Partner Profile: SLATE Leeds

SLATE Leeds provides essential work and training opportunities for adults with learning disabilities in Leeds. The organisation supports people with learning disabilities to gain essential skills which help them to move closer to employment, increase their confidence, improve their mental wellbeing, and reducing social isolation. 

SLATE works with 45 individuals with learning disabilities across Leeds, with furniture shops in Armley and Hunslet, and the Feel Good Café based in East Leeds.

SLATE recognises that providing greater digital access and support amongst members means that people with learning disabilities can become more independent, manage their finances, move closer to gaining employment, and participate more widely in the world. 100% Digital Leeds has supported SLATE to develop digital participation and inclusion within their day-to-day work in ways that meet their objectives and benefit their members.

Overcoming barriers to digital inclusion

Many people with learning disabilities face numerous barriers to gaining work experience and paid employment. Only 5.1% of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work. These barriers vary widely but can range from struggling to understand inaccessible written information and instructions, to a lack of knowledge and expertise from employers, and a lack of appropriate support to gain or maintain employment.

SLATE aims to break down these barriers by offering holistic and person-centred support to their members. Their team of dedicated staff and volunteers work alongside people with learning disabilities to help them gain experience which matches their talents and interests, whether this is working in a people-facing role or working behind the scenes.

SLATE has developed a brilliant record of embedding digital activities in the work that they do with members. This gives members opportunities to learn digital skills which enable them to complete tasks independently, feel confident in the workplace, and stay in contact with family and friends. 

“Digital activities are such a big part of day-to-day life now: you need them to manage money, apply for a job, and travel independently. We help people with learning disabilities to gain digital skills so that they can be confident members of our society.”

Ann Wilson, Manager, SLATE Leeds

Digital tasks that SLATE members complete daily include checking prices of items online, doing basic calculations, and learning to use the touchscreen tills properly. By personalising digital activities to make them relevant to members and breaking the activities down into simple steps, staff and volunteers empower more reluctant members to engage with the digital world.

Supporting essential digital skills and confidence

The cost of living crisis has made life more challenging for everyone, but a Scope Disability Price Tag 2023 report explains how this has had a disproportionate impact upon disabled people and those with a learning disability. This group of people face additional challenges such as lower levels of employment and additional costs for essential specialist equipment. SLATE recognises these challenges and in 2023, they took part in the Multiply programme which focused upon improving their members’ digital skills while also helping them to improve their numeracy skills and to increase their financial resilience. As part of the programme members used digital devices to shop around for the best prices for everyday items, practiced budgeting skills, and searched the internet for useful money saving tips.

“I used to be a bit nervous to do digital activities but doing them with staff who know me well made me feel a lot more comfortable. I’ve learnt skills to use at work, but I feel happier going online at home now too.”

Member, SLATE Leeds

Supporting access to equipment and connectivity

Due to financial challenges, affording equipment and data can be a challenge for people with learning disabilities. Through the Multiply scheme, 25 SLATE members have received a device with 24 months’ worth of data on it which enables them to access the internet and stay in contact with their support networks, without concerns about mobile contracts or additional charges.

Volunteers and staff at SLATE have set up accessibility features on some of these devices so that they can be voice controlled by their owners. People with literacy issues are often unable to type questions into search engines and others may struggle to switch devices on by remembering the correct sequence of buttons and clicks. The right accessibility features means the digital world is made much more user-friendly for people with learning disabilities.

SLATE has also signed up to the National Databank, which allows them to give out a SIM card with six months’ worth of data on it to people who are living in data poverty. 

Expanding digital inclusion support

SLATE is continuing to work closely with 100% Digital Leeds to make their members more confident and bring digital skills to a wider audience. They have recently secured funding from Cognizant, a prestigious multinational IT services and consulting company, which has partnered with 100% Digital Leeds and Leeds Community Foundation to offer support and funding to five community organisations tackling digital inclusion in Leeds. 

SLATE will be using this opportunity to give their members additional training and person-centred support to use digital equipment in their shops. They also plan on creating at least one paid mentoring post for a person with a learning disability to digitally upskill their peers.