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Technology Enhanced Learning for People with Intellectual Disabilities and Cerebral Paralysis: The MAS Platform

Introduction

Training and support methods for people with intellectual disabilities are generally very staff intensive and thus quite expensive to the supporting agency [1]. Providing quality educational programs to students with profound disabilities presents a tremendous challenge [2]. Computer technology offers promising new approaches to reducing the dependence of people with mental retardation on others [1]. Though studies reveal [3] that it is how teachers adapt and utilize the technology that makes a difference and not the technology itself, technology offers new horizons for both educators and learners.

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In the field of technology, some studies have indicated that children with developmental disabilities can learn pointing [8], [9]. However, people with severe disabilities generally have important difficulties to work with mouse devices [10]. Sometimes, special education teachers have difficulties to teach using mouses [11]. New tools need to be applied in such cases: assistive technology.

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It is proved that providing a variety of stimuli has been identified as a key component in teaching switch technology [12]. However, limited budgets may restrict the purchase of several reinforcing devices [13]. On the other hand, according to [1] one of the greatest advantages of using computer technology and multimedia for training is the ability to customize the training to meet the needs of the person.

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A variety of commercially developed computer software programs are available to teach cause and effect via a single switch and switch interface [13]. The challenge to provide novelty is further compounded when children with severe and profound disabilities exhibit little or no interest in commercially available toys [13].

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This paper describes MAS, a software system to reinforce the learning process of people with cerebral palsy and cognitive disabilities through the use of interactive games and diverse devices in one unique solution. MAS is easy to use for both end users and intermediate users, is highly configurable and contemplates and provides tools to deal with some of the disabilities that, additionally, this group of people has usually, as coordination and movement difficulty, visual and hearing impairments.

MAS is based in the fact reported by several authors (e.g [14], [15]) that effective reinforcers must be presented to the student in order to attract him or her to the tool. In order to do so, MAS is designed to fully configurable in its games, being able to include particularized multimedia clips or photos for each student. The remainder of the paper is organized as follows.

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Section 2 outlines relevant literature in the area about the field of study. In Section 3, the architecture for the MAS approach is presented along with the description of the implementation of the architecture. Conclusions and future work are discussed in Section 4.

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