Social Media: A tool to reach the Access and Functional Needs Community

Post by: Kim Stephens

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

As a part of a current project I have found some great content that references the use of social media as a tool to reach vulnerable populations.  There are four reports I’d like to highlight that address this concept–some from the point of view of the citizen, others from the point of view of the first responder. All of the reports remind us that a one-size-fits-all approach for communicating is not a successful strategy in this day and age where people get to pick how they find information. If you are reluctant to use social media because (as I’ve heard stated) you don’t think your community uses the tools–think again!

1. Social Media: A Tool For Inclusion was written by Anne Taylor with funding from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Horizontal Policy Integration Division (HPID). The report focuses on how people with access and functional needs can use social networking to overcome social isolation. This has  implications for emergency managers in the sense that the tools can also be used as a way to not only find vulnerable populations in your community, but also to develop relationships. She states:

Informants (study participants) indicate that Web 2.0 applications offer enormous possibilities for the disabled who may be marginalized by lack of mobility, vision, hearing or other disability that makes it difficult for them to participate in the civic, social, cultural or work‐related activities of mainstream society. The evidence is strong that the internet and social media, with the aid of assistive technologies, are improving the ability of many disabled people to participate more fully in their society. Members of the deaf community, for example, are said to be huge users of social media and video blogging. The Deaf Canada Conference that took place in June 2010 was supported by a lively 636‐member Facebook page. There is even a Canadian Deaf Native Facebook page. A 2009 Canada‐wide survey of over 700 self‐described disabled students with a mean age of 18 revealed that they engage in social media 12 hours a week for non‐school related activities and six hours a week for school‐related activities using, on average, between one and two types of specialized software. The most popular sites are Facebook, YouTube, MSN/Windows Live Messenger and Skype.

2. A report entitled Emergency Notification Strategies for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Planning Project, developed for the Western Massachusetts Homeland Security Advisory Council, also lists social media as an option for communicating, specifically with the deaf population during emergencies.

Research and outreach for this project revealed that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may rely more on social media options than traditional media for information during an emergency. There may be several reasons for this including limited closed-captioning on television broadcasts, limited ASL translation, and lack of real-time information updates. As such, social media options are gaining popularity for obtaining information, not just throughout the disability community, but for the population-at-large.

3. Emergent Use of Social Media: A new age of opportunity for disaster resilience (2011). This is an article is by MENoji E for the National Center for Environmental Health Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, CDC. The article discusses how social media tools can be used to help people cope with disaster. They  use the term “vulnerable populations” very broadly: anyone suffering from stress after an event. However, the benefit of being connected would translate to the access and functional needs population as well.

“Social media may also offer potential psychological benefit for vulnerable populations gained through participation as stakeholders in the response. Disaster victims report a psychological need to contribute, and by doing so, they are better able to cope with their situation. Affected populations may gain resilience by replacing their helplessness with dignity, control, as well as personal and collective responsibility.”

4.Communicating with Vulnerable Populations: A Transportation and Emergency Management Toolkit. What I like most about this toolkit, even though the main focus is not social media, is that their suggestions emphasize relationship building–something that social media can help accomplish.  They state that local emergency managers should “Understand the local community sufficiently to decide what information is important and how best to communicate it in fully accessible formats so that people are informed, responsive, and motivated.”

I also like this sentiment, which I hear stated repeatedly by my colleagues who are seeped in  social media and emergency management:

“Encouraging individuals to act during emergencies requires communicating with them through multiple channels.

  • These channels depend on trusted relationships built over time, so they are well established in times of crisis.
  • A pre-crisis network of communication channels can carry messages across barriers and create a safety net that prevents especially vulnerable people from missing access to transportation assistance in emergencies.”

If you know of other research that mentions social media as a way to connect with  vulnerable populations before, during and after a crisis, please make note of it in the comments section.

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2 responses to “Social Media: A tool to reach the Access and Functional Needs Community

  1. I’m looking for similar studies and examples related to crisis in developing and middle-income countries. I’m sure there are examples from Indonesia, Brazil etc. If anybody knows of anything – in English, French, German or Swedish – I’d love to hear of it. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Social Media: A tool to reach the Access and Functional Needs Community | #UASI

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