Offline and Online Social Networks of Israelis with and without Disabilities

Gur Ayelet

Abstract


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