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Meet the Digital Leader: Ashley Bale – Digital Inclusion and Innovations Manager, Innovate Trust

Ashley Bale, Digital Inclusion and Innovations Manager at the Innovate Trust, talks us through how, working co-operatively, society can help close the digital divide with initiative such as ‘Tech for Good’ and how digital inclusion for supported people promotes independence, well-being and provides new opportunities.

How long have you been involved in digital health/inclusion and what positions have you held?

I have been working as a Digital Inclusion and Innovations Manager since October 2017.

I originally started working in the third sector in 2009, providing frontline support to adults with disabilities, which has greatly improved my insight and understanding of how promoting digital inclusion for supported people will massively promote independence, well-being and provide new opportunities.

What has been your proudest moment while in the sector?

There are so many moments – but the moment that stands out would be leading and developing SMART houses for adults with learning disabilities, seeing the real gains of independence and wellbeing for supported people and the life changing outcomes.

Alongside this the partnerships, people and organisations I’m working alongside and the way we are tackling it together, makes me immensely proud.

What do hope to achieve during your tenure?

My mission is to encourage and support as many individuals to become as independent as possible – utilising mainstream technology to achieve this.

I lead a ‘Tech For Good’ voluntary community in Cardiff bringing together people who are interested in technology for positive social impact. We have bi-monthly events covering a wide range of topics, where people and organisations come together, share good practice and demonstrate the use of technology for good. As a hobbyist, I’m interested in IoT and SMART technology and leveraging this to benefit others.

I believe that there are so many missed opportunities for people who could be better digitally included – it is my aim to embrace every opportunity [and make it happen] – so that no one is excluded or left behind.

In your view, what is the key to being a good Digital Leader?

In my opinion it’s about passion, determination, creativity and the desire to want make a real difference through inclusion. I am the kind of person that is less talk and more do, let’s spend less time talking about how we can make things better and let’s actually do it.

To be a Digital Leader you need to have the ability to view the world through the eyes of someone who is digitally excluded. Always remembering that the small changes, can have massive positive impacts and gains for individuals.

What do you think will be the biggest changes in digital health and/or inclusion in the coming years?

We are living in an increasingly digital world and a significant part of the population remains digitally excluded. We must continue to address this digital divide between those who have been able to embrace the digital world and those who have not.

With the plans to digitalise the NHS (digitalisation of GP records, appointment booking system and more), along with public service systems, we need to be mindful that this [digitisation of the NHS] will isolate many individuals who currently do not use technology or have access to the internet.

Many of us are now using the internet for banking, shopping, insurance and paying for utilities (water, gas, tax, rent). This will exponentially grow over the years as other everyday services move online. The way society communicates is also changing, as many of us rely on instant messaging applications. We need to be prepared for the next wave of digital, such as the upcoming plans for BT turning off ISDN lines by 2025 – meaning traditional landline telephone will become obsolete as we move over to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) communication.

We need to be more pre-emptive and forward-thinking. We need to educate, share and open access to more resources giving people the ability to be better digitally included.

In your view what are the key principals of effective digital health and/or inclusion?

In my opinion we are all responsible for supporting the key principles of digital inclusion:

  • Supporting the right and opportunities to enable everyone to learn digital skills
  • Using and allocating dedicated resources to close the digital divide
  • Introduction of Digital Inclusion principles within Education settings
  • Promoting best practice, examples and activities around digital inclusion
  • Sharing information and working on collaborative projects
  • Implementation and continual support
  • Preparation and planning for the next technological advancement.

In your experience, what are the biggest barriers to those in need getting access to digital health and/or inclusion provisions?

The biggest barriers have been:

  • Internet access
  • Funding or allocated resources for digital inclusion
  • Facilities and support for those digitally excluded in rural areas
  • Individuals having access to technology
  • Individuals’ perceptions and understanding of digital.

What should digital transformation of healthcare look like?

Inclusive and accessible. The individuals involved in the development of the digitalisation of the healthcare sector will need to consider the general population and those that are not currently digitally included. I am optimistic that there will be a phased and well planned introduction. Technology implemented in the correct way and responsibly can dramatically improve well-being and independence. The future does look promising.

One of my biggest concerns is the provision of internet access and availability for vulnerable groups. I believe moving towards a digitally connected world – we will leave many people isolated and digitally excluded.

I believe the internet needs to be deemed as a necessity and subsidised for vulnerable groups within our society, who are currently without access.