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Supporting people with a learning disability to use technology and stay connected

16 May 2022

5 min read

Jane Seal


Digital

Learning disabilities and autism

Wellbeing

Connecting with others is important for wellbeing. Jane Seale of the Open University conducted research examining how people with a learning disability were being supported to use technologies to keep connected during the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic it was widely accepted that many people with a learning disability were experiencing digital exclusion.

Many factors contribute to this digital exclusion, but one of the most significant is a lack of support with using technology. This is why at the start of the pandemic, I was concerned that people with a learning disability wouldn’t get the support they needed to use technologies to keep connected with friends and family and access the online information and services they would need to stay well.

Because of this I conducted a piece of research in which I examined whether and how people with a learning disability were being supported to use technologies to keep connected and stay well during the pandemic.

 

Keeping connected and staying well

In this project there were two data collection methods - an online survey and semi-structured interviews.

The online survey was designed with seven questions for people who provide support to people with a learning disability asking: what technologies they were using to support people with a learning disability during the lockdown; the reasons for using the technology; perceptions regarding how successful the experience of using technology has been; the factors that have helped their use of technology, and the factors that have made using technology difficult.

The largest groups of respondents were employees or volunteers of self-advocacy organisations, learning disability charities, or similar; health professionals, and parents or family members of people with a learning disability.

The semi-structured interview questions mirrored those asked in the online survey, and also explored technology use with people with a learning disability before and during lockdown as well as visions and advice for technology use post-lockdown.

Eleven self-advocacy organisations (which were comprised of people with a learning disability) and 27 individuals and organisations who support people with a learning disability agreed to be interviewed.

The results were published in a report called 'Keeping connected and staying well'.

 

  • One of the most significant barriers to enabling people with a learning disability to use and benefit from technologies during lockdown was a lack of in-home support.
  • Where remote support was provided by day services, self-advocacy groups, and others it could be characterised as speedy, evolving, creative and fearless. Despite the unusual and stressful circumstances, those offering support were willing to try things out and were unafraid of failure. If something didn’t work as anticipated, they learnt from that failure, and moved on. Their support practice therefore evolved over time. It might not have been ‘perfect’, but it was always available.
  • Being supported to use technology during lockdown had a positive impact on the mental health, wellbeing, sense of belonging, and connectedness of people with a learning disability.

 

From these results I concluded that out of all the trauma of deaths and stress of lockdowns something seemingly wonderful happened.

Many people with a learning disability were now being supported to access and use technologies to stay in touch with friends and families and to access vital health and wellbeing information and services. This support had been virtually non-existent prior to the pandemic.

Furthermore, this opened many people’s eyes to the potential of technologies, to the potential of what people with a learning disability could achieve when supported to use technologies, and to the potential for developing new support practices. The COVID-19 pandemic therefore triggered practices that had previously not been imagined necessary or possible.

 

Toolkits

Being able to identify examples of digitally inclusive support practices motivated me to share these examples with the wider community to develop a wider understanding of what good support looks like.

I began working with the Creating Connections Project which is a partnership between SeeAbility, Learning Disability England (LDE), and their members.

A workshop was held with Creating Connections members - which included people with lived experience, parents, siblings, and others in support roles - to discuss their views about what good support to use technology looks like.

These discussions inspired the development of a framework for understanding what is needed to provide good support for people with a learning disability to access and use technologies. It involves:

 

  • a set of core beliefs
  • knowledge of the person being supported
  • understanding of the pros and cons of the kinds of technologies people with a learning disability might benefit from
  • an ability to problem-solve and learn from experience.

 

Using this framework I created a suite of toolkits - one for people with learning disabilities, one for support workers, and one for managers and funders of support services.

Each toolkit:

 

  • provides advice and guidance on activities to try out
  • offers a range of case studies and examples of good support in practice
  • offers links to a wide range of learning disability specific online resources.

 

Early drafts of the toolkits were shared with members with lived experience in an online meeting. Members provided feedback on the perceived usefulness of the toolkits and also gave ideas as to how the accessibility of the toolkits could be improved. The toolkits were also trialed within two member organisations, Seeability and KeyRing, and support staff gave feedback on the usefulness and relevance of the content.

Final versions of the toolkits are free to use and can be downloaded from the Open University and SeeAbility websites.

 

Find out more about the toolkits in our webinar with Jane.

 

Discover more information about wellbeing and the importance of connecting with others on our #HappyHealthyWorkplace spotlight.

 

 

 


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