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Types of barriers facing young people with disabilities

Young adults/people with disabilities are a very heterogeneous group and correspondingly they face very different barriers to use virtual mobilities. These barriers follow different logics of exclusion and are located in different fields of action, social structures and also within individuals itself.

In short: The picture is therefore very complex but it is at the same time well-structured according to different types of barriers.

  • Structural Barriers

It is important to note that the strongest barriers for the use of virtual mobility for people with disabilities are located outside the individual competencies and skills. This is a striking point if the aim is to strengthen virtual mobilities for people with disabilities because there are identifiable barriers before even the question of the necessary individual skills and competences of young people with disabilities emerge. For instance, for young adults with cognitive impairments the access to digital devices and to the Internet is often restricted by parents, social workers or medical staff and nurses working in dormitories for people with disabilities.

On the other hand, there are still large barriers in the supply of websites and apps for people with hearing and visual disabilities. Particularly in remote areas there are not so many fully equipped Internet-cafés. Furthermore, the opportunity to use virtual mobility for people with hearing and/or visual disabilities often depends on having the economic resources to organize the necessary technical equipment and having the knowledge how to apply for technical support. To emphasize these structural barriers and to value them as most important for the extended use of virtual mobility by people with disabilities, we follow the so-called Social Model of Disability (without using the terminology).

The context for the model is explained in this video a little more detail, particularly with reference to the importance of considering independence, accessibility and opportunity:

It is also important to think that these barriers can be eliminated with increased commitment to increase access and build a more equal society.

Here, the University of the Arts in London explain how this model can act as a tool to support their students.

  • Individual barriers

There are significant differences in the mix of the skills and competencies for young adults with different disabilities leading to different individual challenges and barriers in using virtual mobility. It is clear that the heterogeneity of young adults with disabilities is enormous regarding already existing experiences with virtual mobility, the educational careers, and further occupational opportunities and so on.

There are two sorts of individual barriers for using virtual mobility:

To use virtual mobility, specific capabilities like literacy and numeracy are necessary, sometimes even this could be substituted by assisted communication tools. Often the available supply is prerequisite particularly for people with mental disorders or cognitive disabilities in terms of understanding the content of websites. Even though there is some progress in the legal situation but still the internet is very far from being barrier-free. The second sort is very complex and can be identified as symbolical barriers.

  • Symbolical barriers

Symbolical barriers are complex forms of exclusion and located at the structural level as well as in the mind-set and bodies of individuals. At the structural level disability in industrialized societies is still linked with individual deficits and a lack of average achievements (for example in education). Even after decades of social movements by disabled people, the emerge of disability studies and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the implementation of inclusive organisations in European countries, the majority of people in industrialized countries do not know, ignore or can disagree with the idea that disabled people are simply part of the human heterogeneity and have the same rights and privileges even if it means that they need more resources to enjoy the same functionings of people without disabilities.

The Convention is explained here with a focus on Ireland:

Further information about the CRPD can be found here:

On the other hand, this still existing hegemony of the “normal” people and the social principle that in societies with a capitalist economy, the value of an individual follows achievement and performance in education and work, is reflected in the habitus of peoples with disabilities. Particularly, people with cognitive impairments or mental illnesses often do not feel entitled to use societal offers to the same amount like people without any disability. The hegemony of performance is incorporated by people with and without disabilities and it is this invisible symbolic barrier that hinder people with specific disabilities to use virtual mobility.

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