Professor Iva Strnadová and Professor Terry Cumming, from the School of Education, Arts & Social Sciences identified a significant gap in research methods to improve three key social domains – family, friends and work/volunteering – for people with intellectual disability.  “In several studies conducted with people with intellectual disability over their life span, it became clear that social inclusion is still rather a dream than reality for many people with this disability,” Professor Iva Strnadová said.

Professor Strnadová and Professor Cumming had previously conducted multiple research studies on mobile technology and how it can support people with intellectual disability in different domains of their lives. Findings from their previous research became the catalyst for a new project: to uncover the full extent of how mobile technology can enhance social inclusion for people with intellectual disability. The project, funded by the Disability Innovation Institute (DIIU) at UNSW, focused on understanding how to utilise technology to experience valued social roles, be acknowledged as an individual and build a strong community.

Strategies are often developed for the disability community, without equal collaboration and consultation with them. Instead of a ‘top down’ approach, researchers employed an inclusive research design. An interdisciplinary team of academic researchers (special education, disability studies & educational psychology) and a co-researcher with intellectual disability collaborated to build a database of information. “We also had an advisory committee of 4 people with intellectual disability. The committee provided feedback in regards to the survey, as well as the interview protocol, and the best strategies for recruitment,” Professor Strnadová said.

The team developed an accessible survey, which was completed by 114 people with intellectual disability in Australia. They also conducted interviews with 12 people and held 2 focus groups with 19 people – all of whom had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability. The preliminary findings from the survey part of the study showed that mobile technology increases social inclusion of people with intellectual disability. “This is of critical knowledge, which NDIS planners should take into account,” Professor Strnadová said. The findings also showed how important post-school education is for people with intellectual disability and their social inclusion.

Research was catered to the accessibility requirements of participants, which proved successful in sourcing detailed answers. One of the investigators, Scientia Professor Andrew Martin said: “The study confirms that well-designed surveys (designed in consultation with participants) are a valid means of data collection (and yield valid data) among adults with intellectual disability, providing a much needed (and often too absent) voice for these participants in the quantitative scholarly space”.

Professor Strnadová said leading an inclusive research project was rewarding and highlighted the importance of including people with lived experience of a subject matter, in the academic team. Without the perspectives of people with intellectual disability, many valid points and nuances would have been overlooked or misunderstood by the team. “Although it is labour-intensive to recruit enough people with intellectual disability to complete surveys for sufficient power for statistical analyses, the effort is well worth it, as the insights gained are unique and important,” Professor Strnadová said.

Findings from the project will be used to prepare academic articles, as well as Easy Read summaries for increased accessibility. The team are also planning to apply for external funding, in the hopes to develop practical solutions to address the social needs of people with intellectual disability.

Learn more about The Disability Innovation Institute’s projects.