Maine Developmental Disabilities Council

DD Access to Technology Project

DD Tech website logo 

In the spring of 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic beginning, there were clear indications that people with developmental disabilities were unduly impacted by both the coronavirus itself as well as the societal repercussions of “stay at home” orders and social distancing mandates. Congregate settings were becoming hotspots of transmission, and the services that people with DD depend on were being shut down or moved to virtual settings.

One long term issue impacting people with DD is a lack of access to the tools of technology that allow for online and virtual connection – due to the costs of hardware, the learning curve to understand how to use devices, and connectivity issues across the state, among other factors. Faced with a pandemic crisis that was changing the idea of “business as usual”, the Council decided that this issue had become a priority.

After shifting funding to this nascent project, MDDC purchased 147 new iPads, built a simple website to collect applications, and reached out to parent and self-advocate organizations, service providers and case managers across the state to solicit applications to receive an iPad, with a focus on the level of need, current access to wifi, and desire to use the device to receive services, connect with family and friends, and better advocate for themselves.

With only a short, weeklong period of accepting applications, MDDC received over 450 requests for an iPad – over 3 times the number of iPads available for this project. The number of applications indicates a clear and pressing need for access to this kind of technology, and it is clear that with greater outreach and a longer application period, we would have received many more requests than that. MDDC is assessing the results of this project with an eye towards how to support broadening access to technology for people with developmental disabilities in the future.

This project gave us much useful data to better understand how getting access to technology changes the lives of people with developmental disabilities. We worked with a Boston University student, Margaret Carter, who helped collect this data and analyzed our results. Here is a slide that expresses her findings:

Poster of DD Access to Tech Findings - text below

Language on Poster:

Facilitating Engagement in Virtual Social Participation for Individuals

with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Margaret Carter, OT/s

Robin Newman, OTD, OTR, CLT, FAOTA; Rachel Dyer, Associate Director of the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council

Department of Occupational Therapy


Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) experience:

  • Higher rates of loneliness 7
  • Less access/lower rates of digital technology use5,6

COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Physical distancing increases risk of loneliness 2
  • Digital technology is critical to engage in virtual social participation

Amid pandemic, individuals with IDD are less likely to engage in virtual social participation using digital technology and are at a greater risk for loneliness 

Theoretical Basis

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Knowledge to Action (KTA) Framework

Description of the Project

iPads – 147 individuals with IDD receive iPads

Observation – Observe existing Zoom groups for individuals with IDD

Assistance – Assist participants (individuals with IDD and/or staff) with technical support as needed

Data – Gather and analyze data from surveys and focus groups

Conclusion – Compose report with conclusions and recommendations


114 participants responded to two online surveys approximately 1 and 2 months after receiving iPad

At conclusion of iPad project:

  • 94% Strongly Agree that they are satisfied in participating in the iPad project
  • 95% Always or Often feel good when using the iPad to connect with people
  • 83% can access services Much More than Before or Somewhat More than Before


         -Day programs

         -Contact with case managers and providers

Themes from qualitative data:

  • The iPad helps people connect with family and friends and access services
  • People like using it to connect with others, feel less lonely, and like the video aspect
  • Using the iPad, keeps people engaged in games, leisure, educational, and social participation activities
  • People felt thankful, special, and lucky for receiving an iPad


Providing individuals with IDD with iPads in conjunction with family/staff support, technology assistance, and accessible resources facilitated:

  • Engagement in virtual social participation
  • Participant satisfaction in program

Future directions include:

  • Development of a virtual social participation group on Zoom led by an occupational therapist (OT)
  • OT led trainings for staff/family members to support people with IDD in using technology



Community Connect

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Maine Developmental Disabilities Council
526 Western Avenue  Unit 2
Augusta, ME 04330



139 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333


Phone: 207-480-1478 or toll free 833-713-2618