Wouldn’t a Guide to Good Apps For People with IDD Be Helpful?

/ November 4, 2019

By Harold Sloves

About the Author

Over the course of 35 years, Harold Sloves has held leadership roles in a range of human services industries including intellectual and developmental disabilities, behavioral health, and adolescent treatment services in the private and public sectors. Today he is charged with leading Tennessee’s Enabling Technology Movement and supporting projects to offer technology as a readily available support option for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at home, at work, and in their communities.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

“For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.”
Mary Pat Radabaugh, 1988

As the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities approached the one-year anniversary of launching a series of Enabling Technology pilot projects with select providers, there was a realization: What about everyone else? What about people not affiliated with a provider? Or those living with family? Those not receiving services?

Indeed, one of the driving, underlying principles of the department’s Enabling Technology efforts was to make technology as accessible as possible. Thus, the notion of exploring what’s affordable and accessible to anyone seeking a technology support for cognitive disabilities was born.

A quick look at the applications available from the App Store and Google Play revealed a huge number that are advertised to help in this way. But sorting through them is a huge undertaking.  We already knew from our everyday lives that ease of use varies greatly among applications.

Digging a little deeper, we discovered that there were several affordable apps that had research behind them to offer evidence of their effectiveness for people with cognitive disabilities; that there is evidence that shows they make a positive, statistically significant difference in important outcomes.

These evidence-based apps use pictures, text, videos, and/or audio in providing guidance, prompts or even feedback to users. These approaches are often called visual modeling, visual stories and video modeling. If you’ve ever tried to learn to do something by watching YouTube, then you’ve used video modeling to learn.

Having narrowed the field of relevant apps, DIDD approached the Arc Tennessee about developing a rating system for such apps, to be completed by users with intellectual disabilities, and to serve as a guide for families and others seeking affordable and accessible technological cognitive supports. Following a resounding “Yes,” the Arc then engaged Vanderbilt Kennedy Center as a research partner in this project.

Phase 1

In its first report, “Rating apps for people who have IDD: What we learned,” the research team

settled on four rating dimensions: content, usability, individualization and overall impression. To make the rating system accessible for individuals with IDD (so they could independently evaluate apps), the research team next created an adapted version.

As noted in the introduction to the report, “A rating scale from 0 to 4 emerged, and The Arc Tennessee hired and trained nine evaluators and gave them an opportunity to practice rating an app (Wunderlist). Divided into two groups, the evaluators rated and gave feed­back on four apps: Picture Scheduler, Pictello, ONEder and iModeling.”

The insights gained from this project are reported here.

Phase 2

“Rating more apps for people who have IDD: A second round” was a continuation of Phase 1, examining a group of previously unrated apps. This report provides families and individuals with disabilities a combined ranking of all apps rated from both phases of this project.

Over the course of both phases, the Vanderbilt/Arc team of eval­uators rated seven applications. They are ranked in order of overall score below:

  1. CanPlan36: CanPlanmakes it possible for users with cognitive challenges to break down tasks into a sequence of easy-to-follow photos.
  2. Pictello84: Pictello is an interactive storytelling app that allows children and their parents to make virtual storybooks with their own titles, photos, and captions.
  3. iModeling16: iModeling is a Video Modeling app designed to teach a variety of skills to people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other disabilities of any communication skill level.
  4. First Then Visual Scheduler25: First Then Visual Scheduleris an image-based organizational app that breaks down common household activities and daily routines into simple step-by-step processes to “first do this” and “then do that.”.
  5. ONEder60: Oneder offers a platform for creating lessons and activities that can be easily adapted with supports and accessibility features tailored to the specific needs of individual students.
  6. Picture Scheduler73: Picture Scheduler enables users to create tasks associated with a picture, text, video or audio or any combination of these media.
  7. It’s Done11 It’s Done is an app that is tailored to help people remember tasks more easily, allowing users to categorize and prioritize tasks based on type and level of importance/urgency.

The full report can be found at


Why it matters

Taken together, these two reports offer families and people with disabilities reliable feedback, ratings and guidance on the cost, merits and limitations of evidence-based apps. We believe that this guidance can make technology support for people with cognitive disabilities readily accessible, whether or not someone has paid support or not.


Thank you, Harold, for sharing this information. Check out the apps and let me know how they work for you or your loved one. If you have questions, you can email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org. I hope you have a wonderful day!

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