Disability Action

Photo of Andrea Brown

Andrea Brown

It seems like no time from the official launch of the ONSIDE project and its formal ending, and in other ways it seems like a lifetime ago.  We have certainly been through a lot between the two events.

ONSIDE was devised collectively by four partners Disability Action which led the project, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Independent Living Movement Ireland, and Supporting Communities.

ONSIDE has been a very successful partnership and I would be remiss not to mention our fifth partner – the Disability Housing Forum.

These five partners shared two overriding principles – that we embrace co-production to steer our work to attest our ethos of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’, and that we are person-centered and embrace the social model of disability which recognises that it is the barriers in society that disables people.

Almost the entire project was delivered during Covid and that was very challenging, but everyone rose to overcome all the obstacles and surpass all expectations.  I want to record my personal thanks to every single member of the ONSIDE team and to our Project Partners.

Statement from Orla McCann Project Manager

ONSIDE was set up in recognition of the social isolation experienced by many disabled people and in recognition that the inequity often experienced in “real life” was being mirrored online.

It also recognised the move on the part of many service providers – and notably essential Government services – to online delivery and that the speed of this was not being matched with upskilling those reliant on those services.

We also identified that the internet could present many positive opportunities to disabled people to become engaged or remain connected in the community of their choice.

ONSIDE was unique in its approach in ensuring a level playing field for all.  We equipped the participants with the same technology – a digital tablet – that they got to keep on completion of their digital training.  This meant that everyone was learning as equals.  We had recognised the cost of technology and connectivity as a barrier especially when it is pre-labelled as “specialist equipment”.

In terms of learning we have found that on the most part mainstream equipment can be accessible to most with the addition of some low-cost hardware or software.

The procurement of broadband services proved more problematic than we had anticipated and again we have learning that we can share. In the immediate term it may be a difficult choice for some of our participants to prioritise broadband services at a time when the choice between heating and eating is real.

I hope that those with influence will take note that access to broadband should be considered in this day and age as a necessity equivalent to other utilities such as electricity.

ONSIDE was more than a digital programme – from the outset our twin goal was Creating Community Connections – and we assisted the participants to put their new digital skills to good use with one-to-one support toward an individual Personal Development Plan. Participants in the project also took part in research and co-production activity that we hope will influence the design of future service provision.

The feedback from our participants has been overwhelmingly positive. I would encourage you to look at our social media for the testimonies, in this report and also in our YouTube channel from those who took part.  One constant was that people enjoyed the social element of the project – the chance to meet people with similar but not the same life experiences – friendships have been formed that will keep going post-ONSIDE.

I would like to state my enormous thanks to all our peer volunteers for the dedication, humility and generosity that they have brought to the project, to our staff and to our participants.

It has been a pleasure to work on the ONSIDE project with all our partners, our wonderful participants and volunteers and with an outstanding workforce.

Photo of Orla McCann

Orla McCann


Full-time for ONSIDE

The final whistle has now been blown for the current ONSIDE project, with over 2,500 disabled people having had their isolation diminished and their lives enriched by the project to bring people online to allow them to become more socially active within their communities and to build contact networks and simply make friends.

The overwhelming success of the project will be felt for many years to come and it’s possible there may still be extra time to play, as it’s hoped ONSIDE will return and even be expanded with further funding support.

ONSIDE has more than achieved its goals, and in fact has scored in many more ways than could ever have been imagined at the outset.

No-one could have conceived how vital the project would become with the onslaught of the global pandemic making it even more of a virtual lifeline for many.

Covid-19 impacted upon ONSIDE early. The pandemic delayed the distribution of equipment, ended face-to-face training and forced participants indoors with all activities moving completely online.

Despite these unprecedented circumstances, all those involved – participants, the ONSIDE staff team and peer volunteers – rose to the challenge and exceeded all targets.

ONSIDE became a vital part of many of the participants’ lives, enabling them to keep in touch with others during what was a very difficult and lonely time for almost everyone, but particularly for those already more isolated than most.

We are proud of our achievements and the overwhelmingly positive participant feedback given that we were navigating unchartered territory through the changing circumstances with Covid-19 and the ongoing Public Health restrictions.

The pandemic proved the almost immeasurable worth of the project in enabling our participants to become or remain connected to their family, friends and wider community network using the skills and support they gained from their ONSIDE experience.

In this report

Full Time maps our progress and ultimate success, how we addressed and readjusted to the global pandemic, how we practically supported participants and their families during COVID-19, the events we hosted, a breakdown of participants’ lived experience, ONSIDE staff team, peer volunteer and participant testimony and how we moved forward as a project.