New technology has brought an explosion of information and services to our fingertips. The click of a mouse button and we can book holidays, GP appointments, pay bills, order shopping, check bank accounts and contact friends and family. But what if you are blind or partially sighted? How do you take part in the online world if you struggle to see a screen?
Don't worry - help is at hand. Over 1,800 people with sight loss in Scotland have already been helped by a Lottery-funded project led by the charity RNIB Scotland. Online Today (www.rnib.org.uk/online-today) is holding drop-ins and group sessions across the country to make sure that no one with a sight problem need be left behind in today's digital revolution.
"Many of today's latest smartphones and tablets now come with in-built accessibility features that can make it far easier for someone with a visual impairment to use," says Sheila Sneddon, who manages the Online Today team in Scotland.
"The speech, magnification, colour, contrast and other features that come built in to most tablets and smartphones mean that you can use them to get online regardless of your level of sight-loss. Many of the people we introduce these basic features to never even knew they were there. They'd simply assumed they wouldn't be able to use new technology.
"But that would mean they were excluding themselves from a vast range of everyday activities - because so many of the things we do nowadays are done online. Sometimes exclusively online."
The Online Today team talks blind and partially sighted people through the basics of how smartphones and tablets can be configured to maximise their accessibility.
"Our sessions are very informal, not aimed at people who already have an interest in new technology," says Sheila. "Many, though not all, people with sight loss are older, so perhaps less likely to be as familiar as younger people with going online. So we demonstrate the relevant features in easy to understand, non-jargon language. And the feedback we have received from clients is very positive."
Janet Prydie (57) from Dundonald in South Ayrshire, who has blurred, fragmented vision attended an Online Today session in Glasgow and was delighted with the results. She had struggled to use her iPad but is now much more confident and has since bought an iPhone 6 Plus, as well.
"I am relaunched on a wave of enthusiasm," Janet said, "determined to use my iPad a whole lot more and to meet the challenge of 'taming' the iPhone! Without the Online Today team my iPad would still be snoozing in a drawer, and they also gave me the push I required to get onboard the smartphone train!"
Lorna Serpina (28) from Armadale in West Lothian has sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy. "I only lost my sight two years ago so I wasn't very up on what was available for the visually impaired," she said. "Now I can really only see shadows.
"I'd used the i-phone and i-pad before but had no idea of the accessibility features that were available, like enlarging the keyboards and the 'Rotor' voice-over feature that allows you to more easily navigate through the phone. The Online Today session helped me realise I could do so much more with the phone. It's really boosted my confidence."
The Online Today team are happy to give demonstrations to all kinds of groups. They can offer a drop-in event where people with sight loss can come along and try out the different smartphones and tablets for themselves and they also do a three hour hands-on session that goes through the basics of setting up and using a tablet.
For further information, please contact IAN BROWN at RNIB Scotland on 0131 652 3164 or 07918 053 952.