Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with loved ones, make new friends, join like-minded communities and make your voice heard to spread positivity and create change. However, there is a dark side to social media where trolling, cyberbullying and discrimination are rife.
Disability blogger Rebecca Sullivan, who runs the blog From This Window, shares her post on how, despite the downsides, social media can be a force for good and a lifeline for disabled people.
Social media is often seen as negative; something that can hinder a person’s wellbeing. It can promt us to compare ourselves, to play a role, or to even be completely consumed by the tiny squares or life updates from others who pick and choose what they share. But there is another side to social media that can be so positive if used in the right way.
The way that we engage with and use social media has changed dramatically. Years ago, Facebook was mainly used to share updates with your close friends and family. Now, its uses are multifaceted and there are so many more platforms.
Social media can be used to start conversations, express people’s stories and make their voices heard.
So, given that social media can now be used to shed light on things that would otherwise be left in the dark, can at least some of it be seen as a force for good?
I use social media as a tool to express myself, to air my thoughts and views about my experience as a disabled person. My disability is something that I used to keep under wraps and not really talk about voluntarily.
However, after some time writing on my blog and with gentle encouragement from those around me, I started to introduce my cerebral palsy.
I found sharing my ideas in this way so freeing and that discussing my disability wasn’t something to be afraid of. Expressing this part of myself also allowed for connections with other disabled people and I have learnt so much in turn.
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Giving disabled people a voice on social media
I wanted to know whether others feel the same about social media and that good could come from it, or whether it was me just having rose-tinted glasses on.
The responses I got reflected my thoughts – social media can be used for good. One person said it, “Gives a personal story to those whose voice might not be heard.” This really resonated with me.
A friend of mine said that people who have, “Difficulty [in] communication verbally feel like they have a voice that is paid attention to on here [Instagram], as opposed to in-person interactions where others may avoid communicating with them, or have difficulty understanding them.” Again, this is something that I could identify with as I have a speech impediment myself.
Sometimes people may only be in touch with those who look like them, share similar interests and values and be part of the same community.
But it seems that by logging onto the online world, you are logging on to find lives away from your immediate ones. Ones that could inform and shape you in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be.
The freedom of expression was also something that one person said is positive about using social media: “Talking about the ups and downs and my ‘normal’ has not only helped me but also helped complete strangers who message that they feel the same way and even created new friendships.”
In some regard then, this outlet could be considered an educational tool too. It definitely has been for me. Reading/hearing perspectives from other disabled people allows me to better understand and reflect upon how I think about my disability.
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Teaching others about disability on social media
Gaining insight is not limited to two disabled people – non-disabled people can learn about disability too.
One person told me that listening to disabled people has helped them to, “Destigmatise disability and tackle my own ableism.”
Isn’t this what the platform should be for? To educate and shake up perspective (and maybe the odd cute cat photo dumped in just to please the eyes?)
Sharing experiences can be daunting, especially when you are unsure whether anyone will understand and/ or respect what is being said.
Even now, I still sometimes second-guess myself when sharing some of my perspectives. But it is such a lovely feeling when people respond by saying that they feel heard or understood.
Sense of community and making friendships on social media
The sense of community is also something that a lot of people touched upon. Someone said it allows for, “Making genuine friendships and being part of a community that understands.” Another echoed: “It provides community and understanding.”
The feeling of support for people on social media is something that I also deeply feel. Whenever I post something online about disability, I receive such supportive feedback.
People often say how it has resonated with them. This makes me feel held. I feel understood and I feel less alone when experiencing negative thoughts.
Bringing positivity and change on social media
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Even though social media can be a trying place at times, and I do think it is important to step away from time to time (I often limit my screen time), it can also be used to bring about positivity.
One person echoed how parts of social media can be a good thing: “I have gained so much confidence, especially in my body after seeing so many beautiful disabled women… proudly posing in their wheelchairs, showing off their gorgeous selves and building up other women.”
I think we need to focus on using social media to create change and it being a space where we can start helpful and useful conversations. Having even more reasons to celebrate the online world will work to minimise the harm created by these platforms.
By Rebecca Sullivan
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