Answering the Info Needs of Non-Geographic Communities

by Brein McNamara
December 7, 2008

There has been much said about the idea of empowering local communities through citizen journalism. But when I view this within the context of minority communities, focusing solely on geographic communities is a mistake.

Lets focus on the Deaf community as an example of this situation. The number of totally deaf people is on the order of less then 0.1 percent of the United States population. This number by far is much too little to make any real impact on society at large, and usually means that even a even a large city has a comparatively small and scattered deaf community.

While a specific geographic Deaf community is small, the whole population of the deaf is still sizable. But this group can only create a real impact if it works together. This is where the advantage of the Internet comes in. There has been much made of the ability of the Internet to allow niche groups to form communities and groups of their own online, free of the geographic limitations their small niche entails.


But let’s be clear here. Most of these groups are ‘communities of interest.’ While such groups may or may not be important, I am working under a little more stringent definition of community. For our purposes, the intent is to define a group that has needs to be provided additional or just different information in order to fully participate in society.

Thus the test becomes – Does this group have a definition of self and needs that differ from society at large? A community should have its own cultural identity that defines the whole of the person. (For example – being a Star Trek fan would not really define the whole person, but being a minority language user would likely have that impact.) And it should also have a set of needs that reflect segregation from society.

Deaf people can’t fully access spoken languages, so they created a common bond through the use of a visual language. We still need to participate and interact with the rest of society, but our numbers are too small to advocate this on a local basis. Thus providing Internet tools for our information needs on a national basis becomes a prerequisite for gaining these tools on a local level. That’s the only way I can see that works.

Tagged: deaf community geographic online community
  • Brein, It’s great to read your post! At our Minciu Sodas laboratory we’ve exchanged some letters about the “differently abled”, including Tom Ochuka’s Deaf Impact in Kisumu, Kenya. I look forward to linking with your posts and interacting with ideas. It was nice to meet you at the Las Vegas awards ceremony. Andrius