I’ve presented at conferences on the topic of the importance of social networking and social media for human services providers, and I have posted on this blog many times about our efforts at Keystone Human Services.  Now, many human services providers are on Twitter and Facebook, and it has me thinking about social networking and the people we support.  (For an example of the growing number of service providers on Twitter, see my list http://twitter.com/#/list/jbuford/intellectual-disability.)

People supported by human services providers are all vulnerable in one way or another—some only temporarily, others more systemically—and one of our important tasks is to shore up their areas of vulnerability.  Those efforts can sometimes lead to a blurring of the lines from a professional relationship to one that looks more like friendship.  The ethics of that are clearer in fields such as social work, psychology, and psychiatry (i.e. the principles of confidentiality and dual relationships)  than they are for the people who directly support people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, autism, or other challenges in the community.  In this setting the guide posts are far murkier .

True to form, I have no answers to these myriad ethical dilemmas.  In fact, I don’t even have the questions.  I have a strong sense, though, that those of us who think we have an obligation to make sure our communities are welcoming to all people, need to think through the hazards, and the benefits, of “friending” people we support.    Already the digital divide disproportionately excludes many people from the community we all enjoy in the social media.

In my organization I’m putting together a diverse panel of people to begin to define questions and an ethical framework, but I’d like to have the conversation here in the social media as well.  Do you or your organization struggle to find the right answer to how to help someone with an intellectual disability navigate Facebook safely, without paternalism or odd blurring of lines?  Have you already answered questions about how to respond when someone you support “friends” you?  Please let me know how you are framing the questions, and maybe we can work together to craft answers.

Thanks!

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As most readers already know, Yahoo recently apologized via Twitter for employing scantily clad woman as dancers, including lap dancers, at Hack Day in Taiwan.  If you missed this dust-up, both sides of the issue are covered (can there really be two sides to this conversation?) in the Reuters blog post “let there be lap dances” and Simon Willison’s blog post “this shouldn’t be the image of hack day.”  There are many others—just google Yahoo and lap dancing, and you’ll find them.  In my view, Yahoo’s behavior here was nothing short of shameful, and its apology was both late and banal.

What does this have to do with human services and technology?  A lot, actually.   Much of what we do in human services is predicated on the belief that all people have the right to participate fully in the community.  I spend a significant amount of time reminding people that “community” includes the online world, and I spend an equal amount of time reminding technology companies that the people we support deserve good online tools, have something to offer the technology community, and are an important customer base as well as source for future employees.

When technology companies as ubiquitous as Yahoo demonstrate that they don’t value women as customers or as employees, they are presenting a stultifying  view of who cares about technology and who is welcome in the technology community.  Yahoo’s apology said that this incident was not reflective of their values, and that it won’t happen again, but this is not the first time it has been part of their corporate “entertainment.”   Women are an important customer base for Yahoo, yet Yahoo marginalizes them.  How much harder is for us then, to get their attention regarding the needs of people on the wrong side of the digital divide?

Those of us working in the intersection of technology and human services need to have a stronger voice in reminding technology companies to be inclusive in all their activities.  Please take the time to hold companies accountable to a higher standard, and tell Yahoo what you think about the importance of sensitivity and diversity in technology.

thanks

The only thing they have in common, perhaps, is that I was thinking about them at the same time. While listening to Gillian Welch’s Elvis Presley Blues, thinking about technology, human services, and the digital divide, an admittedly strained metaphor came to me.  I was thinking about how, in Welch’s words, Elvis took us all out of black and white, and how we are still waiting for the transformational breakthrough to take us out of the technology dark ages.  I’m tired of waiting.

We are struggling, as William points out in his comments to the first post on this blog, with not only limited staff and limited funding, but with limited vision about what we can and should be working on.   Are we stuck with the Pat Boone equivalent of technology and ideas of what it can do, when we could be dancing to Elvis?  If we are, are we equally the constrainers as the constrained?  

In Human Services we suffer from a sad paucity of vision.  What should we look like?  What should we be doing?  Let’s move beyond the old familiar litany of our limitations.  In a bizarre leap of mixed metaphors, I want to nail to the door of the blogosphere, 95 theses of what we want and need.  I want to stake out the technology high ground.  I want to tell the vendors what we want and need, rather than be told.   I want to work together with you, reader (if there are any of you left after this post) to redefine what we do and how to do it successfully.

 

Next post will be thesis number 1.  We Need Integrated Communication.