How technology supports disabled teenagers

Technology supports independence for disabled teenagers

Lumin team Technology

While the path to independence can be extremely stressful for any parent, it is doubly so for the parents of a child with a disability. While they may celebrate the fact that their charge is taking his or her first steps towards freedom and autonomy, they are at the same time filled with fear about the ?what ifs?.

Possibly their greatest trepidation lies in whether their child will be able to thrive in what can be a hostile world, or whether it would simply be too overwhelming ? causing them to rush back to the safety of home and familiar support structures.

According to a 2013 University of Melbourne Youth Research Centre study, one of the times of greatest change to family dynamics is during the transition for young people with a disability from school to post-school options. This is often the time that many teenagers ? with and without disabilities ? take the plunge and move out of home into independent or communal living.

And while independence for a disabled teenager may be encouraged, it is, in reality, a major family event, involving significant change for everyone involved. This includes the young person, their parents, and siblings. The family unit quickly realizes that, contrary to the experience of young people without a disability, demands on the family are likely to increase rather than decrease during this life-stage, as the support once provided by a school diminishes.

This same study highlights the finding that young people, both with and without a disability, stress the importance of peer relationships. In this quest for peer connection, young people with disabilities require appropriate support to develop their independent living skills and maximize their opportunities for independence.

Technology can play an essential role in giving both the disabled young person and their family a way to manage this transition. It allows them to stay safely in contact while handing over increasing responsibility for independent living to the teenager.

Thomas Schindlmayr, in a 2007 briefing note to the United Nations, pointed to the value of technological innovation, particularly the internet and software adaptations, in helping young people make contact with their peers ? giving them a sense of belonging and breaking down barriers.

According to Australian disabled support organization, Yooralla, nearly 75 percent of people with disabilities use the Internet at home, compared with 88 percent of the general population. Although the figure for the disabled community is lower, it nevertheless shows that a significant proportion use technology for a wide variety of reasons, including staying in touch with family, support groups, and peers.

Yooralla says that accessing social networks is the leading Internet activity among people with a disability, demonstrating the importance of communication technology. It also provides them with a community connection, allowing them to participate in, contribute to and play a role in their community.

A 2008 study by a social worker and university lecturer Polly Yeung found that young people with cerebral palsy felt that involvement in the community was important because it helped demystify the many misconceptions about young people with disabilities. This both empowered the disabled teenagers and gave them the ability to exert control over their lives, helping them transition successfully to adulthood.

These examples illustrate strongly how technology can create opportunities for a young disabled person, while on the other hand ensuring he or she is safe, giving peace of mind to everyone involved in this critical transition.

Lumin helps families and individuals stay connected; promoting wellness, independence, and safety for people living with disabilities, cognitive impairment or chronic conditions. Lumin is a companion ? it keeps people in constant contact with an easy-to-use touchscreen, designed for those with little or no knowledge of technology. With Lumin, there is no more ?home alone?.