Offline and Online Social Networks of Israelis with and without Disabilities

Gur Ayelet

Abstract

Offline and online social networks of national sample of Israelis with and without disabilities were examined in respect to size, frequency of personal and community contacts and reciprocity. Findings demonstrated differences in offline social networks; persons with disabilities had significantly smaller networks and lesser personal and community reciprocal contacts than people without disabilities. Surprisingly, such differences were not identified online. Findings are discussed in respect to possible merits of online social networks.

Social networks reflect contacts transactions between people, groups, organizations, animals, computers or other information/knowledge processing entities (Barnes, 1954). The importance of social networks to our well-being is unquestioned as social relationships contribute to healthy development (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) and predict quality of life (Reis et al., 2000; Mayers, 2003).

Unfortunately, there is lack of knowledge and data about social networks of people with disabilities, primarily because they are often excluded and marginalized and supposedly have smaller and less reciprocal social contacts (Rimmerman, 2013). Although online communication is considered as a booster for expanding social contacts and networking (Ritchie & Blanck, 2003; Bricout, 2004), it is unclear whether the Internet can compensate for the lack of opportunities (Bowker & Tuffin, 2002; Cook et al., 2005; Kraut et al., 2002).

There is a need to investigate whether the stigmatization and social exclusion that characterize this population are also represented in online networks or if the Internet, as a social tool, improves the lives of persons with disabilities. The research studies differences in social networks measures of people with/without disabilities and examines the associations between online and offline social networks.

Method

Sample

The study uses secondary data of a national report by Rimmerman et al. (2012). The survey comprised a random sample of 557 participants with disabilities, who live in the community, and a matched sample of 551 participants without disabilities. A person with disability defined in this study according to the individuals' subjective perception.

Instrumentation

The NOD (2004)-Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities was design to gather data of longitudinal trends on a variety of issues facing people with disabilities and to examine gaps between Americans with and without disabilities. This study used the survey sections on objective social involvement, subjective social participation, barriers to social and citizen participation, and computer mediated communication usage patterns.

The Quantification of Social Contacts and Resources (Donald & Ware, 1982) examines the frequency of social encounters and social communication with friends and family.

For the purpose of this study new scales were created from the measurements described above. Cronbach's alphas for the offline and online social networks items were .65 and .73, respectively.

Procedure

The interviews were conducted over the phone, exclude 30 face to face interviews, due to the participants' disability.

Statistics

An independent-samples t-test examined the differences in offline and online social networks between persons with and without disabilities. Then we computed Pearson correlations between the offline and online social networks.

Results

Table 1
t-test between participants with (N=557) and without (N=551) disabilities in respect to offline and online social networks

Participants without disabilities

Participants with disabilities

M

SD

M

SD

t

Offline Social Network

3.34

0.76

2.87

0.87

***9.52

Size

3.05

0.98

2.73

1.07

***5.06

Frequency of close relationships

5.03

1.27

4.52

1.56

***6.03

Frequency of community contacts

2.18

0.78

1.92

0.73

***5.58

Reciprocity

3.10

1.38

2.31

1.44

***9.32

Online Social Network

2.05

0.69

2.04

0.68

0.12n.s

*** p< .001


Table 1 indicates significant differences in offline social networks between persons with and without disabilities. The network's sizes, frequency of close relationships and community contacts, as the level of reciprocity were significantly lower for participants with disabilities than for participants without disabilities. However, no significant difference was found in online social network between the groups.

Table 2
Pearson correlations between offline and online social networks among participants without disabilities (N=551)

1

2

3

4

5

6

1

Offline social network

1

2

Size

***59.

1

3

Frequency of close relationships

***74.

***19.

1

4

Frequency of community contacts

***54.

***26.

***18.

1

5

Reciprocity

***81.

***26.

***47.

***28.

1

6

Online social network

***18.

03.

*10.

***26.

**14.

1

p**<.01 *** p < .001

Table 3
Pearson correlations between offline and online social networks among participants with disabilities (N=557)

1

2

3

4

5

6

1

Offline social network

1

2

Size

***65.

1

3

Frequency of close relationships

***81.

***34.

1

4

Frequency of community contacts

***62.

***36.

***39.

1

5

Reciprocity

***75.

***28.

***41.

***30.

1

6

Online social network

***22.

07.

*16.

***31.

**14.

1

*** p < .001

Similar results were found in relation to the associations between offline and online social networks for people with (see table 4) and without (see table 3) disabilities. In both groups, the online social network found to be positively associated with the frequency of close relationships, frequency of community contacts and with reciprocity. However, network size did not correlate significantly with online social network.

