Category Archives: Challenges

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Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities: Employment


The team attended a session online on Assistive Technology at the Global Science Collaboration Conference at the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA75) on Monday, 28th of September from 11am – 3pm (BST). The importance of AT is highlighted as a hugely transformative and enabling influence for people with disability in education and employment.

This session addressed specific issues and challenges related to employment for people with disabilities and the use of assistive technologies to promote diversity, inclusivity and workplace success.

Research has demonstrated that Assistive Technology (AT) are powerful tools to improve independence, employment and community participation among people with disabilities. AT, including both high-end and low-end devices, equipment and systems, apps and other products. While AT could be useful in improving the life of people with disabilities, the WHO identified that only 10% of the population in need of AT products had access to them. Although AT provision varies across countries, the intent to support people with disabilities should be a global priority with a focus to remove barriers and provide facilitators in independent living and employment.

Globally, the employment rates of people with disabilities is significantly lower than their peers without disabilities. In addition to the socio-economic implications, social exclusion impacts negatively on self-esteem, mental health and wellbeing. People with disabilities encounter many barriers as they try to obtain and sustain meaningful and gainful employment. Promoting employment and independence through the use of AT in collaboration among stakeholders will have significant impacts on the quality of life of people with disabilities. These will help address some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as Goal 1 (No Poverty); Goal 2 (Good Health and Well Being); Goal 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and Goal 17 (Partnerships).

In this session, speakers focused  on SDG1, SDG2, SDG10, and SDG17. Specifically, we will draw together interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral stakeholders from research, industry, other stakeholder groups to exchange current technological, research and policy developments especially in the context of employment. Stakeholders with a vast range of expertise and experience identified the challenges of translating research and products into practice as well as discussing strategies and sharing best practices to support design and development of AT tools for use in employment context.

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Lack of an interdisciplinary approach


There is limited published research in the area of designing interfaces for ID and there is a lack of suitable eLearning and mobile applications to evaluate with the actual users. There is a lack of an interdisciplinary approach to the problem area. Psychologists, designers and technologists need to come together in fruitful collaborations to address this important field. By bringing people together to accelerate progress in this area of research with focused intensive support from social entrepreneurship funds, change will happen faster to improve the quality of life and health of those with ID. It is envisaged that some of the proposed networks’ findings could be applied to areas like learning disabilities and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

It is envisaged that the proposed prototype output could be beneficial as an eLearning application, helping to reduce time and cost of paper training for this user group.


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More work needs to be done


(HCI) and User Experience (UX) draw on a multidisciplinary base of psychology, computing, design, art and increasingly social and organisational fields. As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous and pervasive, we now experience technology as a fundamental fabric of our social lives. As technology developments today accelerate, there is a need for interface designers to take into account users with intellectual disabilities to order to avoid their exclusion from the information society

Designing ICT tools for people with intellectual disabilities is challenging. Unfortunately, there are a considerably small number of research projects and publications referring to the use of instructional technologies by users with intellectual disability and their exclusion from the information society. More work needs to be done in this area. International conferences like the International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs (Miesenberger et al, 2014) show a growing interest in the topic. However, the number of researches with a focus on designing and developing suitable applications for people with intellectual disabilities remains low in comparison with other, mostly physical, disabilities. This is the main theme, or problem which this innovative project intends to address.


Findings from HCI research tell us that artefacts that successfully transform lives and societies are those are designed and iterated with constant reference to people, where the user gives testimony to his/her experience. HCI research often involves the intended users in research and usability studies. However, accessibility to this population can be difficult for researchers.  Sears and Hansa (2011) state that it is difficult to recruit users with disabilities.  The use of non-representative users can lead to inaccurate conclusions about mobile technologies effectiveness. Other issues in HCI research include small number of participants and lack of control groups. Setting up a collaborative network of researchers with a number of local service providers who can provide access to the target users could address some of these issues.

In order to improve quality of life and health for these users, a more targeted interdisciplinary research focus is needed to design and develop applications for this user group. Designing for those with ID can be challenging for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, some research does not include the intended user with an ID and also user testing does not occur. In addition, there is a lack of design principles when developing applications, as “one size does not fit all!”. ID accessibility can call Universal Design into questioning – as it is not possible to design a product for all especially in the broad area of ID (Kennedy, Evans & Thomas, 2010).   Kennedy et al (2010) p. 375 state that “people with intellectual disabilities represent a community frequently left out of discussions about web accessibility, for a number of reasons, not least the complexity of conditions that constitutes an intellectual disability, the lack of standardization in terms of assistive technologies used by these populations, and the fact that the expertise of the individuals driving the accessibility initiatives usually lies in the fields of sensory or physical disability”.

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Quality of life directly affects health


ID is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impairments in both intellectual and adaptive functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The three main areas affected include the conceptual, social and practical domain. In recent years, mobile technologies complete with eLearning applications have become a popular tool in aiding those with ID. These include devices such as the iPod touch, iPad, tablets and smartphones. Mobile technologies can increase quality of life and independence in those with ID (Rodríguez, Strnadová, & Cumming, 2015). Quality of life directly affects the health outcomes for this user group (McCarron, M. et al, 2014)