Beautiful to me: Identity, disability, and gender in virtual environments


This paper examines the portrayal of disability, gender, and identity in virtual communities where representation is a matter of convenience, style, or whim. A survey was conducted of groups, identifying themselves as disabled, with a focus on gender, in the virtual space, Second Life. Four distinctive categories were analyzed in this study: groups associated with disabilities or being disabled, race/ethnicity, gender, aging, and sexuality. In the “real world”, the visual cues that activate schemas serve as an explanation for the stigmas and ensuing isolation often felt by people with disabilities. In Second Life, where the visual cues are removed, users with disabilities are associating with others who identify as being disabled. Additionally, gender appears to play a role in the group (i.e. “communities”) found in Second Life. Regardless of binary gender framework, the differences between the groups that are externally classified as having some degree of disability, and those who choose to self identify, or affiliate with disability related groups, have rich import for the sociology of online communities as well as for the design and characteristics of games.

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International Journal of E-Politics (IJEP)

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