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Media Release: New Ratings System Aims To Improve Applications Use Of People With Intellectual Disabilities

Thursday, January 16, 2020 | 11:09am


Thursday, January 16, 2020


Research will assist persons with disabilities in navigating effectiveness, usability of apps 


NASHVILLE—The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), in partnership with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and The Arc Tennessee, have released the results of a study to determine which mobile applications, or “apps”, are most effective in assisting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The project is a part of the department’s nationally-recognized Enabling Technology initiative and aims to assist people in navigating the numerous choices of affordable and accessible applications available on common digital platforms, including mobile phones and tablets.

All applications were tested and rated by persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities based on their effectiveness in four different areas: content, individualization, usability and quality.  User-friendly reviews of the apps can be found on the DIDD website. 

“Great technology is out there, we just have to make sure it’s accessible and affordable,” DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner said.   “Most importantly, we need to make sure it’s the right fit for people living with disabilities.”

The department partnered with The Arc Tennessee and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center to identify and train the beta testers, design the rubric, and conduct the research. Through two rounds of testing, researchers studied seven different evidence-based apps that use pictures, text, videos, and/or audio to provide guidance, prompts or feedback to assist users with cognitive disabilities: CanPlan, Pictello, iModeling, First Then Visual Scheduler, Oneder, Picture Scheduler and It’s Done.   The apps were assessed on performance in the four different areas.   Research participants rated Pictello and iModeling the highest using the designed rubric. 

Researchers say that with so many apps available, research like this is critical to ensuring that people with disabilities don’t waste their money on apps that don’t help them reach their goals.

“I think currently there is too much out there and it’s difficult to navigate that process, and we are purchasing very expensive apps without truly evaluating if that’s a good app for that individual,” Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Practice Dr. Alexandra Da Fonte said.  She believes this problem can be alleviated with more applications research similar to what was conducted in this study.

Advocates with The Arc Tennessee agree.

“We want to go ahead and keep kind of pushing and see where we can go. Eventually I can see using Vanderbilt’s system across the country,” said Dean Fox, project specialist with The Arc Tennessee.  He added one of the most helpful things learned with this study is that not all apps are created equal and that they must meet the individual’s needs.

Commissioner Turner is hopeful this research will help people with disabilities across Tennessee live as independently as possible and further access their communities, regardless of whether they receive paid supports. 

“Technology makes all of our lives easier and it should be no different for people living with disabilities,” said Turner. “We are so thankful for our partners, The Arc Tennessee and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, for this research that will eventually help people with disabilities nationwide.”

Find user friendly versions of the findings at:

A video of some of the findings can be found here:

Dr. Alexandra Da Fonte:

Dean Fox:




About the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities is the state agency responsible for administration and oversight of community-based services for approximately 8,000 people with intellectual disabilities as well as 4,000 people through the Family Support Program.   Every day, the department strives to support people to live rewarding and fulfilling lives.  It does so by ensuring people are free to exercise rights, engage with their broader communities and experience optimal health.  DIDD is the first state service delivery system in the nation to receive Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation from the Council on Quality and Leadership.  It has also been recognized as a national leader in its efforts to increase competitive, community-based employment outcomes for people with disabilities.