Keywords: Computer-mediated communication, impersonal communication,

hyperpersonal communication, computer-based self-help/mutual aid groups

In 1986 it was estimated that in the United States there were 1.7 million “homebound”

people with disabilities and eight times that number who were temporarily disabled

(Zastrow, 1986). Fifty years ago this could have meant social and personal isolation for

these people who had limited physical means to interact with others, especially others

with disabilities. Today, assistive technologies are radically changing the lives of people

with disabilities (Joslyn-Scherer, 1993), and inexpensive computer technologies have

dramatically expanded the economic and social opportunities of people with disabilities

(Hood, 1996). The World Wide Web (WWW), the newest addition to the Information

Age, also called the Information Superhighway, and computer-mediated communication

(CMC), a segment of that highway, are greatly increasing the access of people with

disabilities to information and interaction. Given the exponential growth and use of the

WWW and CMC, it is important to examine this medium of communication and its

impact on people with disabilities. In this chapter, I seek to accomplish four goals. First, I

give an overview of the various types of resources presently available to and about people

with disabilities on the WWW. Second, I broadly review the area of CMC, the theories

used to explain online relationships, and how CMC specifically relates to people with

disabilities, arguing that CMC has advantages over face-to-face communication for

people with disabilities. Third, I discuss the use of computer-based self-help/mutual aid

(CSHMA) groups by people with disabilities and integrate social support literature as it

relates to CMC. Finally, I investigate and question the strengths and weaknesses of

CSHMA groups as a credible avenue of social support for people with disabilities.