March 8, 2021

Creating a community with accessible technology

Miroma Project Factory empowers a new community app serving UK war veterans for military charity Blesma. Blesma Connects builds a digital community for disabled veterans with access to tailored content and support.

After a year of use, the Project Factory team spoke to three veterans to hear how the app has made a difference in their lives.

Over the past year, citizens across the globe have had to search for new ways to feel connected to family and friends. For former members of the Armed Forces, isolation is a common struggle, with one-in-four impacted by loneliness. As well as mental health challenges, such as depression and PTSD, ex-Armed Forces with disabilities face additional struggles in their physical and social health.

Blesma is a charity that focuses on providing life-long support to British military veterans who have lost sight, limbs or the use of limbs. With 3,000 members based in the UK and abroad, Blesma seeks to create a community for its members; connecting them to each other as well as crucial information. To help bring this community together and reduce isolation, the charity teamed up with Miroma Project Factory to launch Blesma Connects.

Making its debut in early 2020, this exclusive app for Blesma members allows users to keep up to date with relevant news and join activities with other Blesma members and their families. With a member-to-member chat function, Blesma members can access peers, no matter their geographic location, and strike up a conversation.

Crucially, the app allows members to hear about new routes to secure grants, medical support, and easily access welfare counselling that Blesma provides. Blesma Connects tailors its content to member’s personal needs and interests, and its functionality is compatible with each individual’s physical requirements. With customisable accessibility settings, users can adjust the app to best work with their assistive devices, such as adjustable font-sizes and dexterity controls for screen readers.

The decision to create the app came as a result of members expressing their wish for more frequent updates along with more opportunities to connect with each other. Nearly a year since the app was launched, the team at Miroma Project Factory jumped on a call with three Blesma members to hear how Blesma Connects has made a difference in their lives.

To Robert Jordan, the app has introduced him to new friends that he wouldn’t have made without it. During the pandemic, the 64-year-old retired construction worker has been sewing masks for his wife and her fellow nurses on the front line. The app has helped him keep in contact with those he served with, and now he and his wife often attend social events for members and their partners.

“One of the nice things about the Blesma Connects app is that you can use it even when you have limited hand function like me,” says 35-year-old Robert Bugden whose injuries came as a result of a mid-air collision while on the job with the Air Force. A thrill-seeker at heart, Bugden still loves jumping out of planes, but now includes his wheelchair in the jump. As a fundraiser for Blesma, the app supports his efforts in organising lunches and dinners for other members and their families.

Having lost the use of limbs and now suffering from chronic back pain, 46-year-old Matthew Seviour lives in constant fear that a movement as common as pulling up socks, will cause him extreme pain. Now, Blesma Connects is a true part of his support network; acting as a place where he can get help with practical chores such as grocery shopping and share his passions from yoga to scuba diving. As an avid football fan, Matthew uses the app to stay connected with other ex-military and share the highs and lows of his team’s fortunes.

For Matthew, and many other members, the app plays a central role in keeping him in touch with the latest news and development around treatments and options that are specifically relevant to him. With the support of Blesma, members have been able to secure grants to upgrade their houses to better suit their abilities, get the latest in prosthetic technology, and undertake training to help them with new careers. After a successful year, the app continues to support the charity’s efforts, opening up new opportunities for people to get involved and informed.

Blesma Connects is an exemplar of the power of thoughtful and inclusive design in building and supporting communities digitally. At a time when we all feel distant from our loved ones, the app is keeping its members active and connected, and most of all, allows them to support each other in a meaningful way. As Jordan says: ‘Family looks after one another no matter what. And the forces are like a family. The first thing you’re asked on the Blesma Connects app is: what is your service number?’