For people with disability — their stories triumph over online abuse

Posted 2 months ago by Andrew Barbara
After a news story that will make you happy? Look no further. [Source: Shutterstock]
After a news story that will make you happy? Look no further. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • A new report released by the eSafety Commissioner found that younger people with disability have prioritised sharing their stories, experiences and triumphs online, despite receiving more abuse than the general population
  • Almost 60 percent of young people with disability reported they had been treated in a hurtful or nasty way in the past 12 months, compared with the national average of 45 percent
  • 16 percent had been subjected to online abuse at least weekly, compared to nine percent of overall Australian youth

The internet is a great equaliser for people with disability, to work, play and socialise. However, societal attitudes, stigmas and abusive behaviour still permeate the online space — despite the expressive new generation of souls who inhabit it.

A new survey conducted by the eSafety Commissioner found that young people with disability are more likely than the national average to have encountered hurtful and nasty treatment, such as hate speech and physical threats and to have seen potentially harmful content such as graphic violence.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said that people with disability were able to navigate the internet and use it to its potential, despite being almost twice as likely to face abuse.

“The online world is an incredible gateway to self-affirming experiences for young people with disability that were unimaginable just a few generations ago. The internet is expanding their social and cultural circles, opening up opportunities others might take for granted,” the Commissioner said. 

“Of the young people with disability surveyed, almost 70 percent said they find it easier to be themselves online than when they’re with people face-to-face; 45 percent said that ‘talking to people who like the same things’ was one of the best things about the internet and 25 percent said they made new friendships every week.  

“Unequivocally, the internet has helped dismantle barriers and enabled young people with disability to participate in the community more freely and fully, but it’s a paradoxical playground. 

“On the flip side, they’re more likely to see some of the most harmful online content […] When faced with online abuse, young people with disability showed they’re empowered to act.

“This confidence and responsiveness could be attributed to the active involvement of their parents and carers in their online lives. Most parents told us that they set clear rules and used digital control tools to guide their child’s online activity.”

The new report, A new playground: the digital lives of young people with disability, is an assessment of over 3,500 young people aged eight to 17 years old and their parents or carers, including almost 1,000 young people with disability. The most common disability types among participants with disability were learning disability, mental ill-health and behaviours of concern.

“Almost one in three told us their mental health had been affected by their most recent negative online experience,” she added.

“This research reinforces that we must apply the lessons of the Disability Royal Commission to the online world as much as the offline one. People with disability have told us they want Australia to be a place where they can live free from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“More than that, they want Australia to be a place that respects them, includes them and empowers them to lead the lives they want.”

Minister for Social Services, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP said the Albanese Government remains committed to driving Commonwealth action through Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021 – 31 to create a safe and inclusive society for all Australians with disability. Importantly, this includes the online environment. 

“The Internet can be empowering for young people with disability and a great way for them to connect with their peers — but it is important that this is in a safe and supportive way. We’ve recently repealed and replaced the Disability Services Act 1986, which pre-dated the Internet and gave no clear authority for funding services and support in the online environment,” Minister Rishworth said. 

To read the full report and access a wide range of resources to stay safe online, please visit the eSafety online portal.

What has your online experience been like as a person with disability? Do you find that it is easier to make friends than it is in the real world? Let the team at Talking Disability know how you express yourself and subscribe to the free weekly newsletter for more news and information.


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