For The 2020 International Day of Persons With Disabilities, writer Madison Lawson, a.k.a. @wheelchairbarbie, shares her list of what to read, watch, and listen to this December 3 and beyond. To read stories about inclusivity and representation in the industry, check out our new series, The Beauty of Accessibility.
Nearly 15 percent of the world's population has some kind of disability according to the World Report on Disability (WHO), making people with disabilities the largest minority group in the world. And yet, people with disabilities still receive so little representation in the media. The International Day of Persons With Disabilities, December 3, is an annual observance started in 1992 by the UN General Assembly that aims to "promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society." In 2020, that includes social media.
As most things go for our community, when we don't receive the traction behind our movements that we need, we take it upon ourselves and make it happen. To celebrate this year, the disabled community is asking people to only boost disabled creators content on social media platforms like TikTok, educate themselves on our history and civil rights movements, and think about the ways in which the things you do can be more inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities, both on and offline. Although our community's history is not often talked about in the history books, we have fought tirelessly to receive equal access to things like education, employment, and even simply the ability to enter public establishments.
This type of work is documented in the film Crip Camp — which you can watch on Netflix — featuring Judith Huemann who received the award for Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary. The film follows a group of young activists who, in 1973, lead the first federal civil rights protection movement for people with disabilities, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, being signed into law. This act recognizes that society has historically treated people with disabilities as lesser than able-bodied citizens, due to deeply held fears and stereotypes and harmful attitudes that translated into pity and persecution. Without 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act might as well not exist, as it finally made people think about people with disabilities in terms of federal civil rights. We are asking not simply for one day of amplification for disabled voices, but for a lifetime of the inclusion we have fought for.
One easy way to participate in The International Day of Persons With Disabilities is to expand your Following list to include more creators with disabilities. Emily Rose, aka @emilyrose_paints on TikTok and Instagram, is from California and was one of the first disabled activists I saw posting about the International Day of Disability on TikTok. Rose says, "For myself, International Day of Disability is a day to celebrate the ways disability has impacted my life and to raise the voices of other disabled people. It's also a day to remember what disabled people have gone through in the past."
We are asking not simply for one day of amplification for disabled voices, but for a lifetime of the inclusion we have fought for.
This day should be a celebration of the resilience, creativity, and inventiveness that, for most people who have disabilities, is a matter of survival. Janiqua Williams from Mississippi, aka @nika_bika_, shares her journey on TikTok through makeup and fashion transformation videos showcasing her skills as an artist. Williams says, "I feel like I've been living this life for a long time. I'm 27 now and sometimes when I was younger, I didn't understand a lot of things and I used to be ashamed of myself. Now that I'm older and I'm not afraid and I wanna show that, you know, because it is my life." This newly found confidence is something she wants to share with other disabled women, to empower them to find it themselves.
Similarly, model and disability activist Bri Scalesse aka @briscalesse hopes her content changes the way people look at disabled bodies. She wants to empower both disabled and able-bodied viewers to think about the ways they perceive disability in everyday life. Scalesse says she hopes her followers who are able-bodied are able to see her as more than just inspirational. "I hope they can see me as a full human. If my content does inspire, I hope it inspires designers and brands to hire disabled models and consider the disability community in their designs."
Another easy method of active participation in the International Day of Disability is to think about the ways in which the things you do in everyday life would be different if you had a disability yourself. Are the places you go accessible to people who use wheelchairs and mobility aids? Do the brands and designers you shop from create inclusive designs that people with disabled bodies can wear? Simply stopping to notice how the world around you can be restrictive can be a first step toward meaningful change.
"If my content does inspire, I hope it inspires designers and brands to hire disabled models and consider the disability community in their designs."
Also, ensure your "to be read" list includes books that are written from the disabled perspective. Some of my personal favorites are Keah Brown's The Pretty One, Judy Huemann’s Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, and Alice Wong's Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century. Or, if articles are more your speed, check out the monthly pieces on Cripple Magazine, a media company composed entirely of disabled writers and editors from around the world, sharing their perspectives and experiences. And let me end on a shameless personal plug: Listen to my podcast, The Obvious Question, in which I talk about my personal experiences living with a disability.
Remember that inclusion only helps everybody, you might not be disabled today, but you never know when you could become a part of our community and you’re going to want access to all the things we have fought for, are fighting for, and will continue to fight for. A day of boosting disabled creators content that can impact the ways in which people think about disability for a lifetime.
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