Two years ago I received a direct message on Facebook from a lady who had been following my timeline for a while. Being disabled and relatively outspoken, it is expected that I will attract the attention of different people who interact with my content for various reasons. Some seek inspiration, information, curiosity and for others, I represent what is wrong and broken in society. Everything I do or say is irksome to them, this is the population that believes that all disabled people putting themselves out there do so to solicit pity and preferential treatment.
So, this girl texted me with a very wanting tone. Something about my entire existence seemed to make her entire being ache. You could see it in her words; she had piles and piles of aggression, most of which was misplaced. ” Why do you feel the need to always show your wheelchair in all your pictures? I think you are misleading your followers!!”
She was concerned that I was “over displaying” my disability for my own selfish gains and that I should consider censoring some of my content to make it relatable to everyone. In other words, I shouldn’t focus too much on my spine injury because some of the topics make my audience uncomfortable.
“What do you suggest I do?”. I was curious to know what frame of mind she was in, so I asked. She suggested that I should limit my wheelchair exposure in the photos I post. She went further to recommend that I crop my images in a way that my wheelchair is not visible. It was interesting to see how much she had thought this through, it was something that had clearly bothered her for a long time. Raising the question, how many more feel this way?
The problem with society is that we want comfort in all aspects of our lives. We seldom entertain the thought of a challenge; we want the world to remain as it was, we need people to look as they have always looked. Any deviation from the norm is foreign and foreign things are labelled misfits.
In the past, disabled people had little say about how they lived their lives. They were stigmatized and hidden away from society. Their lives revolved around the four walls of their stuffy bedrooms. Some people would prefer that we remain in those backward times. Where disability was associated with the disease, the stench of urine and poverty. They do not want to see us on social media having a drink in the club or having a nice-looking female by our side. They would prefer that we project suffering because disability is just that, nothing more.
With social media, we have a platform to tell our stories however we want to tell them. We have been given the opportunity to force the agenda of inclusion to anyone that interacts with us. As a disabled person, I view social media as an invaluable tool to advocate for empowerment and awareness. The greatest form of awareness is visibility. People are conscious of the existence of something if they see it constantly. The more you see a white cane, the more woke you are about blind people and the need to accommodate them. The more you follow me and interact with my own stories, the better you understand the plight of wheelchair users or those with paralysis.
That being said, some people like to distance themselves from their disability on social media. They don’t post pictures that make their disability evident, neither do they engage in topics that would indicate they have a certain challenge. That is their prerogative, it is a free world, they shouldn’t be judged. In my case, however, I feel a burning desire to the breakthrough unchartered territory for the sake of the cause. If you feel confident about your voice, use it! Social media has so much potential to sway masses into positive directions. I would urge people with disability to play a role in advocacy, however small it might seem. Do not be afraid of being tied to the disabled community, rather be proud of it.
Online advocacy isn’t necessarily speaking strongly about issues that affect us. The best kind involves just living a full life. Share your stories of going to school and getting your degree despite all the odds. Share pictures of your wedding and tell us about how you and your spouse met. Tell your stories and let the masses know that it can be done.