Young teenage girl wearing a black and red checked hoodie, standing outside and looking at her i-phone.

Staying Safe Online: The VIP Guide!

What does keeping safe online mean to visually impaired young people? The Online World and Tech are so important for VI people for so many reasons. Find out why, from one of our mentors.

‘I remember setting up my Facebook page when I was 13 years old. It was the first time I’d been able to access a platform like this just like everyone else in my school; Bebo and MySpace were inaccessible to me, MSN was doable, but a challenge. Facebook was slick, easy and exciting. Exciting because now I could join in with conversations at lunch about what so-and-so had posted last night, where before I’d been the silent observer; unable to keep up, to join in, to access what felt like the majority of my friends’ social lives.

I also remember being able to totally bamboozle my parents into thinking I was doing something complicated and technical and important by throwing a few words of jargon around like HTML and server. I could fool my them into thinking I was working on an IT project for school, or trying to fix an accessibility issue with my screen-reading software, when really I was scrolling on Twitter and chatting to friends online!

Being able to access the world online meant access to a whole new community as well; suddenly, I could read articles about blind people who were authors, teachers, doctors and actors; I could join a group of likeminded people that would answer my questions without judgment; I could chat to someone half-way across the world who I had so much in common with – I could hardly believe it. I could feel accepted. I could feel included. I could feel protected, being able to interact with my classmates from behind a screen which made it easier to talk IRL the next day at break.

I also remember being flattered when a boy I didn’t know requested me as a friend because he said I was pretty. I remember talking and talking and talking to this person, feeling like I knew them and they knew me, without realising that I didn’t know where they lived or who they really were. I remember not knowing what to do when his messages turned graphic, so I told no-one.

Online access gave me the tools for independent research. It gave me a way of socialising with people my own age. It gave me a way of finding my community of visually impaired people all over the world. It taught me the nuances of advocacy and taught me the rights I have as a disabled person.   It gave me an outlet for my creativity, and for this, I am eternally grateful.   

I would never be without my phone or the internet but it is only now I am a bit older that I know how important it is to keep myself safe online. At that time, I had another ‘virtual’ life that my parents did not know about and could not understand.  The reality is – young people can get hurt online.  Not only through unsafe relationships that start off innocently, but also comments, likes and shares that can affect all of us. I think it’s important for parents to realise how their kids are interacting through their screens and to be able to offer sound, knowledge-based advice to their kids.’

To find out more about our Safe and Savvy online webinars, please click below.

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