Social Media Is a Social Equalizer

I saw a recent tweet that reminded me of something we wrote about in The Virtual Handshake:

In the process of researching The Virtual Handshake, I had the pleasure of meeting scientist, researcher and disabilities activist Gregor Wolbring and discussing this topic with him at length. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 3. Keep in mind as you’re reading this that it was written back in 2004:

Tim Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the Internet, said, “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” When you are meeting people virtually, disabilities that would hinder or prevent face-to-face social interaction can become a nonissue.

Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Dr. Gregor Wolbring

Dr. Gregor Wolbring is a biochemistry and bioethics professor at the University of Calgary and founder of the International Centre for Bioethics, Culture and Disability. He offers information worldwide through his Web site, virtual discussion group, and online courses. He develops most of his contacts virtually.

A wheelchair user himself, he says, “I find online interaction very empowering because it allows me to reach more people and help more people than I would ever be able [to] without it. I just hope it will become more broadly available and the digital divide for disabled people becomes smaller.”

Wolbring sees virtual interaction as a social equalizer for disabled people in five key ways:

  1. It allows disabled people to interact with so-called nondisabled people without having to reveal their nonnormative body structure or functioning. This allows disabled people with low self-esteem and with high fears of rejection to communicate with the world.
  2. It allows disabled people to interact with people all over the world, even if they are not able to travel because of financial or mobility restrictions.
  3. Virtual learning allows the teaching of disabled people who otherwise have no access to education. Less than 2 percent of disabled people in developing countries are in regular schools.
  4. It allows for dissemination of knowledge that would be too expensive for disabled people to obtain otherwise.
  5. It allows for more efficient advocacy.

He notes that every Web site designer should be aware that many Web sites and Internet tools are still not disabled accessible. The World Wide Web Consortium provides free accessibility tips and tools.

How has social media impacted your life in this context? Has it opened up new possibilities and relationships for you? Please share in the comments–I’d love to hear your story.

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