Young people with a disability face particular challenges related to digital participation. A physical disability can make it difficult for them to use digital technologies without supplementary assistive technologies or modifications. Furthermore, there are currently few specialised digital media training opportunities for young people with a disability. At the same time, digital media have the potential to enable these young people to participate in new ways, unbounded by physical limitations. For instance, a young person with a disability might use digital media to undertake creative pursuits that would otherwise be impossible.
The Cybersparks pilot project demonstrated that young people with a disability have a strong desire to engage with digital culture, and that it is possible to overcome barriers to participation through a combination of access to assistive technology, and well-planned digital skills training.
Throughout 2019, the Cybersparks project aimed to assist young people with a disability to participate more fully in digital culture. These young people and their carers came together to participate in a series of hands-on workshops at The Edge at the State Library of Queensland to learn about social media, sound production and mixing, photography and 3D images, 3D printing, video production and blogging.
The workshops were run by LifeTec in partnership with Queensland University of Technology’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC), the State Library of Queensland, Montrose and Technology for Aging and Disability (TADQ), Queensland.
These partners formed an alliance in recognition that young people with a disability are often excluded from digital activities that could allow them to more fully participate in their communities; and to develop skills important for employment in the digital economy.
Cybersparks was based on a ‘social living labs’ co-design approach developed by the DMRC to assist community organisations to work with participants to undertake digital activities in meaningful ways, aligned to their interests and passions. Together, the participants and organisers made decisions about the workshop content and delivery.
The goal was to enable participants to learn and undertake new digital practices in enjoyable and engaging ways. Through early conversations with young people interested in the program, we learnt that they wanted to know more about a range of digital creative activities, including digital photography, gaming, blogging, design work, music creation and mixing, and video production.
We are looking for opportunities to extend Cybersparks into a more comprehensive program. The program confirmed that young people with a disability often have deficits in their digital knowledge and skills, in comparison to other young Australians. We believe there is an urgent need to support young Australians with a disability to gain access to the digital world, to take advantage of everything it has to offer. We also need to better understand and overcome the challenges of being online for young people with disabilities.
The Cybersparks project demonstrated that specifically tailored digital programs for young people with disabilities should be a priority for broader digital inclusion efforts.
Assistive Technology (AT) is an umbrella term for any piece of equipment, software program or system that provides practical solutions to everyday life activities.
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