Planet Rachael: Our changing world needs to be all-inclusive

People with learning disabilities can benefit from digital advances so let’s empower them to do so, says Wendy Johnson

People with learning disabilities can gain access to life-enriching experiences through digital technology. Let’s empower them to do so, says Wendy Johnson

Picture shows someone using digital technology. People with learning disabilities can benefit from the use of such technology.
Picture: iStock

Information technology can revolutionise the life experiences of those with mild and profound disability. 

Recently I met ‘John’ who has severe cerebral palsy and needs 24-hour care to meet his significant needs. 

History suggests that had John been born before the turn of the century, his life experience would have been incarceration in an institution – had he been allowed to live at all. 

But, because he was born in the digital age and has a technology-assisted ability to communicate, he has been able to demonstrate to others his ability to the point of running a successful business staffed entirely by people with disability. I have also just seen footage of his wedding on Facebook.  

John speaks through a touch-activated voice system and he told me he only got the speech technology at the age of 14. I asked him what the most difficult thing about growing up in silence was and his answer was ‘no one got my jokes’.

Connected and savvy

I certainly know that without the internet and social media my daughter Rachael would be very isolated indeed. For her the internet is a fantastic way to keep connected to the world and it allows her to have ‘friends’ in a safe virtual space. 

I know people with learning disabilities who use social media might be vulnerable to abuse, but Rachael is surprisingly savvy and, to my knowledge, has not celebrated any wins on lotteries she has yet to buy a ticket for.  

Technology is becoming an ever-present part of all our lives and, if we do not support people with learning disabilities to use these life enhancing tools safely, then they will miss out on so many opportunities.  

It is vital we enable them to take a part in this changing world.  

About the author

Wendy Johnson is head of safeguarding adults at risk and nursing lead for learning disabilities at Great Western Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Swindon, and writes about life with her daughter Rachael, who has autism

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