Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Networking: A Benefit or Drawback?

The other day I had a chat with one of my good friends about the various types of social networking sites that are available to us these days. Although these sites like facebook or twitter have become very popular, we as a community don't often take into account the benefits for those who have some type of disability.

My friend is a wonderful, sweet, intelligent woman who has for years struggled with communicating with other verbally and as a result, she has often stayed away from social gathering because the make her feel isolated and alone. However, social networking has opened up a whole new world for not only my friend but for thousands of other individuals who have been struggling over the years with these same issues.

Twitter text limitation of 140 characters may sometimes be irritating to some of us who are not used to limiting ourselves. However, for an individual with a disability, the 140 character limit is a blessing in disguise because they do not have to write lengthy responses and there is no time limit, which levels the playing field for someone who might be slow at typing.

Social networking sites and online media like chat rooms and instant messaging enables individuals with disabilities to participate and interact with other individuals from all over the globe in ways that would have otherwise been impossible or uncomfortable for them. The internet allows them to communicate with others without the hassle of getting somewhere and the issue of physical access (which can be an issue for those who are physically disabled). Another benefit is that they have the freedom to reveal as little or as much about their disability as they want. According to my friend, many individuals with disability feel this is one of the top benefits because often they are treated differently because of their disability when in actuality they only want to be treated like everyone else. Social networking allows them to correspond with others without their disability taking center stage. My friend talked about how in such instances, the other individual gets to know her based on her ideas, opinions, thoughts and words rather than them getting caught up in their stigmas or misconceptions that they have about her disability.

However, one cannot help but think that social networking is the fool proof solution. Social networking cannot completely replace face-to-face interactions and perhaps individuals, like my friend, are somehow missing out on what life has to offer outside of the virtual world. Although there does seem to be concerns, my friend responds but saying that maybe some day she will meet her virtual friend in person and by that time they would already know each other well in enough that they would be able to move beyond her disability.

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