Online privacy is a big deal these days. There are growing concerns over privacy on social networking sites like Facebook and concerns about what web browsers and sites do with visitors' information. Disability.gov brought up some interesting points about privacy as they relate to disabilities online, and made me think about my own online presence.
One of the advantages of being online versus face to face or verbal interactions is that nobody has to know more about you than you allow. You need not post a picture of yourself if you don't want people to know your race, you can post in a language other than your native one, and you can even make up facts out of whole cloth. However, once you start being open about yourself, you have to make decisions about how much you want to be "out there." Once you choose to post a photo of yourself online, you've already allowed people to see a lot about you: what you look like, your gender, how you dress, where you live or visit, how old you are and if you have an obvious physical disability. It's up to you to make the decision to make yourself visible.
It's difficult to see my hearing aids in photos of me. I only have a few photos where they are readily visible. Usually my hair or the angle of the photo obscures them. Just take a look at the photo I use as my profile photo for most online services (this blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc):
On most social networking sites I am open about the fact of my hearing loss. I write this blog - I can't avoid the topic even if I wanted to. I enjoy having something that people can connect with me about. Whether they just like the blog or they are looking for advice, or just want to talk to somebody who has gone through the same thing they have, hearing loss acts as a common bond on these sites. I usually approach it in a matter-of-fact manner.
However, as the Disability.gov blog post points out, you may not always want to be open about these things. Opening up about yourself for any reason can lead to people stereotyping you and labeling you. The Web provides a veil of anonymity not just for you but for anyone who wants to make you feel bad. Not only that, but the unfortunate reality is that employers or organizations are filled with human, fallible people who will make their own judgments on you based on the information you present online.
The blog post has some good advice about being online. It's actually good for everybody to keep in mind: be aware of your online presence, don't post photos or videos you wouldn't want showing up in a decade or so, check your privacy settings, and be aware of how you come across online. They further suggest creating professional profiles or even your own web space that will allow you to control entirely how you are seen by the Web.