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    How Technology and Social Media Assists People with Disabilities

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    children with disabilities using ipads

    There is no denying the impact technology and social media has on our ability to connect with others.  It gives us the ability to connect with like-minded people who are passionate about the social and political issues that are dear to us.  Whether these like-minded people are in our neighborhoods or on the other side of the globe, social media is removing the geographical boundaries preventing connection.  Most importantly, it has enabled people with disabilities the ability to effectively advocate and/or protest against policies and programs that affect their quality of life.

    People with disabilities of all ages are seen using Twitter, Facebook, blogging platforms, businesses websites, and Kickstarter campaigns to share their life experiences.  Additionally, it is providing a platform for people with disabilities to voice the changes they want to see in expanding inclusion, education, employment, and advocacy opportunities.

    The advancements in technology, for example iPads and other tablets, have broken down barriers to allow people of various limitation levels to display their presence on social media and in society.  The invention of these devices has opened doors when it comes to communication, therapeutic progress, and educational enhancement for students and adults with disabilities.

    The creation of mobile apps on tablets and smartphones has provided a way for those who cannot use their voice to utilize  touch-and-speech technology at greater access and more affordable prices.  Traditionally, touch-and-speech technology would cost close to $8,000.  Whereas now, the purchase of an iPad at about $499 in price, making this technology affordable and accessible through downloadable apps.  Individuals who are hard of hearing can also download applications that can increase the volume for easier listening.

    Physical therapists and teachers have found inventive ways to incorporate the use of technology and applications into their interactions with those with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities.  Such applications have increased individuals’ ability to improve fine motor skills by touching the screens versus having to move a mouse to direct the action they want to take.  Along with providing supplemental instruction methods in the classrooms, this technology seems to resonate well for students with autism who seem to grasp the use of tablets with ease.

    With the advances in the tools we use to communicate, social media helps to bridge the gap between those with disabilities and those who are able-bodied, as well as allow people with disabilities to connect with others who share their health and medical conditions.  There are countless personal and organizational websites in chatrooms and other platforms for almost every medical condition that exists.

    Speaking from a personal standpoint, I am a member of several Facebook groups for individuals with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), and I also follow numerous blogs on Tumblr and Twitter profiles for organizations and individuals with OI and other physical disabilities.  Social media is being used as a means to connect people with disabilities who may have shared similar life experiences.  This connection creates a sense of community with those who know first-hand the struggles and challenges of living with a life-altering and at times life-threatening, medical and/or psychological condition.

    Social media also allows people with disabilities a platform to educate the public about what it means to be disabled while allowing people with disabilities to become self-advocates without having to leave their own homes.  Advocacy and self-advocacy are key components for people with disabilities in order to promote empowerment within the population.  Additionally, it allows for discussion and advocacy for the implementation of effective and efficient programs and policies in order to improve the well-being, social, educational, and economic needs of the group.

    For example, social media allows those who utilize it to raise the public’s social consciousness about policies that can either greatly benefit or hinder people with disabilities when it comes to employment opportunities.  It can also create a wider awareness of politicians who seek to strip people with disabilities of their basic human rights by supporting discriminatory practices and legislation.

    If the message broadcast through social media receives enough support through individuals resharing, retweeting, and the like, then the potential for that message to go viral on the web increases the ability for gaining the attention of mainstream media outlets.  The power of social media cannot be underestimated, and people with disabilities should consider using social media as a tool to gain allies in the fight for a more equal playing field in our society.

    For the people with disabilities who follow Social Work Helper, how do you use technology in your everyday lives?  Has social media proven to be an effective tool to promote advocacy efforts, both personally and professionally?  If so, in what ways has social media proven to be beneficial?  What barriers are there when using social media?  How can advocates and helping professionals promote the importance of using social media to people with disabilities?

    I am very interested in hearing the responses of those with disabilities, disability rights consultants, self-advocates like myself, helping professionals, parents, caregivers, or anyone who has witnessed the power of social media has in impacting the lives of people with disabilities.

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    Vilissa Thompson, LMSW is the Disability and Advocacy Staff Writer for Social Work Helper, and she is also the Founder of Ramp Your Voice! In addition to being a Disability Rights Consultant and Advocate, Vilissa seeks to propel the faces and voices of people of color with disabilities both within the disability community and in the general public. Vilissa can be contacted via email at Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com, or by visiting the Ramp Your Voice! website at http://www.rampyourvoice.com/.

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