A Social Network for People With Disability
15 February 2017 at 8:30 am
Described as Facebook for people with disability, an inclusive and accessible social network has launched with the aim of creating a global disability community.
Dale Reardon launched the My Disability Matters Club, a social enterprise for people with disability, to provide a safe and easy-to-use space to connect, share ideas, seek advice and find support.
Reardon, who is blind, says existing social media sites are not optimised for people with disability.
“Myself personally, and friends as well, particularly the vision impaired people I knew, were having lots of problems using Facebook,” Reardon says.
“Even though they’ve got an accessibility team, it has a lot of problems and can be quite difficult to use.”
He says people with disability also experience bullying or trolling on social media, especially when discussing disability issues.
“I’ve personally experienced bullying on social media and I know a lot of other disabled people have as well,” he says.
“It can range from bullying based on their looks if they put up photos, to just telling them that they’re worthless. I’ve had tweets telling me that all disabled people should be dead and you’re just a drain on society. All sorts of criticism and intolerance.
“I was wanting to create a more safe, respectful and tolerant environment.”
Reardon says the functions of the site are “very similar to Facebook”.
Users create a profile where they can enter information and updates, and connect with friends and follow people. There is also personal messaging and group chat.
The My Disability Matters Club then offers other features to make it more accessible for people with disability.
“You can monitor new updates and discussions via email, which doesn’t work very well with Facebook,” Reardon says.
“And we’re hoping to develop, in the future, the ability to fully post as well via email, because some of our members have requested that.”
Along with Facebook-like functions, Reardon wanted to provide discussion forums on the site for people with disability to share experiences and seek advice, particularly with the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“There’s been lots of people introducing themselves, explaining the disabilities that they’ve got, talking about schooling or work problems, or unfortunately problems with getting adequate government support, questions about the NDIS of course, wanting to keep updated on information,” Reardon says.
“And one of the things we’ve been told is that being disabled, as I know myself when I wasn’t married and had a partner, can be very lonely and isolating. So people are enjoying meeting other people and making friends as well.”
He says My Disability Matters is not just for people with disability – family, friends, supporters and carers are welcome to join.
“The more the better,” he says.
Reardon, who is based in Hobart, hopes the social media site will attract people from all over the world.
“We’ve got a lot of Australians, just because we’ve been targeting NDIS interests with Facebook ads to get members,” he says.
“But we’ve certainly got people from the UK, the US, Ireland, New Zealand, even parts of Africa and other parts of Europe, so a lot of different people from around the world.”
My Disability Matters, which launched in December 2016, ticked over 1,000 members last week.
The business model, which relies primarily on ad dollars, was finessed with the help of the Macquarie Kickstarter program.
“[It] was a terrific experience,” Reardon says.
“Our mentor… last year helped us broaden our horizons and develop a good business plan, and it was during that process that we jointly came up with the idea, and then we set about developing it on WordPress, using BuddyPress, WooCommerce and bbPress, which are different open source softwares, as the base of the site and some custom development work.
“There will be standard advertising, banners, at this stage Google Adsense ads are the easiest to put on the site, sponsorship, perhaps email advertisements and business memberships will come in where businesses pay to get some advertising features and different additions to their profiles and things.”
Reardon says once the social enterprise starts to make money, he will use it to further support the disability community.
“We’re obviously not making any profit yet, but as we grow we intend to employ disabled people wherever possible, be that in customer support, management and marketing, moderation on the forums – any of the standard roles. There’s no reason people with disabilities can’t perform those duties,” he says.
“Then in the future when we have bigger surpluses, hopefully we will establish a foundation to give grants to disabled people to help with employment and starting their own business, and we obviously want to become an example employer to show what can be done with employing disabled people and get out there and promote that as well.”