16 SES 11 B, ICT Competencies
The use of the Internet has become a basic tool in our society for consulting information, socially interacting or accessing to certain online services, among other alternatives. Accordingly, digital literacy and Internet access are key elements to avoid the digital exclusion of certain groups such as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Although Internet accessibility for these people continues to show difficulties (e.g. cognitive accessibility to online information), its use has increased significantly in recent years (Chadwick, Wesson and Fullwood, 2013); nevertheless, prevalence is still lower than for the general population (Caton & Chapman, 2016).
In any case, not all barriers to Internet use by this group are related to accessibility. Prejudices towards people with IDD in the real world (World Health Organization, 2011) seem to be also manifesting online (Chadwick and Wesson, 2016). One of the prejudices that underlie the overprotection of this group is the perception by caregivers (e.g. parents, therapists, teachers) of a greater susceptibility to being abused. In this sense, it is presumed that if they are vulnerable in real life, then they will be highly vulnerable online as well (Buijs et al., 2017). This situation derives from a greater perception of caregivers of the potential risks (e.g. investing money, being sexually abused, giving credit to false information or being exposed to manipulative content) of people with IDD using the Internet (Chadwick, Quinn, and Fullwood, 2017; Chadwick and Seale, 2017; Lough and Fisher, 2016). In this way, the potential benefits of its use can be mediated by caregivers' fears of these people having problems online.
This perception of caregivers about the online vulnerability of people with IDD is especially relevant since family members and professionals (e.g., support professionals, teachers) are the main support for people with IDD in the use of technologies (Palmer et al., 2012). Generally, caregivers show strong feelings of responsibility towards the care and behaviour of the individual with IDD. This attitude affects the actions of caregivers, showing a tendency to exercise greater control over the online behaviour of people with IDD, which manifests itself in online overprotection behaviours such as limitations or restrictions on Internet use or more control over online activities (Löfgren-Mårtenson, 2008). In this sense, if caregivers perceive themselves as not very competent to face certain potential risks that people with IDD can experience online, they tend to offer them fewer opportunities to access to the Internet (Chadwick and Wesson, 2016). Overall, the perception of potential risks as well as the tendency to online overprotection of this group by caregivers can significantly limit the development of digital competence and become a subtle form of discrimination through various levels of digital exclusion.
Considering that caregivers are the main support providers for people with IDD (Molin, Sorbring, & Löfgren-Martenson, 2015), it is important to focus on teachers’ and support professionals’ perceptions to be able to develop and implement initial and ongoing programmes that promote online opportunities for this group.
The purpose of this study was to explore student teachers and support professionals’ perceptions of the risks of Internet access by people with IDD. We intend to respond to the following research questions:
- To what extent do student teachers and support professionals perceive Internet safe for people with IDD?
- Which are the most relevant perceived online risks for people with IDD?
- Are there significant differences between student teachers and support professionals’ perceptions of the risks of Internet use by students with IDD?
Participants A convenience sample of 120 participants, 58 student teachers (21% men and 79% women) and 62 professionals (27% men and 73% women) working at different intellectual and developmental disability service providers, was recruited. Student teachers age ranged between 18 and 42 years old (M = 22.6, SD = 4.9) and almost 70% of them had never come into contact with people with IDD. Professionals had 15 years average (SD = 9.4) of working experience with people with IDD and their age ranged between 23 and 64 years old (M = 42.1, SD = 9.2). Instruments An online questionnaire was designed to collect data about student teachers and professionals’ perceptions of the risks (30 items) and safety (8 items) of Internet access by people with IDD. The instrument also collected demographic information specific for each for the subsamples participating in the study (gender, age, working experience with people with IDD, frequency of contact with people with IDD). The list of potential risks was adapted from Livingstone and Haddon (2009) and Chadwick et al. (2017). Participants had to respond to a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = No risk/Not safe to 5 = Very high risk/Very safe. Both scales showed good internal reliability (Cronbach’s alpha = .955). Procedure A cross-sectional quantitative study was conducted. Participants were asked to voluntarily complete the survey online. Written information about the purpose and relevance of the study was provided and participants had to consent prior to completing the questionnaire. Descriptive analyses and t-test for independent samples were carried out.
Overall, participants think that the Internet is moderately safe for people with IDD, although it is perceived safer for adults with IDD (M = 3.52, SD = 1.18) than for children with IDD (M = 2.85, SD = 1.33). Significant differences were found between student teachers’ ratings (M = 2.59, SD = 0.84) and professionals’ ratings [M = 4.40, SD = 0.66, t(118) = -13.032, p < .001] with regard to adults with IDD, as well as for minors with IDD where differences between student teachers (M = 1.86, SD = 0.95) and professionals (M = 3.78, SD = 0.89) were greater (t(118) = 11.378, p < .001). When analysing the specific online risks, participants perceive the Internet as being highly risky for people with IDD. The greatest perceived risks are missing out on face-to-face interactions, affecting physical health by spending too much time online, becoming addict to social networking sites, spending less time with family and friends or inadvertently downloading spyware o malware. However, student teachers perceive greater online risks (M = 4.39, SD = 0.58) than professionals do [M = 3.54, SD = 0.50, t(118) = 8.43, p < .001]. Significant differences were found, with higher ratings for student teachers in all instances. Differences were greater in those risks related to the person with IDD being exposed to inappropriate content (pornographic content, drugs, and antisocial or extremist behaviour), providing too much personal information, meeting up with someone offline who they met online, and being threatened. Findings show some concerns and misconceptions of student teachers about people with IDD using the Internet, which may prevent them from promoting digital inclusion. Therefore, training programmes should provide them with the understanding of the benefits that this technology has for this population and the skills to manage the potential online risks.
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