For people living with disability, the internet can be an excellent tool. It provides easy access to a world of information and can help you communicate and socialise with others. Internet-enabled devices can make your life easier by giving you control over a range of appliances in your home and supporting you to navigate your environment.
But like all good things, the internet also has risks. Research indicates these risks can be higher for people living with disability. February 9 marked Safer Internet Day, an international event encouraging people to connect and take positive steps towards online safety.
There’s no need to worry about using this wonderful tool, but being mindful of potential pitfalls means you can take action to reduce their likelihood.
Here are six ways to stay safer online, so you can enjoy your online interactions knowing you’ve taken steps to protect yourself.
1. Limit what you share on your profile
On some sites (like Facebook), people you don’t know can still easily see your profile. Be careful about what you share and the photos you choose.
When you’re new to a website or social media account, it’s wise to put as little information as possible on your profile page. You can always add more later. Don’t share your date of birth, address or phone number on your profile.
2. Create strong passwords
Passwords are a key aspect of online safety. It’s important not to use the same password for all your accounts. Long passwords (eight or more characters) with a variety of characters are best. Aim for a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. It’s also safest to change your passwords regularly.
If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords (who doesn’t!), a password manager could be the answer. These programs help manage and protect private information such as your pin numbers, website login passwords, and credit card details under one master password.
3. Protect your personal information
Personal information is any information that can be used to identify who you are. It is often shared (with your permission) in situations such as using social media or buying things online. However, it can also potentially be misused or stolen.
- Deleting cookies – cookies store information about your web browsing, allowing sites to recognise you. In your browser, go to ‘settings’ and look for the section that says something like ‘manage cookies’.
- Logging out of email and social media while you browse the internet – cookies can’t work once you’ve logged out of an application or site. Make sure you actually log out rather than just closing the tab.
- Doing a digital check-up – every so often, check your social media accounts for how your information is being used and shared.
See their eSafety Guide for advice about managing privacy in numerous social media accounts, games and websites.
4. Be wise about who you connect with
Research by the Australian Government’s eSafety Commissioner shows one in four young people are being contacted online by strangers. It’s possible that they genuinely want to make friends, but it’s also possible that some may want to scam you or trick you into sharing private information.
To reduce this risk, the eSafety Commissioner recommends going through your list of social media contacts and deleting any you don’t talk to. If you get a request from a stranger, they advise checking whether you have mutual friends. If you’re unsure, delete the request.
Read more from them about unsafe or unwanted online contact, including warning signs to look out for.
5. Install antivirus software
These programs help protect your computer, phone and tablet from spam, viruses, and other malware.
This CHOICE article provides a great overview of antivirus software.
6. Use assistive technologies well
Take advantage of the functions and accessibility options on offer. For example, Instagram filters out inappropriate content, but you can also hide words or comments you don’t want to appear on your posts.
Voice command technologies can make the internet more accessible, but don’t use the voice assistant to remember sensitive personal information.
This article by the University of Minnesota has helpful advice and links with information about accessibility options for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Other helpful resources
Here’s two more helpful resources about online safety for people living with a disability:
- An Australian report titled ‘Online safety for young people with intellectual disability’
- A clear and straightforward booklet about ‘Staying Safe…on social media and online’
Zest Personalised Care is a registered provider of NDIS disability support services with two decades of experience in the care industry. Please get in touch if you’d like any more information about how we work with individuals to achieve their goals.