MobileNation

Time to Chat: Internet Creates a Space for Real-Time Conversations

Recently I had a tooth pulled and was unable to speak for an entire afternoon. That day I realized two things. One, people at the dentist office can understand you even with gauze in your mouth. Two, you cannot exist without communicating with other people.

From the time I left the dentist office until I finally arrived at home, I had to use an archaic sign language and my trusty reporter's notebook for several conversations. Once home, I immediately made a mad dash for my computer, where I was able to type out exactly what I needed to say. I also realized that I had a few things wrong about self-expression. Forget a picture, I want a thousand words.

Modern technology, aka the Internet, has opened many doors for those who want to stay in touch. E-mail and message boards have revolutionized quick communication. Real-time conversations can be had via popular chat rooms and instant messenger software.

Studies show that Internet usage is up. So, why not take advantage of technology? Pull up a chair at a cyber cafe and literally meet millions of people from all over the world. Talk about personal issues or general topics of interest. Meet people just like you or people far different from you. The possibilities are endless.

According to AccessIT, the National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education, University of Washington, Seattle, the way a chat room is developed could mean the difference between making a new friend or getting the cold shoulder. The organization recommends HTML chat rooms vs. Java-hosted chat rooms for accessibility — though Java is the most popular format. Popular instant messenger programs, like MSN Messenger, are generally accessible.

Fortunately, adaptive tools can also make chatting online easier. For example, if typing is difficult, AccessIT suggets voice chat products, software that allows the user to chat verbally through the computer's microphone and speakers.

Check out a few of the chat rooms and message boards Mobility Management found:

Disabilities-R-Us
www.disabilities-r-us.com
The chat room and support group were created by and for people with physical disabilities in 1997.

DisabilitiesResources.org
www.disabilityresources.org/CHAT.html
Choose from several chat rooms including the Equal Access Cafe Chatroom.

Disability Network, Inc.
www.disabilitynetwork.com/
Visit the site's Friends-w-Disability chat room for people with disabilities and their families.

Disability Online
www.disabilityonline.com/categories/chatrooms_and_message_boards/
Link up to a variety of chat rooms, including subject-specific chat rooms for MS, spinal cord injury, and activism and advocacy.

Electronic Curbcuts for the disABLED
www.specialink.com/e-curbcuts/maincategories/Sidetrips/sidechat.htm
Find chat rooms for spina bifida, spinal cord injury and more.

IKAN Sports Foundation
www.ikansportsfoundation.org
Like to bowl or play power soccer? Check out this message board.

Mobility-Advisor.com
www.mobility-advisor.com
A live chat room for mobility users of all ages.

WAPD Chat Rooms
www.wapd.org/index.php?pgref=chat/index
Log on for a great accessible chat room.

Wheelchair Junkie
www.wheelchairjunkie.com
A message board where both power and manual wheelchair users get together and discuss a variety of topics.

For more information on online accessibility, visit AccessIT, www.washington.edu/accessit/index.php.

This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Mobility Management.

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