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 -
CHRISTMAS 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.
Unfortunately, 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 senior citizens.
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.
"Last 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."
"I 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]