Social Media as a Communication Tool for Disabled People
Social media gets a lot of attention, but something that’s not often discussed, is how when used appropriately, it can be a really useful communication tool for disabled people. So, that’s what I’m going to be talking about in this blog post.
But I’ll begin by introducing myself a little.
I’m Rebecca, some of you may remember I used to write a lot of content for the blog when the charity was The Aidis Trust. I’ve been blind all my life and the main pieces of assistive technology I use are: a Braille Notetaker and screen readers, both Jaws and VoiceOver. I have been fortunate enough to know many disabled people over the years. Most of my friends are disabled. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with and for some amazing disabled people and disability organisations. Hence my wider knowledge of disability and assistive technology, which is extremely useful in posts like this one.
So, that aside, let’s get in to some social media.
Social media can be a really useful communication tool for disabled people. There are some benefits quite specific to our community that I’m going to discuss.
Social media is often perceived as not being real socialisation. Some people argue that people you meet on social media aren’t your real friends. Sure, online provides people with a lot of scope to not be honest, but there are just as many people if not loads more, who are genuine online. Staying safe online is extremely important, in the same way that staying safe is important when you go out.
I actually think that some of the concern about social media not being real socialisation, is just coming from people who are not used to using it and from problems that are created when social media is misused. I think as a society more broadly, we need to move away from labelling social media as bad and start educating people about how to use it appropriately.
I also think that in person or verbal communication gets privreged over other forms such as written comunication, signing and online communication, by people who somehow think it’s better or more proper. But the truth is, all communication methods are valid and important. Talking is no better than writing or signing. So long as someone can understand communication and be understood, that’s what matters. Certain forms of communication such as signing, written communication and online comunication, are the most or the only, accessible communication method for many disabled people.
So, sometimes when people are telling us that social media is bad socially, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Is this the platform or someone misusing it? If it’s the platform, are there things we can do to minimise the risk of problems? Is this someone privileging certain comunication methods over others?
You can still get to know someone well online, through having conversations with them odver a period of time, like you would someone you were getting to know in person. You could use programs that allow you to make voice or video calls, if you want an experience that’s a bit more similar to in person comunication.
So, let’s look at some of the unique benefits of social media to disabled users.
An Accessible Communication Method
Many disabled people find written comunication, like what’s available on many social media platforms, the only or the most accessible way to communicate.
A big community that benefit from this is deaf people. Sure, many deaf people are able to sign, but unfortunately, the number of hearing people that know BSL is fairly limited. Social media gives them a platform to communicate in text, meaning that they can communicate with anyone, without them necessarily needing to know BSL. This is also the case for hearing impaired people who may find in person or verbbabl comunication more difficult and would find it easier to talk via text on a social platform.
Another group that benefit from social media, is people who have difficulty with or are unable to speak. This can be people who cannot do this because of a physical condition or people who have difficulties with speech or the processing of verbal comunication due to conditions like mutism or as part of a condition like autism. Again, it can allow them to have conversations, in a format that’s accessible to them, with a wide range of people, they literally wouldn’t have access to or would struggle to have access to, in person.
Many people who struggle with socialisation such as autistic people and people with mental health conditions such as anxiety, find social media can help them to access social opportunities. This is because, by participating in an online chat or group or by talking to individuals via a social platform, they feel they have a bit more control over minimising the potential problems. For example, they are able to get out of the situation much quicker than they would be able to in real life, just by closing the application or by explaining that they need to go, which is considerably more socially acceptable online.
They may also be able to find groups to cater to more niche interests or groups of people who have a similar disability, that may not be available in their local area. These can provide a great opportunity for socialisation with people they’ve usually already got something in common with.
The Opportunity to Meet People with Their Disability or Disabled People in General
Many disabled people have never met someone with the same disability. This is particularly the case, if the disability they have is quite uncommon or there just aren’t any other people that live locally with the same disability. Some disabled people have never met any other disabled people or don’t have opprortunities to socialise with other disabled people regularly.
