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Social networking, the disabled view

by Emma Tracey

5th April 2011

Tonight’s In Touch programme is all about social networking. As well as filling us in on the basics of how these online communication methods work, Peter White and guests will explore the particular advantages sights like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can have for people who are blind.
A close up image of a computer keyboard.
Although visually impaired people are one of the disability groups best known for their love of technology, it’s not just they who are socialising, networking and getting their news and information fix through social networks. Below, four very active online communicators with a range of disabilities talk about how social networks have helped with everything from reducing feelings of isolation, simplifying access to important information, getting instant support and advice and even improving employability.

Barbara:advice, awareness raising and a bit of craic

Barbara Wilson
Twitter is the only social network I use. I access it with Qwitter for PC, Tweets60 for smart phones running the Symbian series 60 operating system and Tweetlist for iPhone. All three of these “clients” are free and accessible to blind Twitter users.

I use Twitter for Keeping up with friends and making new friends, sharing information and experiences and giving other people a bit of support. It’s good for having a bit of craic as well.

Twitter does away with the eye-contact element of a conversation. We’re all equal and I think that’s why people like it so much.

If one of my disabled followers has been treated badly or is not feeling too good, it’s nice to drop them a message saying “life can be a bit crap. That happened to me.” If I have experience of their situation I’ll also give them advice. I see tweets from peple who don’t come in contact with anyone face to face from one day to the next and I can only imagine what it’s like to be so isolated.

I tend to tweet things which might make other non-disabled people think. if I was out with the dog and there was a car on the pavement I’d write that I had to walk on the main road, which everyone understands is very dangerous when you can’t see. I try not to bang on about disability too much myself, but find reading about relevant issues and equipment useful.

In the past, papers like the guardian might have been a week old before they were available in a format I could read. If you follow the news outlets on Twitter, all you need to do to read the stories you want is click the links.

There are a lot of famous people on Twitter. I have been known to tweet some of them when they’ve said something I found interesting or funny. I am careful though not to over-tweet them or carry the conversation on too long. Many have replied to me and I’ve even built up an online acquaintance with some.

Barbara Wilson is a self-employed trainer/facilitator and guide dog owner from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

Lisa: Friendships, campaigns and “oh my god my favourite show’s been cancelled”

Lisa Egan
I’m often ill and can’t afford to physically attend events, so I tend to use social networks as a way of engaging with other people in real life. It’s not quite as rewarding as having a hug and a laugh face to face but it’s better than nothing.

At the moment, I do a lot of campaigning online against the proposed government cuts to disability benefits and services. I use Twitter and Facebook in equal measure, Facebook to keep in touch with those I actually know and twitter to talk to people I don’t.

I met lots of my Facebook friends through Ouch! Once I found the first person, the Suggest a Friend option on their page led me to another message board poster.

Twitter is where I share stuff I find interesting; disability politics, anti-cuts, “oh my god my favourite show’s just got cancelled”, that sort of thing. I follow a mix of people. Some off the telly, people who tweet interesting things, comedians who tweet funny stuff and news sources like the Huffington Post.

I run a blog called where’s The Benefit. If someone sends around a link to a petition, I won’t sign until I’ve read up on what it’s for. Where’s the Benefit is there to pass on the information I collect through my own research and to let people know about what’s going on with the proposed cuts to disability benefits and services, so that they can make informed decisions for themselves. We use Blogger and every post we publish gets automatically sent to Twitter and Facebook. At last count we had 724 followers on Twitter.

Without social networks, none of the current disability campaigns could happen. Even the physical protests are being organised, at least in part, through Facebook and Twitter.

Before the last big protest, the organisers put a buddy system in place. If a disabled person felt that they could go but might need assistance during the day, they were matched with another disabled person who could help them. A wheelchair user might spend the day with someone who can walk but whose impairment means that they have no sense of direction.

In the past few months I’ve been on a few protest marches but there were days when I wasn’t able to go. Then I could stay at home and follow events on Twitter as they unfolded.

Lisa Egan’s Twitter biog describes her as a “Disabled, gay Essex girl currently living in Camden". Her interests lie in film, comedy and disability politics.
Lisa and friends at a Tweet up.
It all started with a social network.

Darragh: Celebrations, networking and increased employability

Darragh and his guide dog Ike
While training for my guide dog Ike I kept a blog. This was long-winded, so I tweeted as well so my followers could get a glimpse of what was happening in my life. I rarely sent a tweet about the dog that didn’t get a response. It was a few days after Ike and I were introduced, before Ike was comfortable enough to go to the toilet properly on my command. Getting a new guide dog into a proper ‘spending’ routine is very important. When Ike finally did it, My online followers celebrated with me, because they new how difficult this was proving and how anxious I’d become about it. Their empathy and support really helped.

