The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have highlighted the difficulties to access digital technologies for autistic people with intellectual disabilities. While some users have been able to benefit from training, care, support and online assistance, those without access to digital technologies have been further isolated and disconnected from their educational and care centres as well as from their service providers (from day centres to occupational and/or wellbeing centres).
The inaccessibility of certain digital technologies for some is based on the fact that the tools themselves are not very accessible, a lack of training (for teachers, people with disabilities and their families), poorly tailored methodologies as well as a lack of technological resources. More specifically, digital tools are designed for the general population, without taking into account the needs of autistic people with lower cognitive levels (levels 1 and 2). Digital tools need to be adapted from the cognitive perspective, incorporating easy-to-read materials, pictograms and graphic resources.
The same issues arise in terms of training, capacity-building and online support methods. Another important obstacle is the fact that service providers lack skills regarding the use and management of these digital tools (to support, train and teach users), and so, additional and tailored training is required. Autistic people with lower cognitive levels need to improve their digital skills in order to use digital resources and technologies. Support and training for families is also essential. In addition, many autistic people and their families lack the resources to access digital tools such as online training or remote learning independently.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have highlighted the existence of a digital divide even among autistic people themselves. This unequal distribution in the access and use of information and communication technologies has resulted in the fact that, while some users are able to receive training and support in their homes through digital resources and ICT tools, other users, with lower cognitive levels, have not been able to receive this support due to their difficulties in accessing digital technologies. This means that they have suffered additional isolation due to their total and absolute disconnection with their centres and professionals that work with them. As a result, the education and training of autistic people are negatively impacted, resulting in a lower quality of life and personal development for autistic people and their families, who have been left unsupported during this period.