Best Buddies

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The State of e-Buddies

By Lisa Marlene Derx

I got my first e-mail address in 1995, through America Online. Back then, the Internet was just starting to spread from the academic and military worlds to general use. Most people I knew did not yet have an e-mail address, and some were offended to receive an e-mail rather than a letter or phone call. Around that same time, I attended an early Internet use group, and I vividly remember the raging discussion among attendees about how important it was to prevent the Internet from being used commercially!

I tell you this to demonstrate how much has changed since then. When Best Buddies launched e-Buddies ten years ago, e-mail use was rising, but, for millions of people, it was not yet a daily activity. This was especially true for special education students and adults with intellectual disabilities. In fact, when I began talking with special education teachers, agency staff, and others involved in the disability field back in December 1999, I encountered many who simply did not believe that someone with an intellectual disability could use e-mail without significant assistance.

Those early years were tough, as we strove to demonstrate that some people with intellectual disabilities could either learn to e-mail independently or they could utilize assistive technology to allow them access to this new communication tool. We created a print curriculum for teachers and students to use in the classroom that showed with screen captures and printed directions how to send and receive e-mail from the major e-mail providers. Called The e-Buddies Guide to Internet Literacy, it was successful in helping introduce e-mail to thousands of people with intellectual disabilities.

After a few years, that guide became obsolete. With generous support from the Hearst Foundation, the Miami-Dade Community Foundation, and the Leonsis Foundation, we created an online tutorial, The e-Buddies E-mail Trainer. Through the use of audio prompts and visual displays, anyone can use the tool, available free at, to learn to use e-mail.

Time proved false the notion that people with intellectual disabilities were not capable of learning to use e-mail, and I believe e-Buddies helped dispel it. Now, thousands of special education teachers routinely teach computer skills to their students. Now, every public library in the nation has free Internet access for anyone. Now, checking e-mail is something most people do daily.

As we look to the future, e-Buddies will be considering how the core mission of Best Buddies can be best implemented via the Internet. Will we expand our online community? Will be replicate the social media websites that are currently all the rage? Will we start tweeting?

Stay tuned. Whatever the future holds, I know for certain e-Buddies will continue to make the world a more inclusive place for all of us.

Letter from the Director | Ask Emerson | Best Buddies Spotlight
Conversation Starters | e-Buddies of the Month | e-Buddies in Action!
e-Buddies Speak Out! | The State of e-Buddies | The e-Beat Archive