New App Empowers People with Intellectual Disabilities Through IT Training

24 October 2023

Innovative DigiAcademy app co-created with and for people with intellectual disabilities aims to bridge the digital divide and enhance digital inclusion

An innovative app aimed at addressing the digital divide and promoting digital inclusion among people with intellectual disabilities was recently launched.  The DigiAcademy app has been developed as part of the European project Digi-ID (funded by EIT Health) to address the challenges of digital inclusion and the low usage of digital technologies among people with intellectual disabilities.  Led by Dr Esther Murphy, the app offers step-by-step training in basic information technology skills to help people with intellectual disabilities overcome communication challenges in a range of settings including setting up a Gmail or Facebook account, how to join or set up a Zoom meeting and how to use WhatsApp. 

“About 22 per cent of people with intellectual disabilities used technology before the pandemic and while that increased a little during the pandemic, we need to ensure that they are not left behind in the digital age,” says Dr Esther Murphy, principal investigator of Digi-ID and its follow on project, Digi-ID Plus, at the ADAPT Centre and School of Engineering at Trinity College Dublin.

What sets the DigiAcademy app apart is its user-centric design and co-creation process. A paid citizen advisory panel of individuals with intellectual disabilities actively participated in the development, ensuring that the app addresses their specific needs. The instructions are narrated by members of the citizen advisory panel and allows users to choose their preferred pace of learning.

Dr Ida Korfage, Digi-ID research partner and assistant professor at the Erasmus Medical Centre, Universitat Medisch Centrum Rotterdam, highlights the significance of digital skills in today’s society. “We are living in very digitalized societies now, and we all need to access information online, either for social connections for our mental health or to use things like travel apps,” she explains.

Early users of the app have praised its impact. Many have used it to connect with family members through video calls, access various online resources, and maintain contact with friends and family. Even for those without direct access to personal devices, mastering video calls and participating in Zoom meetings on shared devices enhances their confidence and independence.

Talita Holzer, Digi-ID Tech Partner and co-founder of WaytoB, played a pivotal role in the app’s development, emphasising the involvement of the citizen advisory panel throughout the design process. This inclusive approach led to the creation of an app that considers user preferences, from technology needs to visual design elements.

Dr Esther Murphy’s dedication to inclusivity continues with a new project that has received European Commission funding. Over the next three years, this project aims to co-design digital skills training videos with and for people with intellectual disabilities. The focus will be on bite-sized information and videos, guided by a new citizen advisory panel comprising individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism.

Fionn Crombie Angus, a member of the original citizen advisory panel, sums up the significance of co-design, stating: “It’s important that people like me are included in research. When people become familiar with using apps and online education, it opens up an entire world for them.”

For more information about the DigiAcademy app, please email [email protected].