The purpose of this project was to explore how smartphones, tablets, and social media could increase the autonomy of people with developmental disabilities. Participants included people with many kinds of developmental disabilities: autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, and others. I approached this project from an advocacy perspective, seeking to collect information that would add to the world of knowledge and increase awareness of this aspect of life. This is pilot research with anecdotal information from participants; it hopefully lays the groundwork for others to develop more ideas and conduct additional research about this topic in the future.
The concept for this project came as the result of two situations. First, I have a developmental disability (cerebral palsy) and have spent most of my life using assistive technology and performing advocacy work on behalf of people with disabilities. The second was my mother, Kathie Snow – who has done public speaking on disability issues for over 20 years – sharing with me an email she had received from Darwin Vaught, a retired disability services manager.
I structured this effort to focus on seeking information for and about people with developmental disabilities. I’ve done that because many people with developmental disabilities have grown up in segregated environments while at home, or in their education, or the way they live in the community. People with developmental disabilities who experience environments segregated from people without disabilities do not enjoy or participate in the same range of life experiences as people without disabilities. Also, nearly nine out of 10 people with developmental disabilities have caregivers (such as home health professionals, parents, or institutional staff) who have significant levels of responsibility for and authority over the person with the disability. Because of circumstances like these, people with developmental disabilities probably have never experienced the same level of autonomy as people without disabilities.
In addition, I elected to not include people with acquired disabilities in this project. That is not meant in any way to present an impression that acquired disabilities have less of an impact on people’s lives than developmental disabilities. I’ve made this distinction because, in most cases, people who have acquired disabilities typically have experienced “normal” levels of autonomy before acquiring their disability. If they are using smartphones, tablets, and social media in relation to their autonomy, it is likely they are using these technologies to re-acquire some capabilities they had before.
As this is an advocacy-based project, I thought it appropriate to include anyone with any developmental disability rather than narrowing it to persons with a specific developmental disability . Because little is known from the literature about how people with developmental disabilities (whether they be developmental disabilities in general, or people with any specific type of disability) use these technologies, I felt my approach would yield the greatest range of information about actual practices, which has been my goal from the beginning.
Copyright 2014 Benjamin Snow; All Rights Reserved Title photo courtesy teachthought.com