Social networks are useful for networking both on and off line. I have a technical job and I regularly tweet information and queries relating to it. Many like-minded tech people follow me. I’m going to a “tweet up” at the end of May. I might know three of the people there face to face, but have online relationships with 20 or 30 others. I will use Foursquare and Schmooze, both of which are location-based services, to seek out those whose voices I wouldn’t recognise. On my Schmooze profile I clearly say “you’re going to see me long before I see you”, so that they know to come on over and chat.

I see social networking as a way of increasing my employability. I like to get to know prospective employers on this unnaturally level playing field. I sometimes upload tutorials on how to do technical tasks or how to use a piece of assistive technology. By getting the knowledge out there I’m helping others, but when perspective employers ask “what can you do”, I also have something to point them at.

Darragh O Héiligh, or Digital Darragh, is a system administrator, whose interests lie in technology and Irish traditional music.

Paul: news gathering, communication and help in my time of need.

Paul Harrison
As a freelance journalist, I use Twitter as an informal news wire, to keep updated with information on Westminster politics, Celtic team news and the latest disability/deaf happenings. Twitter helps me to find out what the top trends and the main issues that concern deaf/disabled people are. They might be talking about proposed changes to DLA and Twitter helps me to find out what the main view is.

I once tweeted about a poor sign language interpreter, who had affected my performance during a job interview. I wondered how I should go about making a complaint. I received many replies advising me how to do it. In the end, the matter was resolved for the better.

Instead of making phone calls via third parties, which could be too socially awkward, or where emails may be too formal, getting in touch via networks like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn is a good way to make contacts informally. Social networks allow me to communicate with hearing people on equal terms, removing prejudices. Most people don't know that I'm deaf when I speak to them online unless I tell them. However, not all deaf people are able to use social networks in this way due to the fact that English, for some deaf people, is their second language.

Video sharing areas such as YouTube, Vimeo and Winkball are good platforms for deaf people, as are specialist websites such as

I believe social networks make a huge difference to deaf people. They allow us to share information in real time rather than waiting for traditional forms of media which are slower in spreading and sharing information. For example, a story about a huge deaf event being cancelled: one person will post the news on Twitter/FB then it spreads to as many people as possible within a few hours. Waiting for official confirmation of the cancellation or for a magazine such as British Deaf News to come up would take much longer.

Paul Harrison works as a freelance journalist and PR/public affairs exec. He describes himself as a Celtic and QPR fan, a political nerd and a news addict.
In Touch can be heard tonight on Radio 4 at 8.40 PM. The seven days rule doesn't apply to this programme so you can catch it any time after that on iPlayer.


    • 1. At 2:53pm on 08 Apr 2011, desabled wrote:

      given this is about social networking i hope you'll for give mention of a yahoo group which s open toi uk resident disabled people it's free has many useful links and over 50 members nationwide i run it and welcome new members the yahoo group is british disabled alliance members use yahoo, messenger msm messenger to chat there is no cost or committment just google british disabled alliance and come in ther water's lovely best wishes group owner mike

      Complain about this comment

    • 2. At 10:39pm on 13 Jun 2011, ProfessionalCripple wrote:

      "These five physical locations for violence - public
      transport, the streets, neighbourhood crime, crimes inside the home and
      institutions - are joined by an emerging virtual one: harassment and
      bullying on the Internet.

      When I was drawing up recommendations for 'getting away
      with murder', I talked to police officers and politicians about whether
      the law on incitement - particularly relating to inciting hatred using
      the Internet - should be broadened to include crimes against disabled
      people. At this time I was unable to find evidence that the Internet is
      being used routinely to mock, taunt, bully or harassed disabled children
      and adults or to incite others to similar acts or to physical violence.

      This isn't true any more. Three years on, there is
      increasing evidence that the Internet (and, to a lesser extent,
      television) is being used as a very modern freakshow where disabled
      people can be mocked, as well as being a place where disabled children
      are being bullied and disabled people harassed with virtual impunity."

      Scapegoat: Why Were Failing Disabled People - Katharine Quarmby - Potrobello Books 2011 - available from book sellers now.

      Disability hate crime: Getting Away With Murder - published by SCOPE - available from the SCOPE website.

      Complain about this comment

    • 3. At 09:46am on 23 Jun 2011, ifa_simon wrote:

      Local user led organisation in Sandwell, Ideal for All, have just launched Twitter and Facebook pages. Be interesting to see how they take off and if they can encourage communication with and between our members. Find out more at

      Complain about this comment

    • 4. At 09:46am on 23 Jun 2011, ifa_simon wrote:

      Local user led organisation in Sandwell, Ideal for All, have just launched Twitter and Facebook pages. Be interesting to see how they take off and if they can encourage communication with and between our members. Find out more at

      Complain about this comment

    • 5. At 09:47am on 23 Jun 2011, ifa_simon wrote:

      This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

    • 6. At 09:47am on 23 Jun 2011, ifa_simon wrote:

      This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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