The internet has transformed the way we live – especially communication and leisure time – and this includes people with learning disabilities. Although people with LD may have fewer opportunities to access computers, or need support to use them, they can benefit.
The many benefits include:
- Freedom - people can interact with others without their disability 'getting in the way'. People may choose not reveal they have a disability. Alternatively, they may choose to communicate anonymously, or invent a whole new persona. All can be profoundly liberating.
- More opportunities to communicate – to meet like-minded people and make new friends (reduced social isolation)
- Broader horizons – having access to a whole new world from the comfort of one’s home (particularly helpful for those who have mobility issues, or who are fearful about going out).
- Increased feeling of control and engagement –using a computer is an active pursuit, rather than say passively watching TV (empowerment)
- Creativity and self-expression – the advent of tablets has made the internet more portable, convenient and accessible. New programs and apps that enhance people's experience and enjoyment of the internet are being developed all the time. Some happen to be user-friendly for people with learning disabilities, others are designed with them specifically in mind.
- Incentive to learn new skills – some adults with learning disabilities lack literacy skills because they were never taught to read and write as a child. Many have the ability to learn these skills, but lack the confidence, or a good enough reason to try. The internet – and the many opportunities it provides - could be just the incentive they need.
Safer Net's Top Tips for professionals / those who support people with learning disabilities:
- Remember the positives! The internet has much to offer people with learning disabilities. Some can use a computer without help, but many (probably most) will need at least some support to do so. Not just technical support e.g.– how to use a mouse, but support in understanding the complexities of online relationships and managing risks
- Carry out risk assessments for the people you support
- Develop a Social Media Policy - if your employer doesn't already have one, encourage them to introduce one. This will enable you to a) support people with learning disabilities to use social media, and b) to maintain professional boundaries. The policy should include, for example, advice on whether you can accept friend requests from the people you support.
- Inform yourself. Some people use the internet more than others, but if your job is to support people with learning disabilities, you have a responsibility to familiarise yourself with this territory. Ask your employer for training if you feel you need it.
For more info - read Cool but Careful - watch words for creating a safer net - an article by Louise Wallis published in Community Living magazine, about online safety for people with learning disabilities and the Safer Net Network.
More help: The Bullying UK website has some useful advice, and runs a FREE helpline open 24 hours a day: 0808 800 2222