Thursday, 19 January 2017

Examining the history of special needs technology from the professionals perspectives: a call for help

I am conducting a research project which aims to find out how computer technologies were used by and for people with learning disabilities between 1980 and 2000. I am interested in capturing the experiences or ‘lost stories’ of people who were using or supporting the use of technologies at this time.

As part of this work I am keen to interview professionals who played a key role nationally in the UK in developing new technologies for people with learning disabilities or supporting people with learning disabilities to use these technologies between 1980 and 2000. 

So far I have been able to interview 49 professionals. These have included teachers, SEN and ICT advisory teachers, professionals who worked in national or regional support centres such as SEMERC, Becta, ACE, Cenmac and AbilityNet; researchers and software developers. 

I am presenting my findings at BETT this year on Wednesday 25th January 10:30am in the SEN Live Area.

There are some professionals who I have not been able to locate who I would love to be able to interview about the important role they played in the field. If you know any of the following people I would be ever so grateful if you could point them to this blog or contact me in person at

Mary Hope, National co-ordinator of the SEMERC programme

Phillip Lewis, Department of Education

Dave King- Manager of the Special Needs Software Centre that was part of the original Manchester SEMERC

Jean Johnston and anyone else who worked at the Bristol SEMERC

Colin Richards, Derek Cooper and anyone else who worked at the Newcastle SEMERC

Trevor Watts and anyone else from the Bassetlaw Hospital School who helped to develop TGW Software

Derek Harrison who wrote the BIMH suite of software programmes

Ian Glenn, developer of concept keyboard

David Sewell and Andrew Rostron, researchers from Hull University

Lyndon Thomas from the Special Needs Technology Centre in Clywd and anyone else from Wales

Also- anyone from Northern Ireland or Scotland??

The role of computers in promoting independence for adults with learning disabilities: a forgotten history?

In the late 1980's and early 1990's I worked in two mental handicap hospitals in Staffordshire and two Adult Training Centres in Shropshire.

Bagnall Hospital where I used to work

My job was to use computers to help people with learning disabilities gain social and life skills such as shopping and travelling safely.

BBC Microcomputer with Touch Screen
This was a time when people with learning disabilities were moving out of big institutions into group homes in the community.

It was also a time when many people thought that computers could be really powerful tools to help people with learning disabilities improve their independence. 

Now thirty years later when life-story work is growing and many people with learning disabilities are talking and writing about their experiences of living in institutions, I have noticed that there are few, if any, stories about computers.

I think this is very strange and we need to ask some important questions about this:

Have we forgotten about the role that computers played in the lives of adults with learning disabilities in the 1980's and 1990's?

 Were computers as helpful in the past as researchers thought they would be or did they have very little influence on the lives of people with learning disabilities.

What can we learn from the history of computer use and experiences that can help us understand and develop good practices in supporting people to use technologies today?