I was interviewed by the Limerick Leader at the start of December for a rather seasonal article which appeared in the newspaper last week and on their website yesterday. What a nice end of the year for Vizitant. Here follows an excerpt –
plight of lonely, elderly people is keenly felt in Limerick, but an
initiative from a local businessman is offering a new high-tech way of
staying in touch, writes Nick Rabbitts
is traditionally the season for family and togetherness, but there are
huge numbers of people in this country whose experience of loneliness
and vulnerability is brought sharply in to focus at this time.
one of the largest groups of people who experience such isolation at
Christmas is the elderly, something that caught the attention of one
Limerick businessman who has harnessed video technology and the social
networking phenomenon to create a unique product which, he hopes, will
alleviate the loneliness
Knockaderry businessman James Corbett
is in the process of setting up a not-for-profit firm, and its first project is designing an advanced communications system for isolated
The device – known as Vizitant – is a suitable next
step, following similar inventions which use voice communications
technology to aid the older generation.
Under the plans, James
is looking to hook up a video messaging facility targeted at older
people. For the first stage of his plans – which he has already
received a €5,000 grant from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland – James is
looking to set up Vizitant in old people's homes across Limerick,
having kicked off with a pilot project in Dromcollogher.
April, we heard Social Entrepreneurs were inviting applications for
social projects. I had the idea (to set up a video conferencing
facility) for the last number of years. I think the first time I
thought about it was when I was watching Nationwide a number of years
ago. They had a snippet about a project whereby a team of volunteers
used to proactively make phone calls to elderly people living in the
community. Another project was a call centre in Dublin which took calls
from the elderly, for example if they just wanted someone to talk to.
So I put these two ideas together and thought they could add the extra
element of video," he recalled.
James feels that, while oral
communication is great, older and more vulnerable people also
appreciate seeing a friendly face – and the body language that goes
hand-in-hand with that.
He said: "Voice communication is only a
small percentage of communication between people. Body language, facial
expressions, tone of voice are all the extras you do not get from the
voice alone make an awful lot of difference to communication."
James is currently working alongside the Respite Centre in Dromcollogher to introduce the concept to people there.
have teamed up with WTS Broadband, which has brought wireless broadband
to Dromcollogher, and provided this to the retirement village and
Respite Centre in Dromcollogher. We are setting them up with a touch
screen PC so it makes it much easier for them to take part in Skype
video calling," he explained.
Even just introducing a word like
Skype (an internet based telephony system) would throw a lot of people
– but especially old-age pensioners who are unfamiliar with computer
technology as a whole.
However, James says he thinks that because
the benefit is so clear to older people, this will enable them to get
over the 'digital divide' hurdle.
"Previous projects have shown
that, if people could see a major benefit in something, it's amazing
the barriers they can get past. I've even noticed this with my own
father. He always felt it was beyond him to use the television and the
microwave, but I noticed he learnt how to use teletext, because he was
really motivated to be able to look up the sports results. When you
have that motivation, there is no problem to learn. At the same time,
part of our project is remould and redesign the software to make it as
easy as possible for older people to use."
[See the Limerick Leader for the rest of the article]