October 25, 2018

How do disabled children use technology for learning and playing?

Dr Sue Cranmer (Lecturer, Department of Educational Research)

Dr Sue Cranmer’s recent research explored how disabled children use technology such as computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets and the Internet. She spent time with teenagers between 13-17 years of age in the North West of England. They all had a visual impairment. She wanted to see how they use technology and learn skills.

Sue talked to seven young people and their teachers and teaching assistants. She also spent time with them to see how they used technology in their daily lives.

The young people used computers, laptops, tablets, the iPod touch and mobile phones alongside other assistive technologies (for example, SuperNova magnification software or Braille Notetaker, a device with a built-in braille keyboard).

The young people used technology for activities in and out of school, like other young people.

Learning activities included:

  • Internet research (e. g. Wikipedia, Google)
  • Accessing textbooks
  • Using Pages or Microsoft Word for writing
  • Using Keynote or PowerPoint to create or access presentations sent to them by teachers
  • Revision websites and apps
  • Music composition and creating videos to improve performance at sport.

Outside of school, activities were linked to their interests such as sports or music, shopping, watching videos and playing games, and keeping in touch with people on social media.

Here are some of her findings:


Siobhan, age 14, said she enjoyed using social media for keeping in touch with a group of friends she has met at ‘residentials for the blind’.

‘In school I have a few [friends]. Most of my friends I meet on residentials for the blind and I like keeping in contact with them, texting, Facebook, Skype.’

This shows that Sophie has a group of friends who are also visually impaired. She uses social media for staying in touch.


Some of the youngsters took pictures of textbooks and whiteboards in class and enlarged them. Laura, age 16, said that she liked to enlarge the keyboard to see her handwriting:

‘Because if I write I can hardly see my own writing.’

She said it was important to her that that she fits in with her friends in class and can learn without support.

‘My friends have iPads as well, it just makes me feel like I’m one of them.’

Outside of school, Siobhan, age 14, uses a colour detector app to help her match her clothes:

‘I turn the app on and what I do is I hold it up to something depending on what colour it is. It’s really helpful if I’m going out and I need to get changed and there’s no-one in the house.’


Mostly, the teenagers said that they had the skills needed to use technologies effectively and safely. Some of them said they had been bullied about their disability. The bullying had mainly happened in primary school. They kept safe online by not speaking to people that they did not know.

Laura, aged 16, explained how she had been bullied at primary school because of her disability. She said that she tried to stay positive.

‘I did used to get, I did used to get bullied quite a lot but I just, I very much think positively about most things. I say things happen for a reason and if I get bullied, I don’t mind, cos it’s who I am, I’m not going to change who I am just because someone doesn’t like it.’


Sue found that:

  • Many disabled young people enjoy using digital technologies and find them useful for learning in and out of school.
  • Used well by teachers, technology can help young people to fit in and learn in mainstream classrooms. But, teachers need to make sure they do not make extra-work for disabled youngsters and mark them out as different.
  • Help for disabled children to manage safety online and reduce bullying needs to begin at primary school or earlier. Parents can help with this.
  • Teachers need training in digital technologies to support more inclusive teaching and learning. They should plan this ahead rather than relying on teaching assistants.

Sue believes more research is needed about how to support disabled children and young people with a range of impairments use digital technologies.

Sue wrote a blog about this project here and you can read a copy of the project final report here [pdf]