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New Technologies for People with Intellectual Disabilities: Increasing Opportunities for a Better Life

New technologies for people with intellectual disabilities by el Centro San Rafael de la Fundación San Francisco de Borja

1.San Francisco de Borja Foundation:  

The Foundation of the Valencian Community San Francisco de Borja for People with Intellectual Disabilities is a private charitable, social assistance foundation, which is constituted of non-profit motive and with indefinite character.


The purpose of the San Francisco de Borja Foundation is to care for people who are affected by an intellectual disability and who, either because of their social-family situation or their specific personal characteristics, require specialized attention.

The Foundation will provide people who find themselves in the situation described above, especially those who have extensive and/or generalized support needs, with the necessary support for the maximum possible development of their adaptive skills, seeking an improvement in their quality of life, through flexible care models that seek maximum normalization and social and family integration.

Mission Statement

The San Francisco de Borja Foundation maintains a permanent commitment to the defense of the dignity and full rights of persons with intellectual disabilities. Its mission is to generate opportunities and provide personalized support both in its services and programs and in the community, so that each person can develop their personal project and achieve a full and happy life.

San Rafael Center

The San Rafael Centre currently accommodates 60 people on a residential basis and 40 on a Day Care basis. It also has a housing service that caters for 14 people, 7 in the Vivienda Maldonado and 7 in the Vivienda Gómez-Trénor. To this group must be added the users of the family respite program, whose number ranges from 8 to 12 people.

2. New technologies for people with intellectual disabilities

The new technologies are now a tool present in the daily life of any citizen, helping to facilitate their work, learning and personal development, communications and social relations, leisure and entertainment, security, etc.. Although they are not risk-free, an adequate use of New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT) helps personal and social well-being.

A happy patient at Centro San Rafael after successfully doing an activity with NeuronUP

However, people with disabilities do not enjoy equal opportunities to access this technological world, wasting their potential to contribute to their personal development, to improve their communication or simply to increase possibilities of enjoyment and entertainment.

In the diagnosis that the San Francisco de Borja Foundation detected the need to incorporate the use of new technologies in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities to those supported from their various services.

Based on the model of quality of life and from the ecological conception of disability, which states that if the person has the appropriate support its functioning generally improves, the San Francisco de Borja Foundation wants to offer the opportunity to its users to access the NICTs as a means to contribute to improving their personal results, their functioning and their quality of life.

New technologies for people with intellectual disabilities: equal opportunities

For people with disabilities, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) enhances their capabilities and makes it possible to perform tasks and access services, favoring equal opportunities.

It seems logical to think that if new technologies can be used to communicate, remember our pending tasks or learn new languages, they can also be used as tools for cognitive stimulation or communication, as we will address in this project.

Two patients at the Foundation San Francisco working with their tablets

ICTs as tools for social inclusion

ICTs have shown great potential for learning and social inclusion of people with disabilities, especially if we take into account some of the psychological and learning characteristics of people with intellectual disabilities.

Since the good use of ICT helps to increase the capacity for storing and processing information, they improve semantic memory, related to the meaning of words and knowledge. They also focus attention, enable a better understanding of the abstract, improve the generalization and maintenance of learning, reinforce vision and hearing, as well as visual-motor coordination.

In addition, they correct major language disorders, encourage initiative to start activities and perseverance to perform less motivating tasks, encourage reflection, and optimize time organization. At the same time they promote the acquisition of learning such as visual memory, facilitating faster learning with the support of images.

They also improve the acquisition of knowledge through various sensory-multicanal channels, motivate learning through educational activities, play and immediate response, increase their attention and time spent in educational activities.  Similarly, repetitive practice is more rewarding through new technologies and after a gradual support, they acquire the necessary autonomy for learning.

The project of the San Francisco de Borja Foundation

The project we are carrying out in the San Francisco de Borja Foundation has favored the access of people with intellectual disabilities to the world of new technologies as a key tool for their personal development, to improve the communication of these people with their environment and to increase their opportunities to enjoy a better quality of life.

Development of alternative languages

Many of the people with disabilities attended in the center do not have spoken communication code and almost none of them can read and/or write, so the adapted digital tools are a very interesting field that can help both the development of alternative communication languages and their social inclusion through the use of social networks and other digital communication devices, as well as favoring access to the cultural world developed around digital technologies.

On the other hand, within the digital world we can find interesting proposals that contribute to the development of learning skills and to alleviate the cognitive deterioration suffered by some of these people to whom dementia is added to their intellectual disability.

This project has facilitated the use of new technologies among people with DI through the development of innovative technological solutions or the acquisition of the necessary adaptations so that computers, mobile phones or tablets, among others, can be used properly by our users.

3. How we came to NeuronUP

When analyzing the working method to follow, we found that the pedagogical proposals that could be put forward for our users were multiple and varied according to their level of development and their ages, the different manifestations of behavior, the learning achieved and the objectives that are set for each individual in search of achieving a greater potential of skills, knowledge and competencies.

