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You are in: Home > Articles > Computers for People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties

Computers for People with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties


The term PMLD is used here to cover that group of people who have more than one severe disability. Due to the complexity of their needs it is often difficult to assess their abilities and to find a way of communication.

Many of the methods and techniques developed for people with disabilities are hard to use with people with more than one disability. Braille and tactile methods need good fine motor control, so a person with a visual and additional physical disability may be unable to use them. Computer switch access systems can require good visual skills making their use difficult for someone with an additional visual disability.

In a significant number of cases these barriers to learning and communication have meant that a full assessment of the learners abilities has not been possible. Appropriately and imaginatively used, technology can offer new opportunities for assessment and communication for this group.

The Benefits of Computers and Technology for People with PMLD

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Computers can provide stimulating resources and materials. Bright and dynamic screen displays can attract and hold attention. The addition of sound and speech feedback can exploit the other senses. The range of alternative input devices can offer opportunities for control for those with severe physical disabilities.

Helping the individual
Exploring and choosing the range of resources to find materials for a particular individual can be difficult. In many cases this requires an assessment process which will involve those who are familiar with the individual, a knowledge of the available technology and suitable experience. In some instances it may be necessary to call on help from a specialist organisation.

While only a limited amount of software is written specially for the PMLD group much early learning and switch operated material can be used. It is also worth looking at other computer software that can provide the bright and attractive images and sounds that will attract and hold attention.

Input methods
It is very unlikely that someone with PMLD will be able to use the standard keyboard or mouse but will need a device that is appropriate to the physical and cognitive needs. As they are likely to have very restricted movements it will be necessary to choose a device that they can work, find some way of positioning it and provide time for them to learn how to use it.

Computer output
The standard computer output is provided by the monitor and sound system. The impact of the visual output may need to be enhanced by using the computer in a darkened room, using a larger monitor, a digital projector or even simply turning the brightness control up. Sound output can be enhanced by using a better and more powerful amplifier system. The impact of the sound and visual output can be enhanced by placing the speakers close to the monitor and by ensuring that the user is placed to make effective use of their vision.

imageUsing other devices
Electrical and battery operated equipment is widely used with PMLD learners. This type of equipment can often be more exciting and f un to use than a computer. By using adaptor leads and mains controllers the same switches can be used to control ICT as are used for the computer. Specialist equipment has been developed to provide visual and auditory stimulation, often in the context of a specially equipped room. This equipment can also be set up in other locations.


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