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Internet usage continues to increase among adults with learning disabilities (LD) but many are scared to use the internet or are denied access by those who care for them. The internet offers many opportunities, such as increasing an individual’s social network, independence and access to health information and support, for example using a virtual environment so that adults with LD can experience a hospital environment and make informed decisions (Hall et al.,2011. Full article link; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222201/) .However other literature has highlighted that accessing the internet can have some negative effects on the wellbeing of adults with LD and leave them vulnerable to online and offline exploitation (Holmes and O’Loughlin, 2012).
Because of a lack of qualitative researchinto the everyday online experiences of adults with LD living in the United Kingdom, there is a reliance on the media and children’s internet safety information to make decisions about using the internet by this group and those who support them. I interviewed 8 adults with LD, who were aged between 19 to 62, about their online experiences and wellbeing using a descriptive phenomenological approach called reflective lifeworld research. Some participants used the internet a lot whilst some only used the internet as partof their volunteering role. Some of the themes that are emerging from the dataare;
The internet is providing some people with LD friendship, a sense of freedom, friendship, a sense of belonging, emotional support and feelings of being valued and respected.
What happens in virtual worlds; friendships, relationships and the roles they play are very important, meaningful and valuable to some of the participants, but are often discounted by those who support them.
Offline experiences and perceptions can influence online experiences and perceptions, such as ‘friendship’ and what this means.
The real world creates many barriers to people with LD and the internet can make things easier and often possible, but should we encourage people with LD to use the internet or virtual environments to increase their health and wellbeing, or to have virtual jobs, friendships, relationships and families?
Do you think the internet is an opportunity or a threat to people with an LD?
Do you encourage the people you work with touse the internet to increase their health and wellbeing?
There are some Youtube video links of people’s experiences in Second Life and what they gain from living in an online virtual world;
Linden, X. (2015) Second Life: What SL Means to Me – Xiola Linden [online] YouTube. Available:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF2VQ7WqEfI (accessed 12.4.2017)
Linden, T. (2016) Second Life: What SL Means to Me – Toley Linden [online] YouTube. Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAXSBdXymBA (accessed 12.4.2017).
If you want to read more, you may find these books interesting to read;
Boellstorff, T. (2008) Coming of Age inSecond Life. An Anthropologist Explores the Virtual Human. Princeton University Press: New Jersey, US.
Turkle, S. (2011) Alone Together. Why We Expext More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Basic Books: New York,US.
Chadwick, D., Quinn, S. & Fullwood, C.(2016). Perceptions of the risks and benefits of Internet access and use bypeople with intellectual disabilities. British Journal of Learning Disabilities [doi:10.1111/bld.12170.
Holmes, K.M. & O'Loughlin, N. (2014) The experiences of people with learning disabilities on social networking sites. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42 (1), 3-7.
Löfgren-Mårtenson, L. (2008) Love in Cyberspace: Swedish Young People with Intellectual Disabilities and the Internet. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research, 10 (2), 125-138.
McClimens, A. & Gordon, F. (2009) People with intellectual disabilities as bloggers: What's social capital got to do with it anyway? Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 13 (1), 19-30
Shpigelman, C. & Gill, C.,J. (2014) How to adults with intellectual disabilities use Facebook? Disability and Society,29 (10), 1601-1616.