Online communities are groups of people who come together and interact mainly through the internet.
Social networking sites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are examples of online communities. People use social networking sites for a range of reasons, including socialising with and making new friends, connecting with family, looking for work, entertainment and playing games, education and online learning, participating in civic life, and online shopping.
We believe that social networking sites, when used in a safe and responsible manner, can help people with disability move towards the good life. People with disability should be able to use social networking sites, so they can participate fully in the community, just like everyone else!
Sometimes a distinction is made between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ worlds, and it is sometimes thought that the ‘online’ world and the social interactions that take place within it are somehow less important. We believe thinking about participation in online community life as less important or less real, limits the opportunities people with disabilities have for connecting with the community. Just as offline communities can provide a space of friendship and acceptance, so too can online communities.
For some people with disability who experience social isolation in the ‘real’ world, online social networking can allow them to gain access to communities that would typically be beyond their reach. Online social networking can:
- remove some of the physical barriers to participation, such as inaccessible buildings
- remove some of the social barriers for people who might find it difficult to talk with people face-to-face.
- help maintain relationships with friends after school or outside of work, or if people move away from each other.
- provide opportunities for people with disabilities to connect with each other and provide support or share information.
But just like anyone who chooses to use social networking sites, it’s important for people with disability and their whānau to be aware of the potential dangers involved. To ensure social networking is fun and safe, it is important that people with disability know how to conduct and protect themselves online. Here are a few basic things to think about:
- keep personal information like your address, phone number and email address private on social networking sites
- talk about how to deal with someone if they are being unkind, making you feel uncomfortable, or unsafe on social networking sites
- the importance of having a strong password for logging onto social networking sites.
There are also websites and resources available to help people learn how to use social networking sites and the internet safely.