The Headway Online Learning Programme provides opportunities for learning for people affected by an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), including stroke or head injury. ABI is a disability resulting from physical and psychological impairments which are unique to the individual but result in invisible challenges, including barriers to accessing learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put into sharp focus the difficulties Headways’ clients experience in accessing the help they need to continue their rehabilitation. Their clients experience barriers accessing the technology that many people take for granted, and so they reached out to the Rethink Ireland Innovate Together Fund so they could continue to deliver their services.
The Innovate Together fund was established last year by the Department of Rural and Community Development (via the Dormant Accounts Fund) and committed €5m to the fund as part of a €40m support package to the community and voluntary sector. Rethink Ireland received additional donations from corporate partners including Z Zurich Foundation, which committed €500,000 to the fund.
With this funding, Headway can provide a blended approach of staff support and the use of remote learning and live online groups to allow clients to continue with their rehabilitation and provide respite to survivors and their families. The programme offers structured activity, learning and social contact through an online platform.
The main beneficiaries of the programme are adult survivors of stroke or head injury currently accessing Headway’s community rehabilitation services. For some, the Headway service is the only social contact they might get during the week. For family members who are in carer roles, they miss the respite that they get when their loved one is using the Headway service.
Many survivors of an acquired brain injury have difficulties accessing and using technology. Problems with attention, memory, processing information and regulating mood are very common following a brain injury, as are physical consequences, such as fatigue or weakness. For this reason, rehabilitation for brain injury has for a long time remained a low-tech operation, dependent on individual staff expertise from a range of skills in a multidisciplinary team. The biggest challenge Headway faces is encouraging the adoption of technology by survivors to aid their own learning and their aim is to provide both access to the technology and sufficient support for clients to be able to use it.
Operating in a pandemic
The Headway rehabilitation team are expert in helping people identify their strengths and helping them overcome barriers to achieving rehabilitation goals. But a lockdown scenario brings extra challenges. When staff are not able to work face-to-face directly with survivors, communication difficulties mount. Added to this the problems of the availability of and familiarity with technology, COVID-19 has presented many challenges. But Headway has been quick to introduce new ways of working.
The funding they have received from Rethink Ireland affords them the opportunity to expand and grow a concept that they experimented with during the first lockdown, which proved successful, despite being limited in scope.
The funding will enable the development of online teaching and learning materials and provide a hardware loan scheme for those who currently have no access to technology. The funds are also being spent on development software licenses and hardware such as tablets and laptops for the loan scheme. In this way it is hoped that Headway can continue to support and engage with those with acquired brain injuries.