A patient at Centro San Rafael working a paper worksheet from NeuronUP

We began the intervention process with an evaluation of the abilities, skills, needs and desires of the person, as well as the characteristics, supports, demands and restrictions of their environment, in order to define the components that the system will have, applications or programs that were going to be used so that they would be the most suitable for the subject. Support products had to be selected as well as access strategies.

Empowerment and teaching addressed both the individual and their environment, including all contexts in which they participated or wished to participate, as well as all significant people in these contexts, including professionals and, above all, family members, colleagues and friends. This teaching took place in educational and therapeutic settings but also in natural environments, surrounded by sensitive and competent interlocutors, and involved in interesting and enriching activities.

Choice of apps and programs

When we started using devices (tablets, computers, whiteboards, etc.) in the classroom, we had to make a previous selection of the apps and programs that we thought would help us achieve our goals. We verified that it is convenient that these apps are, in addition, motivating, with a simple navigation, useful to obtain our objective and adaptable to the different levels and necessities of the users.

The specific application or program had to be effective, reliable and satisfactory in relation to the purpose for which it had been created, achieving the rehabilitation objectives of the interested person.

For the sessions we used the tablets, the computers and the digital whiteboard with the different applications and programs that we considered contributed to the development of the users’ executive functions.

The NeuronUP platform was the one that best fitted the need detected and the profiles of the users we worked with as it fulfilled the prerequisites we had established.

4. Our experience with NeuronUP

A patient working with the NeuronUP activity “Hidden Letters”

We have been using the NeuronUP platform for about two years to work on cognitive stimulation with users. The program consists of an activity manager (online or on paper) and a results manager. Thanks to the platform we have made personalized sessions adapted to each user and their needs.

25 patients with large support needs are benefiting from this program to work in different cognitive areas. The sessions of each user are focused on the results obtained in the different scales of cognitive assessment and those exercises and applications are chosen oriented to the areas that have been scored lower.

A patient from Centro San Rafael working a NeuronUP paper worksheet

In the sessions we have used the NeuronUP platform as we have considered that they contribute to the development of the cognitive functions of users. This program helps us to work in different areas such as: memory, anticipation, decision making, planning, monitoring, impulse control, inhibition of inappropriate responses, organized search, flexibility of thought and action, etc.

Advantages of NeuronUP for patients

The use of this platform has provided a large number of benefits for users:

5. “10 Keys to Disability and Technology”

There are many advantages to the introduction of new technologies for people with intellectual disabilities, and many challenges to overcome. In our experience at the Centro San Rafael, we are gradually introducing technological support, both in the field of communication and the pedagogical area, as well as in leisure and relationships.

Whatever the profile of the person, here are some keys to our experience:

  1. Be patient: it is a great virtue in any personal accompaniment and the real academy tells us why it is necessary. From lat. patientia.1. Ability to suffer or endure something without being altered. 2. Ability to do heavy or meticulous things. 3.  Faculty of knowing how to wait when something is desired. 4.  Slowness to do something. Any of the 4 meanings is valid in our case.
  2. Value each step. Every detail counts: daring to try, turning on a device, learning to move the mouse or press a key, completing a task, etc. Each step is important and should be valued, so we will continue motivating the process.
  3. Let yourself be surprised. Learn from the smile generated by each gesture, the complicit gaze when something happens, the unexpected signs of joy. Stop trying to control everything and let yourself be surprised by what happens at the most unexpected moment, will give all the meaning to this work.
  4. Evaluate abilities in the face of his disability. Whatever the difficulty, everyone has unique and unrepeatable abilities. Discovering and valuing them will make the learning process much more magical than cataloging people for what they cannot do.
  5. Practice active support. With the “we learn by doing” approach, active support is a learning methodology that tries to help people to be involved and participate actively in their lives. In the field of new technologies this active participation is especially important.
  6. The attempt itself is an achievement. Anyone who decides to introduce and participate in the introduction of technological elements is already making an effort and has a motivation. Beyond what we achieve, the very fact of trying must be recognized and valued as an effort.
  7. Everything adds up. Every advance, every gesture, every attempt adds up. We will achieve more showy things and other simpler things and all of them count. Learning to put on headphones and connect them, clicking on an icon is equally important as learning how to use decision trees or move in a chair thanks to an adaptation.
  8. Better with a few laughs. All learning takes time, rehearsals and mistakes, days with a lot of desire and others that do not want anything. If whatever the day, we accompany it with a few laughs, the road is much easier and kinder
  9. Let the person be the protagonist. Even if you have drawn up an impeccable work plan, with all the necessary pedagogical and technological elements, let the person be the protagonist. With its rhythms, its tastes, and above all its dreams. It will bear much more fruit and above all, it will make the work make sense to him or her.
  10. Share the experience. Whether it’s a day or ten years, every experience improves when it’s shared and that’s why at San Rafael we share ours with you.
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