If everyone with access to the internet would have to sit down, people with a disability would be the last man standing. This situation even applies to the Netherlands where the Internet penetration is incredibly high (95%). Being the last man standing, people are excluded from a part of society that becomes more important every day. Remarkable, given the fact that these people might as well be the group who need it the most and therefore could profit from it the most (a striking example of the innovation paradox).
In the Netherlands we have institutions with professionals who specialize in the care for people with a disability. Here they can live, work and spend their leisure time. Often the social horizon of people with a disability isn’t very broad, because the integration of people with and without a disability is far from ideal. Besides their social horizon, institutions for disabled people often deal with cuts on their budgets. This means less time for each client. Time that clients need to be able to learn social and domestic skills so they can be more independent and self-reliant.
The fact that many of these institutions don’t offer an internet connection to their clients has a lot to do with the fact that technology isn’t their primary habitat. Based on a lack of knowledge and experience they often hesitate to make use of technology by focusing more on the potential danger than on the fruits. The goal of these professionals is to work and care for people (software) not to work with computers (hardware). Often computers and technology are a necessary evil for these healthcare workers.
At the same time it becomes clearer that the internet and new media offer an incredible amount of valuable resources for people with a disability and for healthcare professionals. Social media make it easier to maintain and enlarge ones social network, especially for disabled people who are unable to visit their friends whenever they want. Serious games and interactive videos make it easier to exercise important skills – like social skills. The use of apps can empower people with autism by making it easier for them to travel alone by public transport. New media can also make life easier for healthcare professionals. For example by offering the possibility to give care via webcam. In this way healthcare professionals save time by not having to travel to their clients all the time. At the same time it’s easier for a client when he can ask for help whenever and where ever he needs it.
Slowly institutions realize the possibilities and see the benefits of new media for people with a disability. Frontrunners like Talant, Tjallingahiem, Drievers Dale, MEE Friesland and Ambiq are paving the way for the sector. Talant, for example, facilitates internet connections for their clients. A striking case is that of Theo and his brother William who live 150 km apart. Because none of the clients of Talant had internet, William started a project to facilitate internet so he could have contact with Theo much more frequently. From the moment the internet connection was realized, a new world has opened for Theo. Every week he Skypes with his brother and uses Google and Wikipedia to get to know more about Rihanna. His friends, also living at Talant, use social networks to get to know people, maintain an online radiostation and spread the music they make via YouTube and other social networks.
A promising case is that of Tjallingahiem, Drievers Dale, MEE Friesland and Ambiq who are working together to realize a tailor made online private platform for individual clients. The platform will offer a whole range of modules like an online training module where clients work on their goals via gamification, a video diary, a care plan that can be accessed by a selected part of the clients social network etc. Besides enriching the daily care of the social healthcare workers, the platform also enables clients to be more independent and self-reliant.
Man in the middle
Although the vast majority of the institutions for people with a disability don’t offer any form of new media yet, the sector started developing as these examples show. Hopefully more institutions will follow so people with a disability soon become the men in the middle (of society).