Research sheds light on digitalisation in daily activities

Access to the internet and a computer, tablet or similar device is a prerequisite for taking part in digital activities. Basic digital literacy is another.

Access to the internet and a computer, tablet or similar device is a prerequisite for taking part in digital activities. Basic digital literacy is another.

As in the rest of society, the field of disability saw an increase in digitalisation during the pandemic. Several daily activities centres adapted to be able to maintain contact with their clients. Social work researchers at Uppsala University have been working with Danvikstull Daily Activities Centre to investigate how this has worked, and are now taking the collaboration further.

When the corona pandemic hit in early 2020, there were no national guidelines for disability and one-third of all municipalities chose to close their daily activities centres for people with intellectual disabilities for a period of time. Several daily activities centres then switched to digital activities to be able to maintain contact with their clients and create structure in daily life. They used video calls, video production and collaboration via digital media.

Kristina Engwall, Associate Professor and Senior
Lecturer at the Centre for Social Work (CESAR).
Photo: Private

Kristina Engwall, a social work researcher at Uppsala University, followed the development with great interest. With the help of collaboration funding from the University, she was able to conduct practice-based research in collaboration with a daily activities centre.

“Documenting the work with digital development and inclusion in daily activities was my initial contribution to the collaboration. But then I realised how incredibly exciting it is to follow an organisation that has been so tied to the physical space. It had now opened up with remote meetings and contact, which is something completely new,” explains Kristina Engwall.

She is an associate professor and senior lecturer at the Centre for Social Work (CESAR), which is part of the Department of Sociology at Uppsala University.

Combating digital isolation

Together with Danvikstull Daily Activities Centre, Kristina Engwall has examined the digitalisation process, including its challenges and possibilities. When she joined the centre, it had already switched to digital activities and was entering a new phase after a period of closure. When the centre reopened and some clients returned, the digital activities were integrated into the daily activities. In addition to systematising the experience of the adaptation, the aim was to see how digital literacy was used in the reopening.

“My role has been to highlight experience-based knowledge and put it into a research context. This is fundamentally a matter of participation and inclusion, to combat digital isolation,” says Kristina Engwall.

Access to the internet and a computer, tablet or similar device is a prerequisite for taking part in digital activities. Basic digital literacy and a holistic approach to support the client are others. Kristina Engwall says that these things may sound obvious, but that is not the case in the field of disability. 

Digital isolation more extensive than previously believed

It also became clear to the Danvikstull Daily Activities Centre that digital isolation was more extensive for the clients than they originally believed. At the same time, digital daily activities gave rise to many positive experiences. Important elements of these activities included video calls with individual clients and videos produced by and with the staff, where the clients had a say in the content. Later, when the centre was able to reopen, clients were also able to create their own videos.

In addition to increased digital literacy among the staff, the clients and the clients’ support persons, cooperation between the home and the daily activities centre increased, as the digital elements enabled more contact and dialogue. Other positive experiences were a greater sense of self-esteem and belief in their own abilities – among both clients and staff.

Advancing knowledge and the collaboration

Disseminating knowledge about how the switch to digital worked and the lessons learned was a specific objective of the collaboration. Together, Kristina Engwall and Danvikstull Daily Activities Centre created a brochure aimed at professionals with the best tips on how to succeed with digital daily activities. The results were also presented at a learning conference in the autumn of 2021.

“Having the courage to start looking at the possibilities is the most important piece of advice, but it is also important to include the clients in the digitalisation and give them many chances to try it out,” explains Kristina Engwall.

With project funding from the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte), Kristina Engwall will continue her collaboration with Danvikstull Daily Activities Centre for three years to come.

“Our initial collaborative project succeeded in providing enough empirical evidence for a research application and became a prerequisite for the grant from Forte. So the collaboration funding we received from Uppsala University in the beginning has really borne fruit,” says Kristina Engwall.

Including clients in the research

In addition to continuing to follow the digital activities at Danvikstull, there is now also the possibility of including both clients and additional daily activities centres in the research going forward.

“It feels great to be able to continue the collaboration and to look ahead. We are really looking forward to investigating how the pandemic has affected the digital development of the daily activities in the longer term. Will people still be working more digitally in a couple of years’ time, or will they have gone back to the previous completely in-person activities? In addition, it is important that clients are now given the opportunity to give their perspectives,” states Kristina Engwall. She then continues:

“What has happened in daily activities during the pandemic really ties in with the major issues of people’s equal value, the right to self-determination, and full participation in all parts of society. How can this take place without digital inclusion for the target group with intellectual disabilities?”

Sara Gredemark

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