Conference Abstracts - John Bricout

Social Media as Employability Tools for Workers with Disabilities

John Bricout
Associate Dean for Research & Community Outreach
School of Social Work, University of Texas at Arlington

Telework, or paid work using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has been studied as a technological accommodation or alternative work arrangement for people with disabilities (Sanford & Milchus, 2006). The technology tends to be largely presented as a point of entry, or a bridge to otherwise unobtainable employment opportunities, overcoming physical, sensory and spatial barriers, but it also has the potential to develop social capital and networks for people with disabilities (Baker, Moon & Ward, 2006; Bricout, Baker, Ward & Moon, 2009). As a technology-driven workplace accommodation, however, telework is simply one avenue for increasing the employability of people with disabilities and ought to be couched in the context of broader Web-based tools, such as online job-matching platforms (Morgan, 2008). The employment power of telework has the potential to be greatly enhanced through more informal Web-based communities that enhance social inclusion.

Social inclusion is critical not only to the employability of people with disabilities but also to their broader welfare, and must include social networks that extend beyond the workplace (Redley, 2009). The social aspects of work and workplace learning were secondary to access issues until the rise of social media in recent years made relationship-based exchanges of information and assistance center stage. With social media, online platforms began to resemble offline communities with multiple links across boundaries, while also bearing the clustering and networked characteristics of social relations (Hampton, Sessions, & Her, 2011).

Recently, the online habits of people with disabilities have come under study in terms of online or e-learning (Fitchen, et al., 2009), computer competence (Wong, et al., 2009) and use of blogs (McClimens & Gordon, 2009). Studies of workplace inclusion for people with disabilities have tended to emphasize social opportunities, differentiating between at-work social opportunities, which were relatively common, and after-work opportunities, which were rare (i.e., Fillary & Pernice, 2006; Jahoda, et al., 2009). Web-based platforms for social interaction and networking, such as blogs have the potential to increase work-related social networks and relationships (Changsorn, 2008). Anecdotally, online social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have facilitated new forums for networking by people with disabilities that cross the workplace boundary, enhancing social inclusion.

Social media have the potential to significantly increase the participation of people with disabilities in employment, particularly if linked to telework, provided that network building issues are addressed. To understand the structural and process attributes of social media that foster the development of online work-related communities will require an examination of the social, as well as technological architecture of connectivity. A new model delineating the role of social media and telework in developing online communities that foster the inclusion and employability of people with disabilities will be presented, drawing upon social learning, knowledge diffusion and innovation frameworks. Implications of this model for future empirical research and social policy development will be discussed.

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