When 26-year-old Nathan Johnston tried to connect with people during the peak of last year’s COVID-19 lockdown, he realised how challenging it could be for people living with a disability to use social media networks like Twitter and Facebook.
Mr Johnston, who has cerebral palsy, lives on the New South Wales far south coast and has been inspired to start developing a new social media site called Disability Club after feeling isolated during the peak of the pandemic.
“I felt lonely, alone and basically I wanted to fix that,” he said.
“People with disability feel isolated in general and COVID just made that a little bit worse.”
Recently, Mr Johnston has received a $10,000 NBN grant which will help him develop and code the Disability Club website while linking it to his existing website, DME3.
DME3 is a music streaming platform developed to help musicians with disabilities connect and stream music in an accessible way.
Mr Johnston hopes his new website will help to fill a gap in the social media market by making it accessible to everyone living with a disability.
“It’s got similar social elements to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but the difference is we’re not trying to compete with the big media,” he said.
“We’re going after a different target market, which is those individuals with disability.”
More awareness needed
Senior policy officer from People with Disability Australia (PWDA) Giancarlo de Vera said the online barriers for people with a disability were significant.
“If these spaces remain inaccessible, what essentially ends up happening is that people with a disability remain excluded from social, political and economic life online,” Mr de Vera said.
“That segregation and that isolation does have the potential to create further issues.”
Assistive technology distribution company Quantum has worked in the print disability sector for more than 30 years and believes there is still not enough awareness of the technology available to people who have a disability.
Low vision consultant for Quantum Jeffrey Landers said there was a significant issue associated with awareness, and at times the cost of using assistive technology.
“The issue is connecting people with the need to the available technology,” he said.
“Cost is also a barrier to people, or a hurdle to get over.”
For Mr Johnston, the recent grant money will give him a chance to raise awareness about his websites and encourage people living with a disability to reach out and connect.
“We hope to connect everyone with a disability who lives locally, and eventually globally,” he said.