Social media can help reduce isolation for people with learning disabilities

Last week I attended a conference along with two members of the Voice and Community reference group, to talk about people with learning disabilities using social media.

The 'Adults with learning disabilities living in the community: combating isolation and supporting well-being and resilience' conference run by Lemos and Crane was an opportunity to tell practitioners why social media is so important for people with learning disabilities.

Although there are obvious dangers to using social media and the internet (for all of us) we at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities do not believe this should stop people with learning disabilities from accessing these resources.

In fact we see sites like Facebook and Twitter as a key way for people with learning disabilities to stay connected and engage with the world. Technology is becoming an ever present part of our lives and if we do not support people with learning disabilities to safely use these tools then they will miss out on opportunities. How many times this week have you checked Twitter or websites to find out the latest news? How would you job search if you weren’t able to use the internet with confidence? It is vital we enable people with learning disabilities to be a part of this changing world.

We produced an easy read guide to keeping safe online which Michelle and Katy, part of the reference group who helped to write this guide, talked about at the event. This work came from the Voice and Community project looking at preventing hate crime, bullying and harassment towards people with learning disabilities. There are many benefits to using social media; staying in touch with old friends, finding new friends, playing games, keeping up to date with news, sharing stories and pictures, to name but a few. Although there have been examples in the news of people with learning disabilities being abused or taken advantage of online, these things can happen to any of us, we just need to be taught about the potential risks and learn how to avoid them. We believe educating family members, supporters and carers about the benefits of social media and offering accessible support to people with learning disabilities is vital to ensuring people with learning disabilities are able to connect with the world around them.

The conference was really interesting with talks on finances, wellbeing, creativity and spirituality as ways of reducing isolation and supporting resilience. It was also great to hear about other work being done around social media and how people with learning disabilities can be supported to keep safe whilst still engaging with new technology. Katy and Michelle spoke very honestly about their experiences of social media, both good and bad. Both continue to use social media like Facebook and Twitter regularly and are keen to make sure other people with learning disabilities are not too afraid to use these sites.

Find out more about the Foundation for Learning Disabilities' work around keeping safe on social media. Lemos and Crane have also established the Action Against Cruelty website as a place to share resources and information about hate crime, bullying and harassment towards people with learning disabilities.