This seminar, delivered by Dr. Sue Caton, explores the findings of the study titled “Coronavirus and People with Learning Disabilities Study.” Dr. Caton holds the position of Research Fellow in the Department of Social Care and Social Work within the Faculty of Health and Education at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Her research primarily focuses on qualitative social research, with an emphasis on the experiences of individuals with learning disabilities. Presently, her work centres around investigating the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on people with learning disabilities, exploring their experiences with mental health medication, and examining their digital engagement.
Dr Caton presented findings from a recent research study investigating the utilisation of the internet among individuals with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom throughout the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Caton began the seminar by explaining that the pandemic had a significant impact on the lives of individuals with learning disabilities, leading to increased social isolation and reduced access to support services. Prior to the pandemic there was already an increasing body of research around digital participation in people with learning disabilities with evidence suggesting that having a disability is associated with non use of the internet due to barriers such as financial issues, complexity in sorting out contracts, navigating complex passwords and security settings, interpreting the social nuance online and being aware of behaviour online.
Previous research has identified the following benefits of being online: social interaction, social inclusion, private life, positive risk taking, digital skills and communication and entertainment. Dr Caton highlighted the importance of internet use following lockdown restriction during the pandemic, as social face to face communication was substituted with digital communication.
For the last two and a half years, Dr Caton has been part of a research project, led by Professor Hastings and Professor Chris Hatton, tracking the experiences of people with learning disabilities across the U.K.
You can find more information here and also on Twitter @CoronavirusLD.
The development of interview and survey questions for the study took place through collaboration with people with learning disabilities, family carer organisations and policy makers who identified the importance of using digital platforms during the pandemic.
There were four waves across the pandemic, with each wave being adapted to reflect emerging issues. They interviewed over 500 adults with learning disabilities (cohort 1), and a further 300 people were included via carers (cohort 2). Utilising phone or video call platforms, the interviews were audio-recorded and subsequently transcribed to facilitate data analysis. Participants were recruited through disability organisations.
The study used thematic analysis to identify patterns and themes in the data, which were then used to draw conclusions about the participants’ use of the internet during the pandemic.
The Best and Worst things about using the internet
Dr. Caton continued the seminar discussing the best and worst aspects of using the internet for people with learning disabilities. The findings from free-text questions were categorised into themes. On the positive side, participants in the study reported that online social connections were the most positive aspect of their internet use, and they relied heavily on social media and online activities with others to stay connected with friends and family.
However, some participants faced issues with technology, online harm, and threats to their well-being. These issues included cyberbullying, online scams, and exposure to inappropriate content. The study also found that those who did not feel lonely were more likely to use the internet for online activities with others and play video games with others. This suggests that the internet can be an effective tool for reducing social isolation and improving well-being among individuals with learning disabilities.
The study offers valuable insights into how people with learning disabilities utilize the internet during periods of social distancing and isolation. It emphasizes the significance of offering support and resources to ensure their safe and effective use of the internet for social connections and various activities. Additionally, it stresses the importance of raising awareness about online risks and developing strategies to mitigate them.
What did COVID mean for digital inclusion in people with learning disabilities?
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the use of digital platforms for people with learning disabilities. The pandemic led to a surge in the use of online platforms, highlighting the importance of online social connections for this population. While online platforms are a source of entertainment and enjoyment for people with learning disabilities, the pandemic contributed to a reduction in some online social connections, leading to social isolation and reduced wellbeing.
Additionally, there has been an increased interest in training and supporting ongoing social connections and digital skills. However, there remains a challenge in embracing ways that work for social use for health and employment. These findings highlight the need for continued efforts to improve digital inclusion for people with learning disabilities, particularly in the context of the ongoing pandemic.
This seminar offered valuable insights into how people with learning disabilities utilise the internet during periods of social distancing and isolation. Dr Caton emphasised the significance of maintaining the skills that people with learning disabilities had developed during the pandemic and providing ongoing support with online access to ensure their safe and effective use of the internet for social connections and various other activities. She also stressed the importance of raising awareness about online risks and developing strategies to mitigate them.
Danielle Adams is a PhD student at the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research (CEDAR) at the University of Warwick.