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Email and Online Communication

Keeping everyone connected and up to date on an ongoing basis is always a difficult task.

Technology makes it easier to do so. There are a number of online tools available that can be used on computers, cell phones and other portable devices.


E-mail has become one of today’s standard means of communicating electronically. E-mail is a typed message that is sent from a computer, a phone or other mobile device. Documents, letters, pictures and other electronic items can be attached to the message and sent along with the message. When replying to the message, the original message is sent with the reply. In this way, a history of your communications is maintained for easy recall.

However, you need to be cautious about what words you use in e-mail. The receiver does not have the benefit of seeing the nonverbal cues (body language) or hearing the tone of voice of the sender in order to interpret the meaning of the words. Written words by themselves can take on unintended meanings.

Also, attachments can carry viruses that can be a nuisance or damage your computer. Attachments containing the words “.exe “often contain viruses. As a general rule, if you do not know the sender of the email, do not open attachments and delete the e-mail.

Electronic junk mail or “spam” can be a nuisance. You are able to block e-mails from addresses that you choose. You can also create rules that will block all e-mails that adhere to that rule, e.g. Block any email with “bulk” in the subject.

Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) allows you to have a live online text conversation with someone, as long as you are both online. It is particularly useful for quick conversations such as asking a question or to let someone know what you are doing.

You can keep a list of people you most commonly interact with and you will be able to tell when they are online.

You type your messages to each other into a small window that shows up on both of your screens. Most Instant Messaging programs also allow you to create a chat room with your friends.

Online chat

Online chat is a way of communicating by sending text messages to people in the same chat-room in real time. Generally speaking, the ability to converse with multiple people in the same conversation differentiates the online chat from instant messaging (usually one-to-one communication).

Users in a chat room are generally connected by a shared interest or other shared connections.
There are chat rooms for all sorts of different topics. You need to be aware that topics and conversations may contain mature, sexual or offensive content. Some chat rooms are monitored so that offensive material is removed, but this is not always the case.


Text messaging, also know as “texting”, is the exchange of short, typed messages between cell phones and other portable devices. In order to quickly type and send messages a short hand language has developed, such as “?4U” to mean “I have a question for you” .

There is a charge to send a text message. Some phone plans may not include texting, may include only a limited number of texts per month or may charge for texts sent to you from someone else. Charges for texts not included in your plan can add a sizable amount to your monthly costs of the phone. It is very important to determine exactly what is included in your phone plan. If you are planning to use texting a lot it is generally better to go for a plan that includes unlimited texting.

Texting can be a very good way for parents/support workers to stay in touch with your family member.


Skype is an internet service provider that offers free calling (both local and long distance) between subscribers. In addition to standard telephone calls, Skype enables file transfers, texting, video chat and videoconferencing. It is a great way to have a meeting or speak to friends and relatives in another country.

On a desktop computer, you can use the system’s speakers and a microphone or plug in a headset, or use a regular phone. You add contacts similarly to the way you do for instant messaging and then, to make a call, just click the icon next to the contact.

Remember that anytime you are using video, not only can the other person hear you, but they can also see you so, make sure that you are appropriately clothed.

These are important tools for families and support workers

These are all good ways to keep in contact with family members, friends and employers and they make it possible for us to share information quickly. For example, staff can send messages directly to an individual to remind them of the time and address of an important job interview or individuals can contact their family when they arrive safely at a destination.

Here are some tips to help you to easily use and be safe while communicating online:

  • Set up contact lists which include all of the email addresses you will use most often. If you have difficulty reading, you may be able to put a photograph of the person beside their name so you can identify the person you want to talk to.
  • Make sure that there are no errors in your email address or in the email address that you are sending it to. The message can not be delivered if the address is not correct.
  • Always include a subject in the subject line of your email. This can be found at the top of the email below the email address of the person you are sending it to. This tells the recipients of your email that it isn’t junk mail and they won’t delete it by mistake.
  • Watch your language in your email. Do not be rude or gossip. The internet is very public and once you have posted a comment, photo or video, it cannot be erased or taken back.
  • Always read your email before you send it.
  • Never send an email when you are angry or upset because you may say something that you will regret later. Wait until you have had a chance to calm down and think about the situation.
  • Do not send inappropriate pictures.
  • Delete any emails that you receive that contain unfamiliar names or spam (electronic junk mail) right away. This will help to avoid attacks by viruses.
  • Be aware of who you are sending attachments to and who is going to receive them. A PDF (Portable Document Format) is a safe attachment to send or receive.
  • If you are not sure who sent you an attachment, don’t open it or you could get a virus.

Tip for caregivers and staff:

  • Filters can be used not only to control a user’s access to chat rooms but also to control the sending and receiving of emails to specific parties.

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