Staying safe online: Perspectives from people living with disability

Anna Holliday

Background: Anecdotal evidence from disability service recipients suggested that Tasmanians with disability were subjected to harmful online experiences. Consequently, people with disability frequently engaged with disability service providers for assistance in withdrawing or recovering from negative online situations. Further scoping is required to better understand the experiences and needs of this population to enable service planning.

Aims: The aim of this exploratory research was to identify the predominant online risks experienced by Tasmanian’s with disability and to capture their perspectives of navigating the internet.

Methods: Cross-sectional scoping research. Participants (n=98) were adults with intellectual and/or cognitive disability. Participant invitations were distributed to a broad range of Tasmanian community recipients. Qualitative data was collected via individual interviews, small group discussions and community forums. Data was summarised and key themes were identified.

Results: Consultation revealed four primary themes within participant contributions: bullying/harassment, online grooming, image-based abuse and cybercrime scams. Participants reported feeling confused, embarrassed and vulnerable as a result of these encounters, and commonly noted a significant negative impact on their real-life relationships.

Conclusions: There is broad consensus that the internet offers people diverse and beneficial opportunity, including the ability to communicate and nurture social relationships. In reality, however, the potential danger and risks online (financial, social and emotional) may be devastating for people living with intellectual and/or cognitive impairment. Targeted supports are needed to mitigate these online risks and improve the online experiences of people with disability.