Internet use among adolescents and young adults with intellectual disabilities and participation in internet activities

En hand på ett tangentbord / A hand on a keyboard

The research project explores internet use and participation at school, work and at home among young people with intellectual disabilities.

This will require the application of various methods, including observation, interviews with alternative communication support, and adapted questionnaires. The research adopts the individual’s own perspective as well as the perspectives of family members on the individuals’ internet use and participation.

For the purposes of this project, internet use is defined as using different means such as computers, tablets and smartphones to connect to the web in order to carry out everyday activities, eg search for information, shop, be entertained, socialise, and for democratic/political purposes (Findahl, 2014). Participation is defined as involvement in a life situation (WHO, 2001).

Accessibility, participation and health

Sweden’s Public Health Agency specifies “participation and influence” as among the most important preconditions for perceived health. Today, participating and having influence are based very much on using the internet, both at work/school and at home. Internet use is also an important element of democracy, and one of the guidance goals set by the Swedish government for increasing accessibility is a sustainable information society for all. However, everyday life for some individuals with disabilities has reportedly become more difficult as a result of IT development, e g because web pages have not been made accessible (Swedish Agency for Participation, 2014). Access to the internet for individuals with intellectual disabilities has not been made possible (Kenndey, 2011), and internet use can thus be seen as yet another aspect of everyday activities that intellectually disabled people are excluded from (Chadwick, Wesson and Fullwood, 2013).

Overall goals

The overall goals of the project are to increase our knowledge of how the internet is used by young intellectually disabled people, and to explore opportunities and obstacles in internet activities at the individual level, in order to be a part of society and be able to benefit from the resources that society offers. From the perspective of occupational therapy, there is a connection between health and involvement in activities. Using data generated by the young people themselves as well as by people in their immediate surroundings, results regarding activity can be obtained that are applicable in practice, and adaptations of internet activities for young people and young adults with intellectual disabilities can be implemented in order to enable participation and influence. 

Research results

The results show that there is a digital lag for young people with intellectual disabilities compared to young people in general. This applies to both access to digital devices, network connection and the internet activities that young people with intellectual disabilities do. This is due to a lack of digital competence skills, but above all that the digital environment is not accessible. However, parents of young people with intellectual disabilities perceive more opportunities with internet use for their young people compared to what parents of young people without intellectual disabilities do. They are also less concerned about online risks for their young people.

An easy-to-read summary with image support is included in the dissertation.

Grants and funding

Linköping University