By | November 7, 2016

Between 7 and 8 million people in the U.S. live with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD). Including family members and friends of people with IDDs, these disabilities directly impact the lives of 30 million total people, reports the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD).

With so many people needing information and access to resources to help individuals with IDDs, it is easy to assume resources are stretched thin. However, new research suggests a common aspect of daily life, mobile technology (mobile tech), could help with unmet needs of people in this group. Specifically, mobile tech is being leveraged as a one-stop solution for the needs of people with disabilities, their family members and even their direct care providers or therapists, and you need to know why.


Mobile Tech Teaches People with Intellectual Disabilities

In a recent study at Concordia University, researchers delved into how video technologies could help empower those with IDDs. In the general population, making short videos via smartphones and mobile devices is used to give the “producer ” a sense of self and purpose. Yet, they often do not collaborate or participate in videos. Initially, researchers believed that this simply reflected a desire to avoid being on video. But, the results showed otherwise.

When individuals with IDDs were directed to use mobile technology to create storylines or short videos describing their experiences and sense of self, the end results were highly similar to people without IDDs. In other words, the videos created by those with IDDs revealed their ability to lead healthy, satisfying lives, including living, working and playing at their own discretion.

Additionally, participants in the study were given the opportunity to choose what the video could be about. Rather than creating videos based solely on what a person can do, the videos went a step further by demonstrating their skills, abilities and hopes for future growth. Ultimately, they are willing to take on a leadership role in creating their “own educational resources,” explained Ann-Louise Davidson, an associate professor named in the study.

The opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities using mobile are also applicable to many different skillsets, which include the following:

  • Social Skills – Mobile tech can connect people with IDDs to peers with similar conditions, allowing for the development of social skills, especially communication.
  • Academic Skills – Academic skills can be taught through mobile-learning platforms with specific considerations for those with IDDs in mind. In other words, screen-reading technologies could help teach these people how to read, and larger mobile devices, such as tablets, could be used to improve writing skills.
  • Behavioral Therapies – Mobile tech also possesses great opportunities for expanding behavioral therapies. For example, applied behavior analysis or cognitive behavioral therapy could be used in apps to encourage self-assertion, leadership qualities and appropriate behaviors.

Why Do Children with IDDs Gravitate to App-Based Learning Programs?

App-based learning programs are game-changers in the struggle to teach people with IDDs. According to the Journal of Educational Technology and Society, mobile technologies promote student engagement, foster critical thinking or student creativity and improve communication skills. These essential components are found within the Concordia study as well. But, the style of mobile tech programs or apps can also influence their effectivity.

For example, game-type apps can teach skills by encouraging users or students to complete mathematical puzzles, answer questions and uncover new information in a reward-based setting. Similarly, apps on mobile tech are not like the computer labs or classrooms of the past. They are omnipresent, available on the devices of parents, friends, family members and caregivers of individuals with IDDs.

In fact, a person who has an IDD and a smartphone can take the life-changing benefits of these apps with them practically anywhere, at any time, further driving the development and maintenance of a sense of self.


Caregivers Interact with Apps to Target the Needs of Those with IDDs

How caregivers interact with apps remains a fundamental benefit of mobile tech helping individuals with intellectual disabilities too. In a study of the last 20 years’ worth mobile tech developments for those with intellectual disabilities, asserts the U.S. National Library Study of Medicine, researchers found a continued unmet need for communication support services.

As a result, the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of People With Severe Disabilities (NJC) has recommended the use of more mobile technologies in assisting these communication efforts. Although the NJC made this recommendation broadly for all people with disabilities, the primary focus is on people with severe intellectual disabilities, especially autism and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). But, these mobile technologies are recommended for use by caregivers too.

Caregivers and therapists are encouraged to begin using mobile tech to conduct assessments and interventions that incorporate personalized characteristics and environmental influences. Meanwhile, dynamic assessment procedures need to be used when working with each unique person served, and all technologies should focus on inclusion, not isolation.


What Does It Mean to You?

Paper-based books or guides and isolated care environments will become obsolescent as the IDD-world moves toward these ideals. Consequently, therapists and caregivers will a change in the standard documentation practices, requiring more use of mobile tech to provide real-time data. This is already a widespread practice in all forms of modern health care too.

The topic expands when considering how mobile tech evolve to include the most up-to-date training strategies and continuing educational units and resources for ensuring therapists and caregivers understand how to provide the best care possible.

People with IDDs are not just a segmented group of the population. They are people who deserve the chance to benefit from and use mobile technology just as much as you do.

Turn away from your books and existing resources, and look at how mobile tech is empowering those living with IDDs. Think about how it will empower caregivers, therapists and other staff members too. Mobile tech is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, tool ever developed to help individuals with IDDs and those closest to them, including caregivers.

The learning opportunities are becoming more prevalent by the day, but if you avoid the use of mobile tech in helping individuals with IDDs, your organization is not upholding its mission to serve them to the best of your ability.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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