Francis Ryan explains in The Guardian how social media is The missing link: why disabled people can’t afford to #DeleteFacebook. Ryan shows that in spite of the dangers, even negligence, of social media companies, online networks offer 'a vital lifeline' to people with disabilities. She cites Phillip Green, who suffers from multiple health problems, and difficulties to go out to socialise: “Without social media, life would be so much harder”.
Ryan explains the importance of balancing the need for social media and its risks while emphasising the need to urgently address the problems illustrated by the Facebook example, since leaving social media networks is a privilege not available to everyone.
She notes that improvements in safety and access are important for everyone, but especially minority and marginalised groups. Her quote from Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age explains this point: 'We assume the Internet is open to all when it’s not,' says Taylor. Taylor further notes that more than 20% of persons with disabilities in the UK, had never used the Internet, compared with only 10% of the adult population overall lacking that experience. She also pointed out that poor and rural areas often lack access to high-speed broadband.
Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, is seen as an enabler of the exercise of this particular human right. Although these freedoms are guaranteed in global instruments and in national constitutions, in some countries freedom of expression is often curtailed through online censorship or filtering mechanisms, imposed by states, often for political reasons.
Internet access is growing rapidly, yet large groups of people remain unconnected to the Internet. As of 2015, about 43% of people had access to the Internet (in developing countries only 34%). Access to ICTs is part of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which commits to ‘significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’ (Goal 9.c).
According to UN estimates, there are 1 billion people with disabilities in the world. The factors that contribute to increasing this number include war and destruction by natural as well as human causes; poverty and unhealthy living conditions; and the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention, and treatment. The Internet provides new possibilities for social inclusion and for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.
Women's rights online address online aspects of traditional women rights with respect to discrimination in the exercise of rights, the right to hold office, the right to equal pay and the right to education. Women represent more than half of the world’s population, yet their participation in technology-mediated processes is an area where progress is still needed.