Date of Award

2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Communications Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

First Advisor

Joseph Luca

Second Advisor

Leesa Bonniface

Abstract

A spinal cord injury (SCI) can significantly alter a person's lifestyle and choices in both the short and long term. An essential area of a person's quality of life (QOL) is that of social engagement, which according to Bath and Gardiner (2005) is made up of social support, social participation and social networks. Studies have shown that although the Internet and virtual communities have the ability to provide social engagement there is little literature covering the area of how they can be used to aid the development of social engagement amongst people living with an SCI post rehabilitation. The aim of this research was to build an understanding of social engagement for people with an SCI and explore whether there is a need for a virtual community that may help promote their QOL through social engagement. Data was collected using a focus group and one-on-one interviews coupled with an online discussion forum. A semi-structured interview format was used for the focus group, interviews and the online forum. This qualitative study was based on themes derived and interpreted from the data. The process revealed that, for the participants in this study, social engagement appeared to be a key factor in the promotion of QOL. Social support, which is often reciprocated, was found to be extremely beneficial because it helped develop confidence and self-reliance. Participating in social activities helped to enhance social interaction amongst people with an SCI. Having a more diverse social network enhanced QOL for people with an SCI by providing greater opportunities for social support. Finally, the potential of social stigma and general lack of accessibility in common community areas were found to be issues that caused psychological stress for people with an SCI. However this seemed to reduce in participants who were socially engaged. A justification and understanding was developed to inform any future development of a virtual community for people with an SCI. This is particularly suited to the predominant group of newly affected SCIs -young adults - who are also primary users of online technology. A virtual community that allows for discussion on the complex nature of SCIs is significant as it provides a forum for support, a location to advertise and encourage participation in appropriate events, and by its very nature, create and enlarge an individual's social network.

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