Discussion

This is the first Israeli study that examines social networks of people with and without disabilities. Findings indicate that persons with disabilities have smaller offline networks than their counters. The conventional explanation is that people with disabilities are excluded and marginalized in our communities, often denied opportunities for social contacts and experience greater loneliness as compared to the rest of the population (Rimmerman, 2013). These findings are not unique to Israel; they are consistent with other earlier studies (Goldberget al., 2003; Chenoweth &Stehlik, 2004).

However, it is encouraging to learn that people with disabilities have substantial opportunities to be online like those without disabilities. There is no doubt that the Internet offers wealth of social interactions opportunities which do not necessarily reflect their social reality offline. Social use of the Internet compensates for their unpleasant experience offline (Dobransky & Hargittai, 2006).

Interestingly, people with stronger offline social networks expressed sociability online and vice versa. This finding is not trivial since the scientific literature presents inconsistent results regarding the correlation between the offline and online social networks (Wellman et al., 2001).

It seems that the offline social network benefits from Internet use for persons who are already connected to others in different ways (Haythornthwaite & Wellman, 1998). Likewise, as the Internet use increases, the higher are social involvement and political participation (Howard et al., 2001; Katzet al., 2001; Kraut et al., 2002).

The research reveals that online networking cannot compensate for the lack of social ties in day to day life. Therefore, it is highly important for social workers to encourage their clients to build up meaningful reciprocal relationships and community contacts as a base for any offline contacts. Future research needs to examine social networks in depth and overtime.

References

Barnes, J. A. (1954). Class and committees in a Norwegian island parish. New York: Plenum.‏

Baumeister, R. F. & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

Bowker, N. &Tuffin, K. (2002). Disability discourses for online identities. Disability and Society, 17(3), 327-344.‏

Bricout, J. C. (2004). Using telework to enhance return to work outcomes for individuals with spinal cord injuries.NeuroRehabilitation, 1(9(2), 147-159.‏

Chenoweth, L. & Stehlik, D. (2004).Implications of social capital for the inclusion of people with disabilities and families in community life.International Journal of Inclusive Education, 8(1), 59-72.‏

Cook, J. A., Fitzgibbon, G., Batteiger, D., Grey, D. D., Caras, S., Dansky, H., &Priester, F. (2005). Information technology attitudes and behaviors among individuals with psychiatric disabilities who use the Internet: Results of a web-based survey. Disability Studies Quarterly, 25(2).‏

Dobransky, K. & Hargittai, E. (2006). The disability divide in Internet access and use. Information, Communication and Society, 9.(3), 313-334.‏

Donald, C. A. & Ware, J. E. (1982).The quantification of social contacts and resources. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.‏

Goldberg, R. W., Rollins, A. L., & Lehman, A. F. (2003). Social network correlates among people with psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 26(4), 393-402.‏

Haythornthwaite, C. & Wellman, B. (1998). Work, friendship, and media use for information exchange in a networked organization. Journal of the American society for information science, 49(12), 1101-1114.‏

Howard, P. E., Rainie, L., & Jones, S. (2001). Days and nights on the Internet: The impact of a diffusing technology. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 383-404.‏

Katz, J. E., Rice, R. E., &Aspden, P. (2001).The Internet, 1995-2000 access, civic involvement, and social interaction.American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 405-419.‏

Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 49-74.‏

Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017-1031.‏

Mayers, C. A. (2003). The development and evaluation of the Mayers' Lifestyle Questionnaire. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(9), 388-395.‏

NOD (National Organization on Disability). (2004). Survey of Americans with disabilities. Study no. 20835. Final report. New York: Harris Interactive.

Reis, H. T., Sheldon, K. M., Gable, S. L., Roscoe, J., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Daily well-being: The role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 26(4), 419-435.‏

Rimmerman.A, (2013). Social inclusion of people with disabilities: National and international perspectives. (Cambridge University Press.‏

Rimmerman, A., Eidelman, S., Araten-Bergman, T., &Schreuer, N. (2012). Social participation patterns among persons with and without disabilities in Israel: Final report submitted to the National Insurance Institute.

Ritchie, H. & Blanck, P. (2003). The promise of the Internet for disability: a study of on‐line services and web site accessibility at Centers for Independent Living. Behavioral sciences & the law, 21(1), 5-26.‏

Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital? Social networks, participation, and community commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436-455.

Contributor

Gur Ayelet, Ph.D.
School of Social Work Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Studies University of Haifa Haifa, Israel

Corresponding Author: ayelet.gur100@gmail.com

 

International Journal of Disability, Community & Rehabilitation
Volume 15, No. 1
www.ijdcr.ca
ISSN 1703-3381