What is the impact of visual social media on the integration of people with disabilities to our societies?
As a person without a disability, it is often difficult to understand the daily inconveniences faced by people with disabilities. I’m not proud to say that my understanding of accessibility started and ended with ramps in buildings and buttons to open automatic doors. It wasn’t until very recently that I learned what exactly accessibility encompassed. In our new digital media focused society, accessibility online has become an issue disability advocates are constantly fighting for. Whether it’s an application that allows websites to be read out to blind individuals or dyslexia-friendly word-formatting, the issues of individuals with a disability have taken a back seat in the online community. The vast majority of people without disability, myself included, take for granted the fact that the world, both online and physical, was made for them. They are the blueprint. This in essence, is the digital divide, that is invisible yet extremely penetrant.
The use of visual social media by disability advocates has forced us to look at our unconscious bias face-on and deal with its repercussions. Social media have the special ability to spotlight the hurts and grievances of individuals with disabilities and give them the visibility that they previously lacked. The once silenced story of their lack of equal opportunities has been given a chance to emerge and make an impact through movements on social media. Not only that, but social media has allowed individuals with a disability to reconstruct the long-standing views that disability is equatable to inadequacy.
People may sneer and joke about “influencer” culture, but there is no denying that it has had a tremendous impact on the evolution of disability advocacy. Tess Daly, for example, is an incredible makeup artist and fashion blogger based in Sheffield, England, but what makes her even more accomplished is her use of social media to bring awareness to disabilities. Tess was born with spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and has spent her life in a wheelchair. Despite her physical disability, Tess has used her story and skills to show the world that her disability isn’t a hindrance to her dreams. She currently boasts over 200,000 followers on her Instagram. Tess’s story is just one of the many examples of how social media has impacted the nature of advocacy. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter have allowed for the voices of actual disabled individuals to be heard and shared.
One of my favorite influencers that I watch on YouTube is Molly Burke. Molly Burke is a wonderful ball of sunshine that has been proving to her audience that despite being blind she can do anything a seeing person can do. Her channel includes challenges of her painting, doing her makeup and performing stunts with other YouTubers. Most of the time her comments are filled with people in awe of the fact that she is so “normal”. But that’s exactly what Molly is fighting against. She is using her platform to show that normalcy is a concept biased against disabled people. Molly being blind and doing seemingly “normal” things shouldn’t be shocking, but because we as a society have been conditioned into thinking that disabled people are more or less helpless, it shocks us. Digital media has the power to change the fabric of society. People like Molly and Tess are helping revise centuries-long misconceptions about what disability looks like.
I truly hope that we, the younger generation, can use our own platforms to advocate for the unheard, the silenced and historically marginalized.
by Kasturi Sarkar
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