Disability visibility may seem like a foreign phrase if you’ve never had a disability. Chances are you may not think about the lack of representation disability gets in media. And honestly, that’s to be expected. Most of us fail to think about things that don’t directly affect us even when we’re trying to be the best humanitarian that we can be.
My views on disability were vastly different until I became disabled. I never thought disabled people were less than, or that I was better than them. I just never considered what their lives were possibly like living in a world that puts able bodies first. The tables turned for me in a drastic way, but now I can use my turn of events to lend a voice.
Lack of Representation Sends a Message
Have you ever gone somewhere and felt completely isolated because there was no one in the room like you? Perhaps you are a black person in a room full of white people. Or maybe you’re the only woman in a room full of men. How did that make you feel?
Being a person with a visible disability can often create the same feelings of isolation when you find yourself in spaces where you’re the only one. But not being able to see images of yourself in media can have the same exact effect.
Whether it’s ads, television programs, social media sites for businesses; it’s no secret how powerful imagery is. So if bodies like your own are used minimally, or only for stereotypical purposes; it sends a clear message of “you are not wanted.”
There is Empowerment in Visibility
When I first learned I would need to use a mobility aid; the internal ableism in me reared it’s ugly head. I was so worried about how I would be viewed. Never mind the fact that a mobility aid would change the quality of my life for the better. I couldn’t fathom being seen as disabled person.
I found courage and strength in through prayer and searching for people with disabilities on the internet. Finding images of people with disabilities living their lives with a visible disability made me feel empowered. I was reminded that I too could live life despite the change in circumstances.
As I began to post photos with my own aids, I was met with an overwhelming response from people who felt very much like I did; ashamed to be seen. By posting like I normally would but with my mobility aid, other people were becoming empowered to do the same.
And that’s why the visibility of disability matters.
Visibility & Accessibility are Linked
Accessibility is a whole topic in itself that I won’t be tackling in today’s blog. However, I do believe that the minimal visibility of disabled bodies leads to accessibility being an afterthought.
I can’t tell you how many events I’ve been to where handicap seating was not designated for wheelchairs, walkers, rollators, scooters or priority seating made for those with canes to limit the distance they’d have to walk. The lack of adequate spacing, handicap friendly bathrooms, ramps and elevators is also VERY common.
Often times in spaces where “accessibility” does exist; it feels like an afterthought. I firmly believe it’s because disabled bodies are an afterthought. I also believe that until more images of disabled bodies are used, and not just fill a diversity quota; we will continue to be an after thought in various aspects of public settings.
I completely understand that people have a ton of things on their mind; and perhaps disability visibility isn’t at the top of the list. However, if you’re reading this, even the smallest efforts can help make a big impact. If you see disabled bodies creating content, feel free to repost it. If you see businesses that aren’t necessarily handicap friendly, say something. Be mindful of how you view those with visible disabiltiies.
The spectrum of disabilities is vast; and what one individual needs can change from one person to the next. All I want is to encourage people to include us in the conversation. If you are a person with a disability (visible or non visible) please be visible! Show up for those who may not be ready to show up! Take up space unapologetically. There is power in your visibility!
Until Next Time,