Online spaces can help break barriers and foster a sense of community, and people with disabilities and chronic health conditions are using them to tell their stories.
Hashtags like #TheBarriersWeFace, #WheelchairLife and #ActuallyAutistic are helping people with disabilities connect and support each other. And they’re sharing experiences, essential critiques, jokes and even cute pictures of dogs along the way.
Here are just a few of the powerful hashtags people with disabilities are using to find community online all in 140 characters or fewer.
It’s a well-known problem that people with disabilities are rarely depicted in media. When they are, those who do get represented often have one thing in common: whiteness.
The hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite addresses this problem of representation, getting critical about the intersection of disability and race. Created by disability rights activist Vilissa Thompson, the hashtag hopes to push the media into telling stories of people of color with disabilities instead of overlooking them in favor of a whiter narrative.
To help destigmatize the use of colostomy bags, often used to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, #GetYourBellyOut encourages social media users to show off their bags as a sign of strength and pride.
Overall, the hashtag creates a powerful sense of community, connecting people who are often told to be ashamed of their diagnosis and their bodies.
People with mobility-related disabilities face many issues when trying to vote, including inaccessible polling stations and long waiting times that can easily drain energy. As a result, people with disabilities are about 20 percent less likely to vote than those without disabilities.
The hashtag #CripTheVote looks to empower people with physical disabilities to pursue the right to cast a ballot, providing both community support and resources to increase voter participation from people with disabilities. Several disability rights activists started the campaign on Twitter this year to encourage engagement in the 2016 presidential election.
People with disabilities face a lot of challenges when navigating a world that isn’t designed with them in mind. Aside from physical barriers, people with disabilities also encounter stigma and bias from a largely unaccepting society.
The hashtag #TheBarriersWeFace, which disability rights activist Dominick Evans just started in October, allows people with disabilities to talk about the everyday obstacles they navigate on a regular basis. #TheBarriersWeFace not only calls out ableism, but also shows the resilience and perseverance of the community.
Along with creating #TheBarriersWeFace, Evans also created the hashtag #AbleismExists with a similar purpose. The hashtag allows people in the community to talk about the discrimination they face, connecting with others who have similar experiences and educating people without disabilities at the same time.
Evans told The Huffington Post that he created the hashtag in response to his activist friends constantly asserting that ableism does not exist, devaluing his personal experiences with bias. When you look at the hashtag, it shows that ableism certainly does exist.
The body positive movement has led a massive effort to better reflect diversity in media representation. But conversations about body positivity often begin and end with body size. People with disabilities are just one of several groups frequently excluded from the narrative.
So they’ve taken on the task themselves. #DisaBodyPosi short for “Disability Body Positive” allows social media users to post photos of themselves to empower their community. Disability activist Isa Jennie created the hashtag to fight “ableist beauty standards” and show that “all bodies are worthy of being loved and appreciated.”
Being diagnosed with diabetes sometimes means living with a pump to help regulate insulin levels. Instead of accepting the expectation that people with diabetes should hide their pumps, the hashtag #ShowMeYourPump encourages them to show off the devices through empowering selfies.
Not only does this body positive hashtag create a sense of community, but it also helps encourage people living with diabetes to appreciate the devices that ensure their health.
The hashtag #ActuallyAutistic has powerful roots in the autistic community, critiquing the exclusion of people who are actually autistic in conversations around autism. Historically, many organizations and non-autistic advocates have tried to control the narrative of autism for the general public, often suggesting the condition is something to be cured and not embraced.
#ActuallyAutistic allows autistic people to take back their stories, showing that they should be given the respect to represent their own needs and narratives independently. Autistic social media users use the hashtag to share their experiences with bias, triumph or struggle, and also call out media and other advocates when they try to control the narrative.
When people with disabilities are represented in entertainment or media, their stories are often filtered through an able-bodied perspective. For example, actors without disabilities commonly portray characters with disabilities, while literature about disability is often written by authors without disabilities.
Creatives with disabilities have difficulty finding work and pursuing their passions due to limited expectations and lack of opportunity. Created by actors, artists and musicians in the Deaf community, the hashtag #DeafTalent seeks to highlight the work of creatives with disabilities while also creating a supportive community online.
Not all disabilities manifest physically. People with invisible illnesses face unique challenges to even be recognized as part of the disability rights community or have their disabilities taken seriously.
The hashtag #InvisibleIllness tackles what it’s like to live with a disability or condition that is not immediately apparent to others through visual clues. The tag includes everything from funny quips about annoying interactions to practical information for those living with a variety of invisible diagnoses.
This identity-turned-hashtag is a reference to Spoon Theory, a common way people with disabilities explain their energy levels to people without disabilities. The theory suggests that people with disabilities and health complications are allotted a certain amount of energy or spoons each day, while “healthy” people often have unlimited spoons. Those with limited spoons need to decide strategically when to use them to make it through the day, which can be complicated and annoying.
A “spoonie,” then, is someone who needs to navigate these decisions regularly. And they’re connecting via the #Spoonie hashtag to share their stories and frustrations.
Let’s talk about sex and disability. It’s an intersection that’s largely ignored, with assumptions that people with disabilities can’t have fulfilling or successful sex lives.
The weekly Twitter chat #ChronicSex looks to give people with disabilities the space to talk about chronic diagnoses, disability and sexuality. Users also share tips and tricks from articles and resources around the web that make sex with a diagnosis or disability more pleasurable.
Using a wheelchair means navigating inaccessible places as well as people’s limited expectations but it also comes with having a relatively normal life. Wheelchair users are connecting through the hashtag #WheelchairLife to show that fact, simply by documenting their everyday lives.
From intense exercises to a killer #OOTD, wheelchair users are capturing how complete their lives are, challenging the notion that using a wheelchair somehow makes life unfulfilling.
We all know we’re not allowed to pet service dogs, event though they’re undoubtedly cute. But there’s no shame in exchanging adorable photos of service dogs via social media.
The hashtag #ServiceDog on Instagram is filled with photos of service dogs showing off just how cute and reliable they are both on and off work. Take a look at the furry friends but always remember to respect a working dog in public.