The Social Agenda

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2013

Social media is helping wheelchair users from around the world connect and share information like never before.

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Darrell Carrell loves his Skype and Facebook.

“It saves me rolling time,” Carrell says. “You can sit home and click, click, click, rather than being out there rolling, rolling, rolling. That’s not a real easy task out here in the hills.”

Carrell is the national director of the West Virginia chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). He’s also a service officer at his American Legion post. Oh, and he has a 93-year-old aunt who lives in Maine. Carrell does a lot of his family and business communication through social networking these days.

A Lot of Help to Offer

“When social media came around, it was fantastic,” Carrell remarks.

Indeed, Carrell is participating in a Department of Veterans Affairs pilot study that’s using a private function in much like Skype to connect him in video calls to healthcare professionals who are sometimes hundreds of miles away. 

“A lot of the veterans where I live have to travel miles just to get to the [Community Based Outpatient Clinics],” he says. “Social media has a lot of help to offer there with teleconferencing and tele-help. We’re testing it, and I’m a part of that.”

The 60-year-old became a wheelchair user when he was 22. Like many newly-injured folks, he ran into problems and had questions he wanted to ask others with spinal-cord injuries. Of course, that was in the mid-’70s. 

“Back then, you had telephone,” he says. “It was minute-by-minute charges, so you learned to talk fast. Then we finally got Internet and got into the chat.”

Always Someone to Ask

Chat rooms. Seems so ’90s now. That’s when Emma Burns joined the Royal Navy.

The 31-year-old was injured in 2001 and is a member of the British Ex-Services Wheelchair Sports Association. She’s also a regular participant at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and likes using Facebook to keep up with friends she makes in the U.S.

Burns, like Carrell, had a lot of questions when she got home after her injury. Unlike Carrell, she had an Internet with a growing presence of specialized chat rooms and message boards.

In 2002, what’s now largely a footnote in Internet history went online – Friendster. In the eyes of many technology historians, that was the original social-networking site that connected people in friend, family and interest groups in a large way. 

“If you’re having an issue with pretty much anything from models of wheelchair to how to make a difficult transfer, there’s always someone to ask even if they are at the other side of the world,” Burns comments during a Facebook chat from England.

“When I started driving, having never driven cars before my accident, I asked about hand controls,” Burns explains. “I was inundated with replies! People from both sides of the Pond couldn’t have been more helpful.”

A Big Time Saver

Friendster inspired folks at eUniverse to start a social-networking site, Myspace. That was in 2003. It exploded into pop culture. By 2004, college students were turning to an upstart social-networking site, Facebook.

According to the company, Facebook now has about a billion active users worldwide. The company claims to have about 618 million daily active users. Many of those users are companies, nonprofits, clubs, local governments and agencies, elected officials, and others, such as sports teams.

“We have an official page on Facebook,” says Jody Shiflett, manager of PVA Racing. “That’s our means for finding and broadcasting information.”

Shiflett says Facebook has been a big time saver for him and helps team members in several ways. Rather than making phone calls to coordinate team activity, he posts information these days.

“This is more efficient,” he remarks. “We didn’t know it was hard before. It’s like, ‘Sheesh, I’m not going to do it that way again.’ It’s easy for me to put something on [Facebook], saying where we’re going to be that evening, rather than find guys one by one to tell them.”

PVA Racing’s Facebook page has 179 members. Not all of them handcycle in Paralyzed Veterans of America jerseys. 

“Yesterday, there was a posting from someone who doesn’t hardly ever use the page,” Shiflett says. “She posted about mechanical issues with a handcycle. Someone who doesn’t know her gave her a lot of advice.”

Be Careful

But not everyone who handcycles wearing  a PVA jersey is on Facebook.

“I can think of a handful who think Facebook is the devil,” Shiflett comments. “I tell them, you can put up a cartoon character [for a profile picture] and say you’re George Bush. We’ll know who you are.”

But, there is a downside to social networking. Burns found out the hard way.

“In the past I’ve been tracked by a total stranger who found out a lot of personal information,” she says. “So I’m careful about what and where I post.”

Police later told Burns it was a “lonely 15-year-old kid.”

Not Quite So Alone

Even with the scare, Burns says the benefits of social networks outweigh risks.

“When you’re in such a tiny minority, as the disabled-veteran community is, it makes you feel not quite so alone,” she says.

Carrell has become something of a social-networking evangelist. He takes his notebook computer to Veterans Affairs facilities to help others get signed up on Facebook and Skype. He meets some resistance.

“Only by the older veterans, because they’re intimidated by the computer,” he comments. “I’ll get online and show them how easy it really is. They’re really amazed by it.”

Shiflett, who’s a 48-year-old wheelchair user, has a tip for those who aren’t getting onto social-networking sites.

“You have to realize the world is going to pass you by if you don’t keep up,” he offers.  “Good or bad, they’re changes. You can fight it, but the rest of the world isn’t fighting it.”


Get Social

Facebook ( Social media site with 1 billion individual, corporate, group and nonprofit users around the world, including PVA ( and PN (

Flickr ( A photo- and video-sharing site with 51 million users, including PVA (

Pinterest ( A photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies, and more.

Twitter ( A social networking, information and news service that allows users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters. More than 340 million “tweets” are posted daily. PVA’s feed is at

YouTube ( A video-sharing website where users can upload, view and share videos. PVA’s channel is at


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