An Exploratory Study of the Support Needs in 24/7 Online Support for People With Mild Intellectual Disabilities

Miriam Zaagsma, Karin M. Volkers, Alice P. Schippers, Janneke A. Wilschut, Geert van Hove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Service organizations for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) increasingly look for technological applications to improve their services. DigiContact is an online support service developed by Philadelphia Care Foundation in the Netherlands which enables independently living people with ID to contact specially trained support workers 24/7. The purpose of this study was to explore the support needs for which people with ID use online support. We first conducted interviews with 21 individuals with ID who use the online support service. Transcriptions of the interviews were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. Second, online support workers registered items regarding the support needs when in contact with support users. These data were analyzed to assess which and how often the support needs were present. Online support is used for a broad variety of issues. Four themes emerged during analysis of the interviews: mental health, social contacts (conflicts with others as well as lack of contacts), practical issues, and physical health. Analysis of the support workers' data showed that making a connection with someone and talking about worries and stress are the two most frequent support needs. Most support needs did not differ across the time of day or across the week. The results suggest that 24/7 online support is a useful way of providing services to independently living people with ID. Unlimited access to support has multiple advantages. It appears to have a signaling and a preventive function with regard to emotional and behavioral problems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)78-87
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • e-health
  • intellectual disabilities
  • mixed methods
  • support needs

Cite this