The development of materials to empower students with mild intellectual disabilities and increase their inclusion in society (details)

Europe highlighted at the world map Relevance - Aims - Context - Issues and challenges - The implementation process - Key outcomes and lessons learned - Evaluation -   Video - Contact details

Example reference number: 014EN

This example is relevant to the following areas of the UNESCO Policy Guidelines:


J1 – Provide support when needed and make curricula open and flexible, allowing for different learning styles and content that makes the curriculum relevant to learners and society


J4 – Ensure that curricula do no focus only on academic skills


K3 – Promote the use of new and alternative methods for teaching



The main aim was to produce learning material directed to adolescents with mild to moderate intellectual disability that would give them the knowledge and tools that enable them to participate in decisions about their own lives. The material consists of factual information necessary for planning and decision-making and gives concrete examples of how to handle different situations in a good way. These examples are presented in a documentary form as well as through role-playing in a number of everyday situations where problems can arise.



Ninja Smart was produced at ALA – the Research Foundation of the Swedish National Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability (known as FUB) in Stockholm. To ensure that the facts, especially regarding life after school, were not confined to examples from a large metropolitan area, research was carried out in different parts of the country. Examples from small towns and rural areas from the north and south of Sweden are part of the material. The DVD-film Ninja Smart 1 is 35 minutes long. Ninja Smart 2 contains two DVDs, one about work and education that is 45 minutes long and one about living and leisure activities that is 35 minutes long.


The films are provided with the following options – sign language for the deaf, visual interpretation and Swedish or English text. There is also a Teachers’ Guide in Swedish.


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Ninja Smart 1 contains:

- a documentary section about a young man and how he has experienced success in his life;

- a factual section containing interviews with a lawyer, a psychologist, a neuroscientist, a special education teacher and an adult who has good insight in terms of his own intellectual disabilities;

- a section showing smart solutions to some difficult situations in society (money, location and time);

- a story about getting the diagnosis of ‘intellectual disability’ as an adolescent, the thoughts and feelings.


Ninja Smart 2, the film about work and education contains:

- a documentary section about inclusive work;

- a role-playing section showing difficult social situations at work and strategies to handle these situations;

- a documentary section about studying at a Folk Highschool (Folkhögskola);

- a documentary section about vocational training for inclusive work.


Ninja Smart 2, the film about living and leisure contains:

- a documentary section about moving to a supported living situation;

- an animated section about different ways of living;

- an animated section about how to handle personal finances;

- a report about LSS (the Legal Act concerning support and services for people with certain functional impairments);

- a documentary section about inclusive leisure activities;

- examples of different kinds of leisure activities.


There were two big challenges in producing the material:

- Working together with the young people with intellectual disabilities throughout the process was not always easy since it sometimes meant that we had to give up our own ideas and listen to what was important to them. However, this was a very positive experience.

- Getting all the facts right when things changed during the production process (i.e. laws and new directives for school curricula), being on the ‘front line’ in terms of what’s in the pipeline, while avoiding giving incorrect information (i.e. getting hints about new things coming up but not being sure they will be settled, as for example vocational training for adults within the post-school education Särvux).


The implementation process

The initiative to develop the material was taken by a man working at FUB (the Swedish National Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability) who has a mild intellectual disability himself. He stated that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to have knowledge about their own disability. From that statement we formed the basic assumption that in order to be in control of one’s own life, the individual must have knowledge about the disability, about possible strategies to solve daily problems and about available support in society.


The way the material is put together is based on theories about empowerment, self- determination and participation. These aspects are related to knowledge about how people with intellectual disabilities learn from concrete examples and their own experiences and how they find models with which to identify.


Research was carried out to collect important facts but also to find out how adolescents and young adults with intellectual disabilities regard their own situation and their opinions about what is important knowledge in order to be prepared for life after school and for full participation in society.


An essential element when developing the material was to include adolescents and young adults who have mild intellectual disabilities in the process. The experiences and the opinions of students and young adults in the target group have been collected through their participation in reference groups and through interviews. The manuscripts for the films were written in co-operation with students from a vocational school. In addition, all the main actors in the films are students with mild intellectual disabilities. Prior to final production the films were sent out to test schools and about 300 students and their teachers have given their point of view.


The project leader for both Ninja Smart 1 and 2 was Cecilia Olsson, FUB (The Swedish National Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability). For Ninja Smart 1 the co-workers in the project group were Conny Bergqvist, FUB and Thomas Myrberg, U.N.G. (Advisory group for adolescents and young adults with disabilities) For Ninja Smart 2 it was Susanne Rydberg-Lif, business controller for support services, Bromma District Committee and Lars Thorsell, ex supervisor, Häggviks Vocational School.


The project was funded by Allmänna Arvsfonden (General Inheritance Fund) and the production of the material was funded by the National Agency for Special Needs Education and Schools. Extra funding for the English text subtitles was given by Foundation Sävstaholm.


The project Ninja Smart 1 was carried out from August 2005 – September 2006 and the project Ninja Smart 2 was carried out from January 2007 – October 2009.


Key outcomes and lessons learned

The material has been warmly welcomed and is now used in most of the programs for the target group in Sweden. It appeals to the students because of the way it is built on their own desire for information and because it presents positive role models and recognisable situations. In addition to the main aims, the material has in some cases been used to enhance inclusion in the school. It has provided valuable information for schoolmates without a disability and has also been used as source of information for parents.



The initiative has not been formally evaluated although there is a constant request for the material and over 1,000 copies of Ninja Smart 1 and almost 700 copies of Ninja Smart 2 have been distributed. There is also a request for more information and over 40 lectures and conference presentations have been made.


There are plans to involve the material in a scientific study at the University of Linköping. The aim of the study is to find out if training executive functions will enhance functioning in daily activities for people with mild intellectual disability.



Video 1


Video 2


Video 3


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Contact details

Cecilia Olsson, Ph.D. special education

Project leader at The Swedish National Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability (FUB) and The ALA Research Foundation

Riksförbundet FUB, Box 6436, 113 82 Stockholm, Sweden

+46 (0)73-9500733

cecilia.olsson (at) up.se


If you are using any part of the text or materials from this example, please clearly reference the source of this example (www.inclusive-education-in-action.org/014EN), the example reference number (014EN) and the organisation’s details (see contact details above).