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Supporting people with intellectual disabilities into employment – key elements for the successful integration of cognitive support technology

cognitive support technology

In the framework of the 2023 European Social Services Conference, the journal, Social Services collaborated with the European Social Network to produce a series of articles from conference contributors on the theme of the digital and technological transformation of social services.

The following article is a summary of the paper submitted by Dr Michiel De Looze, Ellen Wilscut, Reinier Könemann, Kim Kranenborg and Harry De Boer of TNO in the Netherlands on the use of Cognitive Support Technology to support people with intellectual disabilities into employment, supporting their social inclusion.

The full report can be found here.

Throughout Europe, a significant number of people with disabilities express a strong desire to work but face formidable obstacles in securing employment. The principal challenge identified is the intricate nature of jobs, particularly for those with limited education, low IQ, or cognitive impairments. To address this issue, a promising solution is proposed— the integration of digital technologies, specifically Cognitive Support Technology (CST), aimed at simplifying job tasks and enhancing accessibility for this group of people.

CST involves delivering step-by-step digital instructions through various devices such as monitors, tablets, smartphones, projectors, or near-eye displays. A research study conducted by TNO in the Netherlands examines the factors contributing to the success of the selection, development, and implementation phases of CST. This research focuses on four real-life cases within public social firms that provide job opportunities for people with disabilities. Each case involved selecting the most suitable form of CST, and the evaluation encompassed a qualitative analysis of subjective experiences related to work accessibility, performance, usability, and acceptance.

The results from the study are overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating that CST effectively simplifies jobs for a majority of participants across the cases. Notably, people  who initially found specific jobs too complex reported an enhanced ability to perform these tasks with the support of CST.

Furthermore, the study outlines eleven identified success factors crucial to various stages of CST implementation. These factors include shared decision-making during technology selection, active worker involvement in technology development, and explicit consideration of psychosocial barriers during technology implementation. Putting the study into context, the case report underscores the challenging circumstances faced by individuals with disabilities in the labour market, referencing statistics from the Netherlands. The proposition is that the adoption of digital technology, particularly CST, could serve as a strategic approach to overcome these challenges, aligning with the social inclusion priorities of the European Union and the objectives of the Netherlands’ Participation Act.

In conclusion, the study underscores the potential of Cognitive Support Technology (CST) to increase work participation, reduce task complexity, and empower people with disabilities to work more autonomously. It also highlights potential benefits for supervisors through streamlined communication. Recognizing the collaborative efforts of various stakeholders— including public social firms, regular employers, technology developers, implementation experts, and public authorities— as essential, the study advocates for widespread CST adoption to foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment for people with disabilities.