Assistive Tech & Products

Promoting disability issues online

Regular Disability Horizons contributor, Sarah Levis, talks about how she came to develop a website for disability-related links.

When looking for new ways to promote my blog on disability issues, I discovered that there are people out there who, for a fee, will submit your link to web directories like Yahoo!, keep track of which ones accept or reject your link, and send you a report at the end of it all. I couldn’t afford to pay someone to do that. But I wasn’t working, so I did have a lot of spare time, and there are lots of large lists of free web directories available. So I decided to submit my blog’s URL to directories myself.

I soon discovered why site owners prefer to pay people to submit their links.

Even when you get the submission process down to a quickly-moving routine (as I did, by the time I’d submitted my link about 100 times), the process is just what data entry usually is: monotonous, time-consuming, and a tad mind-numbing after a while. You submit the same information… over and over. You link to your site the same way… over and over. You validate your submission as the emails arrive… over and over…

The only thing that really changed from directory to directory was deciding which sub-category my link belonged under. Some sites (not many) had a ‘Disability’ sub-category, usually under ‘Society,’ which was ideally where I wanted to put my link. A few more had a link to a ‘Disability’ sub-category under ‘Health’ – an option I was far less fond of.

I’m not sick!

I could understand why a directory owner might put disability under health, I guess health issues cause some of the impairments that lead to disabilities. However, disability itself is not a health issue. It’s a catch-all word for people whose impairments may affect the way they navigate society – at least as it is presently structured. It’s a useful policy word in that it identifies eligibility for supports. But a person with a disability can be in any degree of health, and the state of his or her health may have nothing to do with his or her disability.

Further than this, most websites didn’t have a category for disability at all, which frustrated me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was often difficult to find an alternative place to list my link on those sites when disability isn’t an option, and some sites were quite explicit that if you put your link in the ‘wrong’ category, it would just be trashed. Secondly, I felt like with a large proportion of my friends and I, the issues we face and the contributions we make to the Internet and indeed wider society were being totally ignored.

Eventually I started to think; what if there was a web directory especially for links having to do with disability or disability issues? I did some researching, and some looking around, and found a hosting company that was having a great sale on web space and PHP Link Directory software. I decided to jump in with both feet and do some exploring.

Putting it Together

Learning the software was the easy part.  Coming up with categories was much more difficult than I thought it would be, and is an ongoing process.

I was concerned that I was going to come across like I was only interested in links from people with disabilities, or that I felt like only the contributions of people who run disability-related sites have value. That wasn’t my intent at all, and still isn’t. Plenty of sites written by people without disabilities, with content not specifically written for people with disabilities, have information that people with disabilities will find very useful. Why shouldn’t they use those resources?

But at the same time, if a person with a disability is coming to a ‘Disability Links’ category looking for, say, career advice about teaching, any number of directories will take them to conventional career sites for prospective teachers. Filtering those results to find advice when you use a mobility aid, or any other disability, is difficult.

I’m interested in making those types of sites easier to find. I want to offer a way to filter information that’s potentially useful to a group that faces certain challenges and issues, and put the links to it all in one place, nothing more.

However, figuring out the best way to structure those filters isn’t always easy, especially since I’m not always sure what needs are priorities in different areas to people with different disabilities. It has helped when people have made suggestions about categories or sub-categories that they think would be useful.

Building the Directory

So far I only have a few links, but I have high hopes. I have to charge a small amount per year for featured links, to cover costs, but there are free options too.

You can access the link from my website at Running Steps, or contact me via email if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for categories or sub-categories.

By Sarah Levis

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