3.4 Cognitive impairments

The “Disabled World” project proposes two main classifications of cognitive disabilities – namely, functional or clinical disability.97 Clinical categories of cognitive disabilities include autism and Down Syndrome. Less severe cognitive conditions include the sub-category of so-called learning disabilities, such as dyslexia (reading) and dyscalculia (mathematics). The functional disability perspective ignores the medical and behavioural causes of cognitive disabilities and focuses instead on the abilities and challenges the person with a cognitive disability faces. Functional cognitive disabilities may involve difficulties or deficits involving:

o Problem-solving,
o Attention,
o Memory,
o Math comprehension,
o Visual comprehension,
o Reading,
o Linguistic (speech), and
o Verbal comprehension.

It is somewhat more useful to consider the use of accessible ICTs to aid cognitive impairments from the functional disability perspective. ICT can play a major role in enabling access to education for all types of cognitive impairments. The following list shows the benefits that access to ICTs can bring to people within the wide spectrum of learning disabilities.98 These include:

  • Improved writing – Standard word processors contain built-in tools for checking grammar, spell-checking and predictive typing.99 Specialized writing support programs, such as Clicker 5, can aid word recognition and writing through the use of symbols or pictures and speech-supported grids.100
  • Multimedia - The use of multi-media such as graphics, sound and video can stimulate and encourage interaction and some degree of learning for people with more profound cognitive impairments, as well as for pre-literate children. Much of the software required to create multimedia is freely available online.
  • Sensory stimulation - The use of switches, combined with specialized software games can enable some people with profound and multiple learning difficulties to play basic cause-and-effect games and even develop some basic computer interaction skills.

In addition to these computer-based activities, the use of augmentative and alternative communication strategies and devices, particularly those employing symbols, can aid communication for persons with more profound and multiple learning impairments.

97Webaim Project [WWW document] http://www.webaim.org/techniques (retrieved 1 March 2008)
98http://www.bltt.org/index.htm Charlie Danger is a freelance technology assessor and occupation al therapy (OT) student at Brighton University
99MS Word or OpenOffice