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“It’s helped me connect with more friends”: Supporting social media use to enhance the social networks of young people with disabilities living in rural South Australia

Social media Assistive technology People with disability Rural and remote communities Youth South Australia

Background: Young people with disabilities often have reduced social networks impacting their social participation and self-esteem. Training young people with disabilities in social media skills represents an opportunity to build and develop their social networks. 

Aim: To investigate the effectiveness of social media training and online mentoring support in building the social networks of young people with disability in rural communities. 

Method: A mixed methods design consisting of three stages. Stage 1 was an Internet use survey to obtain an overview of Internet and social media use amongst young people with disabilities. Stage 2 was a face to face intervention whereby participants received tailored training and support to achieve personalised social media goals. Stage 3 was an online mentoring support program to continue development of social media skills. 

Findings: Stage 1 identified that young people with disabilities were predominantly engaged in passive, non-social online activities such as watching videos and playing games alone. Stage 2 identified that, with training and support, young people with disabilities can considerably improve their social media skills, build their online communication networks and strengthen existing relationships. Stage 3 identified that online mentoring support was effective in developing young people’s ability to connect online, with stronger evidence of the strengthening of existing social connections than development of new relationships. 

Recommendations: To support young people with disabilities to be active agents in building their social networks using social media, provision of assistive technologies, and training and support in social media use and online mentoring is a beneficial use of NDIS funding for this age group. Future research could investigate school-based social media use interventions. 

This report is funded with assistance from a funding grant offered under the National Disability Research and Development Agenda, jointly implemented by disability representatives from Commonwealth, State and Territory governments. 

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