Digital Tip Jar: Venmo - MTess1
Surprisingly, my journey to finding the online disability community began accidentally while doing an activity I very much enjoy … watching reality TV! It was season 3 of Bachelor in Paradise to be exact.
While watching the new contestants walk down the stairs to the beach where they would then attempt to find the love of their lives, there was one contestant named Sarah Herron that stood out from the rest. Sarah was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome and as a result was missing part of her left arm. She was the first disabled contestant on the Bachelor franchise.
Sadly, seeing an individual with a disability in the media is still rare. The disabled simply don’t get many opportunities to be their authentic selves on screen. When I watched Sarah, it was probably the first time I had seen a disabled individual doing just that. Additionally, the show didn’t make her disability the main focus of either her introductory video or the segments in which she was dating another contestant. It was truly a non-issue. She was simply dating other contestants on a beach in Mexico just like everyone else.
When she left the show, she explained how she was creating her own nonprofit called “Shelift” which “empowers women with physical differences to discover confidence and self-esteem through outdoor recreation and intentional sisterhood.” She also created a Facebook group for the organization so that these women could join and find a community of their own.
I joined the group and found it so comforting to be able to reach out to other women who have disabilities. While most of them had limb differences like Sarah, I was able to find a few with the same disability as me, Cerebral Palsy. From there, I was able to add them to my growing circle of social media friends.
Where I grew up and still live today, I know very few people with disabilities, particularly women my own age. So, in many ways, this TV series was life changing for me. It made me realize there are so many women out there like me, who have a disability. It isn’t something unique, though in my current environment it can still feel that way. It made me realize that I needed to go out and be my most honest, vulnerable self in order to not only make the most out of my own life, but to contribute, in my own small way, to changing society’s perceptions of what it means to be disabled.
The Shelift group inspired me to find and join Cerebral Palsy-centered Facebook groups. My mom was able to join one that welcomed caregivers and advocates as well. These groups did not exist when I was growing up which was unfortunate because they could’ve been a great resource for my parents who had to figure out so many aspects of my care on their own. Today’s online disability community groups provide endless support and information to so many – the individuals with disabilities as well as those who love and care for them.
These online groups show the true power of community. Movements for change can’t be achieved alone. Change requires great numbers of people focused on achieving the same goal. With online disability communities, challenges and issues are being brought up and discussed more openly; steps are being taken to collectively address them; and most importantly, public awareness of the disabled community is increasing.
Before these groups existed, disabled individuals and their loved ones had to search for solutions to their problems by themselves in a non-accessible, often ableist society. Today, they have easy access to a far larger support network that is not only well-informed but passionate about making changes to benefit the community at large. I find that to be beautiful and am so grateful to have found these resources.
Facebook groups I mentioned in my above blog post:
These Facebook groups below are private and do require you to answer a few questions before being approved to join. I hope they can be a great resource to someone.
- SheLift Family
This group was created by Sarah Herron for her nonprofit organization. It is mainly women with limb differences but there are some with different disabilities in it as well.
- CP Warriors, Mommies. Daddies, Grandparents and Advocates
This is a group my mother was in that I also recently joined. It is for anyone who is or knows someone who has Cerebral Palsy.
- People With Cerebral Palsy (18+)
I have been in this one for a few years. It is for individuals with Cerebral Palsy only.