In an age where the majority of people are quick to criticise how smartphones and social media are ruining our society, I often find myself biting my tongue whenever I encounter such remarks. There are significant issues when it comes to social media, I can’t deny it. Whether it is the unrealistic expectations of body image stemming from photoshopped images on Instagram or trolls on Twitter sending death threats, the internet can be an unkind and unforgiving place. However, I want to present a point of view that is often overlooked, and that is that social media is actually an incredibly important part of many disabled people’s lives, and is perhaps, not all bad.
Last year I suffered from a cerebrospinal fluid leak which meant I had to spend five months lying flat in a dark room. One of the only things that kept me sane and feeling like I actually was still a part of the outside world was the online disabled Twitter community. Connecting with people through a virtual world opened my eyes to the fact that not all friendships are conventional and mean seeing the person three times a week for coffee. I became part of a community. One where people cared about me and I care about them. These friends I kept in my pocket understood exactly what I was going through and motivated me to keep going.
Social media also serves as a platform for giving disabled people a voice that may not have been heard otherwise. Attending protest marches or meetings regarding social change can often be very difficult for someone with a disability, yet by using social media, disability activists are able to fight for change from their homes. Another benefit of being given this platform is that we are able to raise awareness for a huge range of conditions and illnesses which may in turn help someone else struggling to find a diagnosis figure out what is going on. For example, if it wasn’t for a fellow EDS-er recognising some of the symptoms I was describing on my twitter feed as being similar to her previous CSF leak, it would have taken me months before I had gotten the treatment I needed. Obviously there can be some issues with this, so be careful when taking advice and always talk to your doctor before going forward with any kind of treatment. But this kind of awareness can be vital.
One of the main benefits social media brings to disabled people is the opportunity to challenge pre-existing stereotypes that surround disability. My twitter feed is full of beautiful, disabled men and women who are living their best lives, challenging the notion that being disabled is the end of the world. I understand that social media can be a dangerous place, but I do genuinely believe that for many disabled people, having this connection with the rest of the world can be invaluable. The next time someone tells you that the internet is ruining the human race, remember that for many, it can be an absolute lifeline.