Frontline Initiative Social Capital
Using social media to connect with communities regardless of ability/disability
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 71% of online adults in the USA used Facebook to connect with friends, share ideas and photos, and stay in touch with loved ones. Unfortunately, the percentage of individuals with intellectual disabilities who are accessing this community engagement tool lags far behind that of the general population.
Some family members and DSPs (and the organizations they work for) may be concerned about the risks that come with putting an individual’s personal information online. Or, they may not be familiar enough with the tools themselves to feel comfortable with providing guidance to others who want to use social media tools such as Facebook.
While these concerns are reasonable, there are now many ways to make social media safe and easy to use. Organizations and individuals supporting those with developmental disabilities can no longer ignore the incredible opportunities for community engagement that social media can bring and ways that they can increase social capital.
We all want to provide the individuals we support to be able to engage in their communities in meaningful ways. Social media is all about community and technology has made accessing those communities relatively easy, even for those with significant disabilities. It doesn’t make sense to ignore these avenues of community access.
Another consideration: in the virtual world, a person’s disability is not a factor. Say, for example, an individual with intellectual disabilities joins a Facebook group dedicated to the Denver Broncos. All the other people in the group see that person as a fellow fan – someone just like them. The individual can engage in this online community without barriers and without judgment.
Organizations and DSPs looking to use social media to support the individuals they serve need to be strategic. They need to understand the platforms, understand applicable rules and regulations, and take the necessary precautions to ensure safe usage.
Over the past five years, Imagine! has explored ways to use social media to enhance the lives of the individuals we serve. We have used a variety of social media platforms to engage and inform our many stakeholders. We have used Facebook to create private groups for families who have family members with disabilities so they can share stories and ideas in a secure environment. We have assisted individuals in using social media to tell their stories and support their passions – for example, we helped one young man who creates his own pottery to use social media to promote and sell his art. We have even conducted a study that looked at how Facebook could be used as a tool to lessen the frequency of inappropriate attention seeking behavior.
Organizations and DSPs looking to use social media to support the individuals they serve need to be strategic. They need to understand the platforms (especially privacy settings), understand applicable rules and regulations, and take the necessary precautions to ensure safe usage. We already do that in the many other aspects of our service provision; there’s no reason we can’t do the same when it comes to social media and the online world. By failing to do so, we do a great disservice to our community and the people we serve. The use of social media can greatly enhance a person’s social capital.