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Can the Mentally Disabled Use the Internet?

By Edited Feb 13, 2014 0 0

The Internet for Disabilities of All Kinds

If you're in the position of being responsible for a mentally disabled adult you're faced with many choices that are difficult. You are the main decision maker for this person, and, of course, you want to make sure that you're making good decisions with that person's best interests at heart. But when it comes to the internet, should you be allowing a mentally disabled adult to go online? Today we're talking about some of the issues associated with mental impairment and internet use, and about how you can ensure that your responsibility is carried out as safely and morally as possible.

The Dangers of the Internet

Many of the dangers associated with the mentally disabled using the internet are similar to those associated with children using the internet, but there are a few additional things that you're going to have to keep in mind. Making sure that your charge fully understands these dangers may be difficult, but you will have to work hard to put warnings in language that will be understood, using examples to explain just how dangerous a place the internet can be. There's always stranger danger on the internet, given that social networking and chatting are so common place. Being able to pass along personal information can be very damaging if that information gets into the wrong hands. But maybe a slightly stickier issue is that of adult material. Obviously, pornography is widely and easily available online. Allowing someone under the age of eighteen to access inappropriate material is illegal. But allowing someone who is over eighteen and mentally disabled, possibly with a mental age lower than eighteen, is much more of a grey area. How legal is this, and more importantly, how moral? Veering on the side of caution seems to be the best idea. Should your charge have a mental age of under eighteen, blocking pornography and adult sites should be part of the preparation that you do before allowing internet use. But you will also need to take into account the user himself. Is this person capable of understanding sexual relationships? In short, this issue is best handled on a case by case basis.

The Advantages of the Internet

But the internet isn't only a dangerous place, it can also be a wonderful place full of opportunities. And to deny someone those opportunities just because they're mentally disabled would be both wrong and immoral. The internet is an amazing way to both educate and entertain. It's stimulating, and can provide new and exciting experiences, which is important for all of us. On top of that, the ability to communicate online, without the immediate preconceptions that are a given when a mentally disabled person meets someone in real life, can be freeing and builds self-confidence. As long as precautions are taken, and you're a responsible care giver, then everyone should be allowed online access, no matter who they are.

 Mobile Broadband and Tablet Access: The Ideal Situation

The ideal way to safely and cheaply get internet access would be to go with a mobile broadband plan. This has several advantages.  Mobile broadband plans are some of the cheapest on the market, making finances less of a problem. Going with mobile broadband means that an internet connection is available everywhere, so you're not stuck inside in front of a computer. Encouraging the use of the internet for things as simple as finding out the names of flowers in the park is a good way of integrating technology and education. Also, internet speeds on mobile broadband aren't incredibly fast, lessening the likelihood of large downloading, lots of video streaming or online gaming. Finally, a tablet computer is going to be the best option, since it's easily portable. A lack of keyboard may or may not be an issue. Simple touch screens are relatively intuitive to use, making them a better option for many people, particularly those with a younger mental age. However, should typing be required, on screen typing can be more difficult. But the convenience and portability of a tablet should make up for that. You might want to consider pay as you go options for mobile broadband access for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this will prevent unexpectedly large bills that might come from less than responsible use. Secondly, this is a good way of enforcing simple budgeting education.

Precautions...

There are several precautions that you may wish to take as a caregiver. Your first stop should always be communication and education. Making sure that, as far as possible, dangers and unacceptable behaviours are understood. However, you may want to take additional steps. There are several possibilities here. Most web programmes will allow the installation of a child lock that blocks certain kinds of sites from use. You may want to enable this, as well as things like Google safe search, and other methods of making the access point child proof. Depending on which mobile operator or internet provider you choose to go with, some companies do have special parental locks and services that you may be allowed to take advantage of as the legal responsible adult for someone with a mental disability. Also, the computer or device that you buy may also have methods of preventing inappropriate content access. On an iPad, for example, there are designated parental controls in the settings menu that you can set and then password protect to prevent them being changed. You may or may not also want to invade privacy a little. You should make it clear that internet history is easily found and that anyone can easily see what kinds of sites have been visited and when. You can check internet history if you feel that it's appropriate to do so. Also on sites like Facebook, for example, you may want to friend your charge in order that you can keep an eye on what's being posted and how appropriate it is. But everyone should be allowed online access, though a little more care may be needed when dealing with mentally disabled users.

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