Knowing people with the same disability can be extremely useful, because you can share experiences and help each other out with disability related challenges. Many people also find that other disabled people, particularly those with the same disability, relate to them much better than non disabled people do, because of their shared experience.
Because of this, many disabled people like to have a group of disabled friends. Personally, while I do have non disabled friends, my closest friends are other disabled people. I’ve often found I have more in common with other disabled people and we often have a lot of shared experience. Plus, I think early on in a friendship, it’s easier to ask a disabled person for disability related help and they will usually better understand why it’s so important, because ultimately they will probably ask for disability related help at some point.
Similarly, some disabled people specifically look for a disabled person when seeking a romantic partner.
Social media can really help with meeting other disabled people. There are no geographic boundaries on the internet. There are often specific groups or communities dedicated to disability or a specific disability or category of disabilities. In fact, there are groups that are more specific. For example, there are groups about the accessibility of a specific product for people with a specific disability or a specific area of life such as employment or independent living, for people with a specific disability.
Social media literally makes the world smaller for disabled people. It gives us access to people and information, we literally wouldn’t be able to access without it.
Socialisation Without Leaving the House
Many disabled people, may struggle to access leaving the house regularly or at all. This is commonly due to ongoing health conditions.
The way many disabled people manage the isolation and loneliness of this, is through online friends. They are able to use social media to meet new people and make friends, just as they would by going out. They are also able to connect with people who may be having a similar experience, so they can get through it together.
There are many online communities dedicated to providing group activities, that would usually be delivered in person, for people who cannot attend such events in person or may find that difficult. I have also heard stories of people while having to remain in bed for a long period of time due to illness, staying on video chat all day with people who are also in bed due to illness.
Without these sorts of opportunities, disabled people who may struggle to lve the home, can be completely isolated.
A Tool to Tell the World about Disability or Other Issues
Many disabled people successfullly run blogs, websites, video channels, podcasts or publically accessible social media accounts with regular content. Many of these resources are fully or partially dedicated to educating people about disability.
Mainstream media organisations have a very poor track record when it comes to educating the world about disability and are in many ways responsible for some of the world’s current stereotypes. However, the internet and social media, have allowed disabled people the opportunity to be the ones who educate the world about disability.
These platforms have also allowed disabled people to create really useful resources for disabled people, including: accessibility guides to places or products and useful information about disability or other subjects from a disability perspective.
The internet has allowed disabled people to create and share their own art, writing, music and other creations with the world. This has meant that disabled people have been able to publish work that traditional publishers or distributors may consider not to be commercially viable and show that actually it is very commercially viable.
Social media has also helped to make participating in things like protests and campaigning more accessible. Where as traditionally you would have needed to go out to a public place to take part in such activities, now you can do it from the comfort of your own home or anywhere else you like, thanks to social media. This has significantly increased the number of people who are able to participate in such activities and make their views known.
A Platform to Promote your Business
Many disabled people choose to work for themselves. There are a lack of employers willing to be inclusive. Many disabled people need or would benefit from having more control over their workload, working hours and working environment, in a way that means self employment is the best or only option for them. Self employment is sometimes the best or only way for some disabled people to access certain careers. Alternatively, they may find a problem in the world, that they have the perfect product or service to resolve. There are some very innovative businesses that cater to the needs of disabled people. For example, Even Break a specialist job board that helps employers find disabled talent, which is run by disabled people.
Whatever the reason, self employment is a very popular option amongst disabled people.
And social media can be a very accessible and efficient marketing tool. Disabled entrepreneurs and business owners can share their products and services with a much wider audience than they may be able to reach in person. Furthermore, they can reach niche and specific groups more easily.
Social media may be the only way they can access to engage people with their business, if in person sales and marketing may be too difficult or time consuming. It may be quicker and more efficient than going out. Or it may be more cost effective. For example, it may be cheaper to run an online shop rather than an in person one or to have meetings with customers on a video chat platform, than to have to travel to meet them in person.
So, as I have just outlined, there are loads of ways in which social media, by being a really useful communication tool, is making the world more accessible and inclusive for disabled people.
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