The Jonathan Young Memorial Trust
A four year progress report
Some of you will recall the opening chapter of this story - how, when our 13-year old son Jonathan died unexpectedly in 1997, we decided to pay tribute to his remarkable computer skills by setting up a charity which would provide computer equipment for people with disabilities. Four years down the line, we have provided or helped to provide some 120 computer systems which have gone to individuals and small charitable organisations and self-help groups, primarily in the local area but also in Cornwall, Aberdeen, Blaenau Ffestiniog and a range of places in between! We have met and learned from people with a wide range of disabilities and established links both locally and nationally with individuals and organisations involved in the fields of disability and of technology.
We rejected from the outset the possibility of working only with disabled children, deciding that we wanted to take the risk of working in some less “popular” areas, whether this be with older people, with people whose disability defies a clear diagnosis, or with some of the many people who seem to fall through the traditional support networks. About half of our referrals come through disability organisations, social services, or schools - these are the “easy” ones as someone has usually carried out an assessment of what is needed and provided a specification of the computer equipment that is needed. Other requests come direct from individuals with disabilities - these can lead to quite a lengthy process of visits and discussions to establish what sort of computer and what sort of software might benefit the person concerned. People with major disabilities needing specially adapted computers need to be referred to a specialist assessment agency at this point, but there are others for whom an introduction to basic word processing or the internet, which we can provide quite simply, will open up whole new areas of interest and ability.
A few examples from the past year may help to illustrate the range of what can be done. A blind man training as a physiotherapist was provided with a “screen reader” which reads aloud everything which appears on the computer screen and which, combined with scanning equipment, can be used to “read” books and documents. A man left unable to speak or write as a result of a stroke was provided with a computer which enabled him to type out messages to his family. A schoolboy with only one arm was given a laptop computer which enabled him to keep up with his written work in class. A major project this year has been the setting up of a computer room at a local day centre for people with mental health problems - the centre now has five computers which are proving enormously popular with users who are improving their basic literacy skills or learning to use a computer. Another significant area of involvement has been through Deafblind UK, with whom we have worked with applicants who live in the almost unimaginably restricted world of those who are both blind and deaf - a computer which provides both input and output in Braille can link such a person to the telephone system, to the internet, and to communication with friends and family. Time and again, I am moved and humbled by glimpses of the challenges faced by people living with disability and illness, and by the way in which courage, patience, persistence and technology combine to enable people to meet these challenges with cheerfulness and goodwill.
Sometimes the Trust works by providing grants towards the cost of new computer equipment. The investments with which the charity was set up enable us to spend around £15,000 a year in this area, although there is always scope for raising and spending more! We often work with other charities to ensure that someone gets the equipment they need by combining donations from several sources, of which our Trust will be one. In other instances - where needs are simpler - we work by providing refurbished computers which have been donated to us or to other computer recycling organisations in the area. This is the most time-consuming area of our work, but enormously worthwhile in terms of the environmental benefits to be derived from re-using equipment which might otherwise just be thrown away, as well as in the obvious terms of cost. A certain amount of technical expertise is needed - I have learnt a great deal about what can be done with a screw driver and a pile of computer parts, but even more about my own limitations! Very fruitful relationships have been established with technologically-minded volunteers who have offered their services, and with the computer recycling project of Groundwork Ashfield and Mansfield, whose technical support has meant that no computer problem has yet completely defeated us.
In a short article it is impossible to give more than a glimpse of the interesting and varied activities into which this work has led us. Do get in touch if you would like to know more, if you would like to receive regular news of what we do, or if you have an old (but not too old!) computer to get rid of. I can be contacted by e-mail at young at lineone dot net.