Social media and people with intellectual disabilities

Friday, November 1, 2013
First author:
Carmit-Noa Shpigelman
Hybrid Spaces of Belonging


1  Department of Community Mental Health, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
2 Department of Disability & Human Development, University of Illinois, Chicago,  U.S.A.
All authors:

Carmit-Noa Shpigelman, Ph.D.1 and Carol J. Gill, Ph.D.2

Social media; Technology; Friendship; Intellectual disabilities


Social media has considerable potential to empower people with disabilities. However, this issue has received little attention in research. The aim of the study was to “hear the voices”, including experiences and difficulties, of people (18 years and older) with intellectual disabilities (ID) who use Facebook, the most popular online social network.


We conducted a self-report online survey to reach a substantial pool of people with ID (n=58) who use Facebook. The survey included 49 multiple-choice questions focusing on Facebook use and perceptions, and three open-ended questions about the personal experiences of the respondents and recommendations for future change of Facebook.


The majority of the respondents were female (57.9%), 30 years and older (57.9%), and residents of U.S. (84.5%) who have learning disability and/or ADD/ADHD as a secondary disability (51.2%). We found that the respondents with ID visit Facebook at least once a week (67.2%) with no assistance from a caregiver or friend (82.8%), and use it primarily for connecting with people they meet in face-to-face settings (e.g., friends, family members, caregivers) rather than people they meet only online (10.5%). Most of them enjoy using Facebook while at the same time they perceive it as an inaccessible and unsafe environment.


The survey revealed the benefits associated with using Facebook by people with ID. The results also revealed some difficulties such as issues of privacy and accessibility. Future development of social networking sites should be accommodated to their needs, including simplified version, voice-control programs and more graphics.