The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
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Information Technology Insights Focus Groups

The Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disability wants to know the expectations of youth, with and without disabilities, regarding the use, accessibility, and future expectations of the use of technology. They conducted six focus groups of students from three schools (Eagan, Woodbury, and John Marshal), and the Transition to Adult program. In all, eighty-eight students participated. Seventy had disabilities, while eighteen did not.

The focus groups and worksheets consisted of three parts. The first part asked how students access and use technology, part two asked the students for input regarding the State of Minnesota Websites, and the third part asked students to agree or disagree with predictions that Bill Gates made during a speech in 2007 about how we will use Information Technology in the future. The worksheets were done and homework, and then discussed during class. They were then collected and compiled with comments and quotes.

Interestingly, students with disabilities and students without disabilities use technology equally. All students can access to a computer somewhere. Ninety-one percent of the eighty-eight students said they use the computer, and seventy-one percent said they use a cell phone. The students said that communication is the “biggest use of the cell phone and computer.” Students both with and without disabilities have information technology. Students use the computer for homework, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Students said that they relied on technology for other purposes as well, using the computer and cell phone for turning things on and off. Students with disabilities can access technology like computers, cell phones, and Mp3 players as easily as students without disabilities.

As stated above, seventy-one percent of the eighty-eight students use a cell phone, and fifty-nine percent use an mp3 player. Since both pieces of technology can be used for music and communication, it is clear that students with disabilities and students without disabilities both use this technology extensively in their daily lives.

The second part of the homework asked students to assess the State of Minnesota Websites. Students said that the Minnesota Websites had good search engines, along with good facts. They also made suggestions for improvement, including more advertisement, and the ability to look at all of the different organizations. The students said that the problems they encountered had to deal with either not knowing the website existed, or not knowing how to find the websites. The students did not know what “Northstar” meant, making it difficult to use it.

The third part of the homework asked the students how they felt about how technology will progress. To that end, they were asked to react to ten predictions Bill Gates made about how we will use technology in the future They were given a scale of 1-10, 1 being strongly disagree, 10 being strongly agree.

Students strongly agree that Geographic Mapping will improve, and that libraries will be archived online. They also felt that students will be able to access curricula online and free. Students also agreed that cell phones will be able to handle information including medical and banking information. Students expect technology to advance rapidly. This shows that both students with and without disabilities expect technology to play an important role in their daily lives. During the discussion on the topic, many students discussed texting as a very common method of communication today.

The students (both with and without disabilities), think that while Robots may be useful, they will not take over PCA (Personal Care Attendant) cares as Bill Gates predicted. They expect that Robots will become useful, but not for personal care. This prediction scored only a 4.3 among all of the students.

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center, the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.