1999 Conference Proceedings

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VIDEOTELEPHONY AND SOCIAL INTERACTION

Jane Brodin
Ph.D., Professor
Department of Special Education
Stockholm Institute of Education
P.O.Box 47 308
SE-100 74 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel: +46 8 737 96 26
Fax: +46 8 737 96 30
Internet: Jane.Brodin@lhs.se

Since 1992 several projects focusing on the use of videotelephones for transmission of live images via the telecommunication network have been conducted in Sweden.

TeleCommunity, was a European project within RACE (Research in Advanced Communication Technologies in Europe) in which nine countries were involved. Experiments with video telephones for persons with visual impairment, hearing impairment, mental retardation and elderly were carried through in a minitrial and a main study. Four of the participating countries (Ireland, Norway, Portugal and Sweden) focused on mental retardation. The aim of the Swedish pilot project was to evaluate three main issues: technical aspects, user aspects and staff aspects.

The results showed that the technology needed to be improved with regard to quality of sound and image, that the users were stimulated by using the videotelephone and that the staff were positive although the task was time consuming (Brodin, FahlŽn & Nilsson, 1993).

In the Swedish main study twentyfour adults with moderate mental retardation at six differerent day centres participated. Twelve women and twelve men between 23 and 60 years of age with severe communication disorders were involved. Most of them had no spoken language or a poorly developed language and thus relied on graphic symbols (Pictogram symbols) in their daily communication. (Brodin & Alemdar, 1995). TeleCommunity stressed the importance of communication, independence and social integration and one result from TeleCommunity was that many persons with mental retardation have a limited social network and few friends outside their regular daily work/activity. Another result was that education of staff, basic and in-service training, in the field was of great importance in order to increase the hone, the remaining interviews were carried out as personal interviews at place. An expected result is that the social network is limited and that many of the participants have limited possibilities to influence their network and social life (Renblad, 1998). The social network mainly consists of staff from the group home or day centre or peers with mental retardation living or working at the same place.

The fourth study focuses on friendship which is an area underrepresented in research on mental retardation. In this study videotelephones as means for maintaining and/or establishing friendship is surveyed. Most of the interviews were carried out via videotelephones. The results showed that they have few friends although they have social relations with persons in the neighbourhood of a superficial character. They meet in shops or in the staircases and say "hallo, how are you?". The social relation never grows to close friendship. The study will be finished in December 1998.

The fifth sub-project is about methodology and how videotelephones can be used to make interviews and what the difficulties and possibilities are. In what situation will a videotelephone substitute or complement a personal interview?

In the above project the videotelephone is used as a means for communication for adults with moderate mental retardation, but also as a tool for carrying through interviews at distance. The results show that the videotelephone can be used to save time without loosing interest from the informants, to save money for travelling costs and to support communication for the participants.

One new area of research is empowerment, i.e. to find out if and how persons with mental retardation may benefit from new technology and if technology e.g. videotelephones will contribute to an increased degree of independence and give opportunities to influence their daily living.

Acknowledgement:
This paper has been supported by grants from the Swedish Transport and Communications Research Board.

References

Brodin, J., FahlŽn, M. & Nilsson, S-H. (1993) "Minitrial. A limited study of the use of videotelephony for people with moderate mental retardation". Stockholm University.

Brodin, J. & Alemdar, I.(1995) "Videotelephones. A tool for facilitating communication and social integration for persons with moderate mental retardation", Stockholm Institute of Education, Department of Special Education.

Brodin J. & Alemdar, I.(1996) "Dagcenterpersonal och tekniska hjŠlpmedel [Day centre staff and assistive devices]". Stockholm Institute of Education, Department of Special Education.

Brodin, J. (1997) "SjŠlvuppfattning hos personer med utvecklingsstšrning [Self conception in persons with mental retardation]". Stockholm Institute of Education: Department of Special Education.

Renblad, K.(1998) "Socialt nŠtverk och personer med utvecklingsstšrning. [Social networks of persons with moderate mental retardation]". Stockholm Institute of Education, Depart


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