Glamorization & Bias Around the Chronically Ill and Disabled Community - Full Article
Glamorization and bias around the chronically ill and disabled community: a concept that while extremely upsetting and wrong, unfortunately exists.
Over the past 8 months, as I've become more integrated into the online community of chronically ill and disabled folks, the bias that abled people have toward disabled folks has become increasingly clear.
While disability as a whole is misunderstood and shamed by abled folks, when it comes to the online community, those of us with invisible disabilities/illnesses or lack of a medical device, are repressed and frequently shunned by abled folks.
As my conditions have become more symptomatic, I require mobility aids and medical devices, which I've noticed, leads to more engagement on social media. Posts that show my feeding tube or wheelchair often have higher engagement statistics than those that talk about the invisible parts of my disabilities or strive to make an issue the disabled community faces known, and brought to the attention of abled folks.
As a whole, abled folks only care about the stereotypical disability
Meaning those who "look disabled" aka those with medical devices and mobility aids. As soon as it's about someone who has an invisible disability, or a disabled person who doesn't fit that stereotype, they no longer care because it's out of the realm of their notion of disability. This stems from many longstanding worldwide issues facing disabled people, among them, glamorization and bias.
When it comes to social media, disabled/chronically ill creators who "look disabled," ie have a medical device or use a wheelchair, are much more popular.
I won't give specific examples, because this is not the fault of the creators. This is solely at the hands of abled folks.
Though disability is much more common throughout the world than many like to think (15-20% of the world population is disabled), we are nevertheless outnumbered by the able-bodied, especially on social media. So, they tend to only interact with those of us who fit their notion of disability, therefore perpetuating the glamorization and bias that surrounds our community.
Another aspect of disability that is frequently glamorized is accommodations.
Many able-bodied people are actively against accommodations for disabled folks because they see them as an unfair advantage, which is an extremely upsetting and incorrect take. When asking for accomodations, we are not asking for an advantage, or for the world to succumb to everything we've ever wanted. We're asking for equity. The whole reason we're asking for accomodations is because they world is inaccessible to disabled people. The accommodations we're asking for would give us access to the things able-bodied people have access to by simply being able-bodied. Listen to disabled folks. Understand that we aren't asking for an advantage, that's an outdated & ableist take that is extremely upsetting to us.
There's a plethora of disabled & chronically ill content creators out there, who pride themselves on educating the world on disability and chronic illness. We don't owe that to the able-bodied, but many of us do it because we want to see a greater understanding of what disability really is, and to help dismantle people's ableist beliefs. If you have the resources, use them. Take a short bit of time to read an article or instagram post by a disabled creator, check your ableist beliefs. While you may not be "upfrontly ableist," we all have some internalized ableism, or ableist beliefs due to systemic ableism.
"Ableism is the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior. At its heart, ableism is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability. Like racism and sexism, ableism classifies entire groups of people as ‘less than,’ and includes harmful stereotypes, misconceptions, and generalizations of people with disabilities."
Prior to becoming disabled, I would've never believed I was ableist. While I wasn't actively or verbally attacking disabled people or fighting against their rights, I was still ableist. Because being "upfrontly" or blatantly ableist by doing things I previously mentioned, isn't the only way to be ableist. Though I certainly wasn't doing those things, I also wasn't checking myself for phrases or words I said that are ableist, or properly educating myself on all the issues facing disabled people, and doing what I could to help. I now realize that, and am working to change it. And though I am now disabled, I still have some internalized ableism; meaning I tend to have self-doubt toward my own disability, because of the stereotypical view of disability that is built into all of us.
It shouldn't have taken becoming disabled to realize all of this. If you are able-bodied, you have privilege that disabled folks don't. So use it. Listen to disabled people and use your able-bodied privilege to amplify our voices, so we can make strides toward dismantling the glamorization and bias around our community, and in turn, dismantling ableist beliefs.
Finally, I want to discuss disabled joy and embracing one's disability. I touched on this in my disability pride month post, but I want to talk about it more in the context of glamorization.
Choosing to experience joy as a disabled person, or embracing your disability and/or medical devices, IS NOT glamorizing disability and medical devices.
While yes, we grow to embrace our conditions and can still post about having a good, happy day, that doesn't mean we're glamorizing chronic illness & disability.
We grow to embrace them because we have to. Being chronically ill comes with miserable symptoms, so learning to embrace our conditions takes some of that away. It helps us get through the miserable days. Embracing ourselves and spreading awareness for our conditions becomes a good side to living with them. It's a necessary piece of it all.
There's nothing wrong with being disabled & chronically ill, but no one wants to have to live with a chronic illness. No one wants to rely on a medical device or mobility aid. These aren't things to be glamorized and we certainly don't/won't do that.
If you're reading this and are able-bodied, this next part isn't directly for you, but please read it, and keep it in mind. As I've said throughout this article, your education and understanding is vital to dismantling ableist beliefs.
If you are disabled/chronically ill, remember:
You're valid if you have a medical device, you're valid if you don't!
You're valid if you use a mobility device and you're valid if you don't!
Chronic Illness and disability aren't a competition; if you're feeling like the environment you're in is making it a competition, move to another part of the community! Do what's best for you.
You can find my original, shortened, version of this post of my instagram, @chronicallyeden or click here to view it.
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