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Children with disabilities need better support to manage their online lives and potential online risks, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Being online and part of a well-connected community can have great benefits for children with disabilities. However, children with disabilities will be more exposed to online risks, and these can escalate faster than for their peers.
Research shows that when children with disabilities are learning, playing and socializing online, additional support from professionals such as teachers, youth workers and speech and language therapists is not always available. It also highlights how this impacts these children’s ability to access or activate digital resilience support through this community of professionals.
Digital resilience refers to the ability to learn to recognise, manage and recover from online risky experiences such as bullying, sexual messaging and misinformation or disinformation and is an increasingly important process for participating in an increasingly connected world.
The study, published in the journal New Media & Society and involving researchers from the University of Liverpool, finds that professionals supporting children with disabilities need to better support their connected lives in order to increase community digital resilience promote and counteract digital inequalities.
The results come as the latest draft online safety law nears the end of its passage through Parliament. While this landmark law will place a greater responsibility on technology companies to do more to keep users, including children, safe, it is widely recognized that it will not be able to eradicate all risks from online life. This underscores the need to improve user education about online risks, particularly for vulnerable groups such as children with disabilities.
The lead author Dr. Simon P. Hammond of the UEA School of Education and Lifelong Learning said, “Educators spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with unforeseen safety incidents and/or sudden disciplinary issues, a major contributor to high and stressful workloads.”
dr Jeanette D’Arcy, from the University of Liverpool’s Communications and Media Department, commented: “Education professionals need support to invest their time in building and maintaining the kind of connections in their communities that will help them best support this group.”
‘Reallocating the time invested in addressing structural gaps and gaps between different professionals around children with disabilities is likely to have repercussions in other areas,’ added Dr. Hammond added. “In this context, supporting other community members is also key to fostering children’s digital resilience.
“This means children with disabilities will receive more support as they learn how to recognize, manage and recover from online risky experiences – an increasingly important task for all citizens. For communities to be greater than the sum of their parts, responsibility must still be shared among the property collective; a delicate but not impossible task that will likely pay off.
“Although they learn best through tangible experiences, children with disabilities are receiving fewer supported learning opportunities to develop their digital resilience in the face of online risks.
Previous research has focused on the development of digital resilience at the individual level, but the way in which surrounding community support networks affect it is underexplored.
dr Gianfranco Polizzi of the University of Liverpool said: “The paper’s findings illustrate that professionals should examine community resources and assets and be ‘connection brokers’, activating and making a variety of assets accessible and managing resource pools to build digital resilience both at the community level as well as for the individual.”
Simone Vibert, Head of Policy and Research at Internet Matters, an organization that provides resources, information and support to keep children safe online, said: “Our data consistently shows that children who are offline are at risk, including because of a disability , more are also vulnerable online and need specific support to increase their resilience. This research paper points to the critical role of professionals in providing that support.
“Teachers and other professionals have a major impact on children’s lives, and it is a missed opportunity if that impact is not harnessed to help children manage online risks – so they can enjoy the benefits of connected technology more safely . Internet Matters welcomes this report and is committed to doing our part to provide professionals with the support they need to engage children in their online lives.”
The research involved 30 semi-structured online interviews with professionals supporting the education, growth and well-being of children with disabilities from across the UK, including teachers and youth workers.
For more information: “Connection brokers: How educators work within and between social networks to promote community digital resilience to support children with disabilities to use the Internet”, New Media & Society (2023). DOI: 10.1177/14614448231157330
Provided by the University of East Anglia
Citation: More Support for Children with Disabilities to Use the Internet (2023 March 23) Retrieved March 23, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-03-children-disabilities-internet.html
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