Safer Internet Day – Releasing our new report
Ellen Skladzien, CEO Down Syndrome Australia and Jess Wilson, CEO Good Things Foundation Australia share their insights on bridging the digital divide for people with intellectual disability this Safer Internet Day.
Eoin Gibson, Project Officer at Down Syndrome Queensland and Roundtable attendee.
Historically, people with intellectual disability have been left behind when it comes to digital technology. Young people with disability also have a higher risk of experiencing online abuse and cyberbullying (eSafety Commission). This means that those with a greater chance of feeling unsafe online may not have all the tools they need to be confident tech users.
The lack of accessibility and training options mean that many who would love to engage with digital technologies face barriers to participating in everything from online education to confidently being able to navigate social media networks while still staying safe.
Down Syndrome Australia advocates for people with Down syndrome to be included in our communities. Community no longer just means the place we live, but it also means the way we connect, including online. Good Things Foundation’s work shows that digital inclusion is social inclusion.
During the first two years of the pandemic this was amplified when all aspects of life moved online from work conferences to social events, therapies and even exercise classes. For some people, having activities moved online meant less travel time, and new opportunities for connections. For others it meant not being able to access activities, a loss of connection and a new sense of isolation and loneliness.
Many member families at Down Syndrome Australia shared concerns about online safety over this time and navigating this new world online without the right supports for both themselves and their child with Down syndrome.
“My brother Dan uses the internet for many things. Staying in contact with me via text, What’s App, Facebook. He checks the weather, he runs a football tipping competition, he uses it for inspiration for his artwork and has his own website where he sells his work. This isn’t so unusual, except that Dan has Down syndrome and has needed support to learn how to use the internet and how to stay safe. He still needs that support today. I know how important it is to support people with intellectual disability to get online, but also the scary feeling that someone may take advantage.“
Today on Safer Internet Day, it’s important that we call this out as a problem we need to tackle.
The theme of Safer Internet Day this year is Play It Fair Online. To truly play it fair, everyone needs to be supported to feel confident and safe so they can fully participate in our digital world. This is particularly the case for young people with intellectual disability.
That’s why we wanted to explore the experience of young people with intellectual disability in more detail to understand what the digital divide looks like for them and what they and their supporters need to ensure they are equal, safe and confident members of the digital world. We know that solutions are better when people from across sectors work together and people with lived experience have their voices and needs heard directly.
So in October 2021, Down Syndrome Australia and Good Things Foundation Australia partnered to hold the Bridging the Digital Divide for People with Intellectual Disability Roundtable.
Our Roundtable drew together people with intellectual disability, family members of young people with intellectual disability, government representatives, disability sector workers and digital inclusion experts.
We heard that:
- Access to the right technology and affordable data remains a barrier for people with intellectual disability, and more needs to be done to support people to have this access
- It is critical that everyone is able to participate confidently and safely online. To access these benefits of the online world, people with intellectual disability need to have digital skills.
Overwhelmingly, we heard the need for a nationally funded program and resources to support ongoing digital skills education for people with intellectual disability.
Our pilot program together is a good start, but there is much more to do to close the digital divide for young people with intellectual disability. We need an ongoing program of funding to ensure that digital literacy development is supported and that the great resources we’re developing won’t just sit on an online shelf, but be used by people that really need them.
As we move into our “new normal” world, we need to embrace the benefits that the disruptions have brought, while also ensuring that there is equal and safe access. We need to work together to identify and address the barriers that are stopping this from happening. And, we need to support people with intellectual disability to equally and safely participate in the online world.
Ellen Skladzien, CEO Down Syndrome Australia and Jess Wilson, CEO Good Things Foundation Australia