onlineA project has been launched that aims to train people with a learning disability in how to stay safe online and protect their data.

The project, SafeSurfing, has been launched by Inclusion Europe, which is working in partnership with organisations in four European countries, including learning disability charity Mencap in the UK. 

As part of the launch of SafeSurfing, Mencap is calling for people with a learning disability, their families and professionals to share their experiences of using the internet on social media by posting questions daily on its Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

Identity fraud, cybercrime, cyberbullying are dangers we all face when using the internet. With 17% of Europeans falling victim to identity theft every year, data protection is a major problem for all European citizens, but particularly for people with a learning disability.

People with a learning disability have reported facing many barriers when it comes to using digital technology. But in recent years there has been an increase in the number of people with a learning disability positively using technology to live more independently and be more included in society. Whether it’s keeping in contact with friends, finding information online, or searching for job opportunities, people with a learning disability have said that using the internet and smart phones can benefit many areas of their lives.

People with a learning disability face greater risks when using the internet than the general population. The risks they face can be more profound as a result of increased vulnerability, tendencies towards obsessive compulsive behaviour and social naivety. 

Ismail Kaji has a learning disability and is a parliamentary affairs assistant at Mencap: “People using online banking and other websites might not know where the information they have given has gone,” he said. “It worries me a lot and I can’t stop worrying. People online can pretend to be a company and get information from people. This makes me feel unsafe. It is hard; I don't know who to speak to or where to go for support.

“I have had emails asking for my personal details. I didn't understand the emails so I signed up. I realised later it was for a subscription and I had to call up and cancel, which was very expensive.

“I think it’s important that people get good information about how to stay safe online. Top tips and videos about things like online scams could give people examples of what people with a learning disability need to be aware of. I am pleased the SafeSurfing project is happening because people with a learning disability are unsafe online in different ways and this project will be a helpful way for people with a learning disability and those that support them to find out about being safe online.”

Geert Freyhoff, Inclusion Europe director, added: “Full inclusion won’t be possible until people with a learning disability are able to enjoy all aspects of life on an equal basis with others. Supporting people with a learning disability in using the Internet safely could have a huge impact on their level of independence, their well-being and their sense of ownership.”

SafeSurfing aims to reach more than 1,000 people with a learning disability directly, by using interactive online training sessions that offer participants the possibility of asking questions in real time. In addition, thousands more could benefit from the five training videos on several areas of data protection that will be produced and shared by SafeSurfing partners.

You can join the discussion on Mencap’s Facebook page and Twitter page using the hashtag #SafeSurfing