The transition to adulthood often leads to a loss of services and supports for individuals with disabilities (Friedman, Warfield, & Parish, 2013). This can result in behavioral and other difficulties, including a lack of independence in work (Billstedt, Gillberg, & Gillberg, 2005). In fact, rates of employment for individuals with disabilities are far lower than for those without disabilities, possibly due to a lack of available supports for adults. According to the Department of Labor, only 27% of adults with disabilities were employed in 2010, compared with 70% of adults without disabilities (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010).
Fortunately, some of the needs of adults with disabilities can be met efficiently and effectively, and comparatively inexpensively, thanks to the proliferation of new technology that we have seen in recent years. Various technological innovations have been shown in the literature to increase the personal independence and job skills of adults with disabilities, without increasing costs or need for support staff.
Technology puts control over behavior into the individual’s hands, rather than relying on other people.
Using Apps for Individualized Support
Technology puts control over behavior into the individual’s hands, rather than relying on other people. Gentry, Lau, Molinelli, Fallen, and Kriner (2012) demonstrated that three individuals with a variety of disabilities became more independent and successful in various work tasks through the use of a personal digital assistant (PDA). In this study, occupational therapists worked with job coaches to teach the three adults to use a variety of apps for task reminders, task lists, video prompts, and other tools, within their individual work settings. The participants’ support needs varied, as did their work tasks, which included custodial, clerical, and housekeeping work. The technology-based intervention reduced reliance on support staff by targeting individual areas of need for each person. Technology not only provided effective self-management tools, but did so on an individualized basis.
The technology-based intervention reduced reliance on support staff by targeting individual areas of need for each person.
Mechling, Gast, and Seid (2009) also used a PDA to allow three high school students with ASD to self-prompt during cooking tasks. Students were taught to use the PDA to obtain picture, auditory, and video prompts as needed. Each individual chose the prompt that he needed at any given time, and it was found that not only did the participants engage in the tasks more independently, but they independently faded their use of the prompting strategies over time.
Increasing Independence with Video Modeling and Performance Cues
Both studies by Gentry et al. (2012) and Mechling et al. (2009) incorporated video modeling into the apps available on PDAs used by participants to self-manage. Video modeling is an important procedure that can be used both directly and indirectly to increase independence in job settings for adults with disabilities. While video modeling is not necessarily a new strategy, and has been used effectively with people with disabilities for many years (e.g., Bellini & Akullian, 2007), recent technology has made the use of video modeling much more accessible. Not only are videos made, edited, and shown more easily now that digital technology has replaced more cumbersome videotapes, but videos can now be shown on very small devices that are easily controlled either by the individual or remotely by someone else. Allen, Wallace, Greene, Bowen, and Burke (2010) used video modeling to train three young men with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to work as mascots wearing large, inflatable “WalkAround Costumes.” The video models showed both perspectives, from within and outside of the costume. Use of this procedure resulted in improvements in all targeted responses, without additional prompting or reinforcement.
… recent technology has made the use of video modeling much more accessible.
In another study looking at increasing participants’ independence working as mascots in WalkAround costumes, Burke, Anderson, Bowen, Howard, and Allen (2010) used an iPod to deliver performance cues. Due to the large size of the costume, they were able to mount the iPod inside at eye level, and then deliver text prompts from a distance. This strategy enabled participants to receive support that was unobtrusive and easily faded, and for support staff to potentially provide prompting to more than one individual at a time.
Not only is technology effective, but it is rapidly becoming easier than ever to use, and more affordable every day.
These are only a few examples of ways in which technology has been used to improve vocational outcomes for people with disabilities. A growing body of research supports the use of technology for teaching new skills and increasing independence in demonstrating those skills. Not only is technology effective, but it is rapidly becoming easier than ever to use, and more affordable every day. With continued innovation, there are likely to be even more applications of technology to supporting the independence of individuals with disabilities.
Allen, K. D., Wallace, D. P., Greene, D. J., Bowen, S. L., & Burke, R. V. (2010). Community-based vocational instruction using videotaped modeling for young adults with autism spectrum disorders performing in air-inflated mascots. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 25, 186-192.
Bellini, S. & Akullian, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of video modeling and video self-modeling interventions for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional Children, 73, 264-287.
Billstedt, E., Gillberg, C., & Gillberg, C. (2005). Autism after adolescence: Population-based 13- to 22-year follow-up study of 120 individuals with autism diagnosed in childhood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 351-360.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics – 2010. www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf
Burke, R. V., Andersen, M. N., Bowen, S. L., Howard, M. R., & Allen, K. D. (2010). Evaluation of two instruction methods to increase employment options for young adults with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 31, 1223-1233.
Friedman, N. D. B., Warfield, M. E., & Parish, S. L. (2013). Transition to adulthood for individuals with autism spectrum disorder: Current issues and future perspectives. Neuropsychiatry, 3, 181-192.
Gentry, T., Lau, S., Molinelli, A., Fallen, A., & Kriner, R. (2012). The Apple iPod Touch as a vocational support aid for adults with autism: Three case studies. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 37, 75-85
Mechling, L. C., Gast, D. L., & Seid, N. H. (2009). Using a personal digital assistant to increase independent task completion by students with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1420-1434.
Dana Reinecke is an Assistant Professor and Department Chair at the Center for Applied Behavior Analysis at The Sage Colleges. She is a BCBA-D and a New York State licensed behavior analyst, and provides consultation in ABA for individuals with disabilities of all ages. Dana enjoys learning about and using new technology as applied to helping people with disabilities and improving online education for all students.