There is a significant amount of academic literature involving people with developmental disabilities and how they use technology in educational settings. But by restricting the literature review to the keywords of smartphones, tablets, social media, and autonomy, my search through EBSCO Host (Academic Search Complete), Web of Knowledge (Web of Science), Google Scholar, and the JSTOR database s revealed that only 17 academic references have been published since 2008, the first full-year of use of the Apple iPhone. Again, those references were primarily concerned with the use of technologies in general and/or in educational settings; adding “developmental disabilities” to the keywords resulted in zero search results.
With the lack of literature available that focused on autonomy and people with developmental disabilities, I wanted to collect some initial information about what people with developmental disabilities were actually doing with regard to these technologies.
From an academic perspective, this website is considered exploratory, pilot research and a demonstration project. This is because of two factors:
- my approach had a clear bias to it (because I am an advocate for people with disabilities and lifelong user of assistive technology) rather than being neutral; and
- my original interview questions were open-ended and asked for broad personal stories rather than short, identical questions resulting in quantifiable answers.
All respondents to my survey granted permission to publish their remarks and experiences in this report and on the website. People under the age of 18 and those who were unable to communicate their wishes directly had the permission of a parent to participate.
Metaphorically, creating the website was the equivalent of painting a public mural on the side of a building, and anyone who passed by could stop and help join me in creating the mural (website) to increase our knowledge about how people with developmental disabilities use these technologies.
Because relationships are fundamental to the human experience, it is exciting to consider the possibility that technologies can have a positive impact on inclusion and, in turn, the creation of new relationships. Also, since people engage in social media through smart technologies, it seemed logical to include social media with smartphones and tablets as potential sources for autonomy-enhancing technologies.
From a user’s perspective, smartphones and tablets might be classified differently than social media. Smartphones and tablets are things, while social media is an online place. Social media can be transformative to people’s lives by generating greater inclusion and enhancing the development of friendships. For purposes of simplicity in this website, smartphones, tablets, and social media are studied as one group, collectively referred to as technologies.