Are you looking for disability information on the Internet and don’t know where to start? New Internet users – sometimes called “newbees” – are often overwhelmed by the huge amount of resources available to them. At the same time, they may be confused or frustrated by difficulties in finding the right resources to meet their needs.
The Internet has thousands of web sites, discussion groups and other kinds of resources dealing with virtually all aspects of disability. Some of them are wonderful resources, many of them are useful, and lots of them are useless. This FAQ (“Frequently Asked Question”) discusses how to find good information about the topic that interests you as quickly as possible. We will examine general search engines, meta sites, surfing and personal recommendations. Additional information can be found in our FAQ on Evaluating Disability Information on the Internet.
A Word About General Search Engines
Many books and articles will tell you to use a general “search engine” such as AltaVisita or Google to find information about specific topics. You type in a topic or keyword, click a search button, and the engine scours the Internet to find sites with that topic or word. In a few seconds, a page listing those sites, often called a list of “hits” or a “results list,” appears on your screen. Click on a hit, and you’re off to the web site you selected.
Unfortunately, general search engines such as these will often generate lists of hundreds or thousands of web sites. Some are good, some are bad, and some are in the middle – there’s no way of telling. This is because these engines search for resources on the basis of words in their title, descriptions or text. They do not evaluate them. You can spend hours, even days, going through the “hits” they find.
We generally use general search engines as a last resort, or to find information on a very specialized topic, rather than as a first stop.
Meta sites are guides to other web sites. Most meta sites are organized by topic, and include hypertext (“clickable”) links to the web sites they list. There are both general meta sites and subject-specific meta sites. Yahoo is an example of a general meta site. Medsite and On-line Resources for Diabetics are examples of subject-specific meta sites.
Like all web sites, meta sites can be good, bad or mediocre. Some list everything there is to be found on their subjects. They may be comprehensive, but they are almost as overwhelming and indiscriminate as general search engines. Others are highly selective, listing a limited number of (hopefully good) sites for each subtopic. Some just list the relevant sites, while others provide descriptions and/or evaluations of each site. (Sometimes the descriptions are provided by the owner of the sites being linked to; such descriptions are often self-promoting advertisements. Other times they are prepared by the meta site’s reviewer.) Some meta sites rate or rank the sites they list.
Good meta sites use professionals in their fields to review potential sites, and include only those that meet established criteria. Look on the site itself for information about who selects the links and what criteria are used for inclusion and ratings. Descriptive information provided by the reviewer will help you wean out the sites that may be most appropriate for your needs. When you find a meta site that meets your needs, be sure to bookmark it or add it to your “favorites.”
Surfing (linking from one web site to another to another to another…) is a great way to find good web sites. It can also be time-consuming and tedious. The trick here is to find a few good web sites on the subjects that interest you, and look on their pages for lists of “related resources,” “links,” or similar terminology. Many of the related resources will list other related resources, and so on. Surfing requires time and patience, but can uncover hard-to-find gems that someone else has discovered.
If you don’t have the patience to do your own searching or surfing, solicit recommendations for good sites from other people. Contact friends or colleagues who are familiar with the subject and are experienced Internet users, or call a national or local disability organization.
If you don’t know anyone who can provide such information, join a listserv (discussion group) that focuses on the topic that interests you, and ask members of the group for their suggestions. Lists of disability-related listservs can be found on The DRM WebWatcher’s Listservs page. Some listservs have developed their own web sites, which may include “frequently asked questions” and web sites that have been recommended by members of the group.