On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we spoke with content creators with disabilities to learn about their experiences!
Apart from the fun, social media is a tool for politics and representation too. It’s an instrument for raising voices for various causes and communities. The people who find very little space online, though, are those with disabilities. However, despite the odds, disabled content creators are using social media to make their voices heard and are creating a virtual space of their own. As content creation continues to be the rage, more and more creators irrespective of their abilities are influencing the virtual world. To learn about the experience of content creators with disabilities, we spoke with Gauri Gupta, Kavya Mukhija, and Somya Thakur.
Gauri, a National-level Para-athlete who is also a writer and editor, finds content creation liberating. “Most people have a fixed image of disabled folks. Having the agency to shift that view and set my narrative has given me a sense of autonomy.” Psychologist, Kavya Mukhija creates memes by giving humorous disabled tweaks to pop culture! For Kavya, content creation has helped her discover versions of herself, find a voice, make sense of her experiences through those of other disabled people and find a community. Somya is a wheelchair model and Miss Wheelchair World India 2022. When a car accident increased Somya’s disability, she pushed herself, recovered, and realized she should create content. Creating content challenges her to explore different aspects of humanity, disabilities, and herself.
While content creation enables creators, it also brings challenges. To begin with, there is not enough conversation about disability. “People tend to be indifferent to things that don’t concern them. Changing that indifference into something we question was the biggest challenge,” says Gauri. Social media also furthers this indifference as their algorithms often support certain types of content. Coming from an inappropriately represented community and ensuring that such content reaches the right audience is challenging for Gauri and creators like her.
Another challenge is that when content creators talk about disability, their content may not be relevant or relatable to a non-disabled audience, says Somya. However, why is the onus of creating content around disability only on disabled people? “There’s always an expectation that people with disabilities should spread awareness around disability and educate non-disabled people. While it may stand true sometimes, disabled people live other experiences than just their disabilities,” says Kavya. Being a disabled creator also attracts insensitive behavior from followers. Kavya adds, “The fine line between personal and virtual gets blurred. Because we share personal stories, people think they can ask personal questions or offer unsolicited advice. It gets a bit taxing.”
How can we counter these issues? How can we make social media an inclusive space for all? Somya says, “One has to be aware and informed about the particular disability they are creating content about.” Gauri emphasizes that we should not generalize or invalidate anybody’s experience or disability. Since conventional body types and abilities dominate social media, she says that we need conversations that allow people with disabilities to have a voice. “Nothing about us, without us,” she says. Kavya highlights using disability-affirmative language, avoiding euphemisms like specially-abled, differently-abled, and others, and saying no to inspiration porn. Ensure that the content is accessible for everyone with proper color contrast, alt text/image descriptions for images, video descriptions and closed captions for videos, Camel Case for hashtags, and trigger warnings for sensitive content.
If you’re a person with a disability who wishes to be a content creator, in Gauri’s opinion, it’s important to understand that it’s your story to tell the way you want, as many times and in as many ways as you want. Kavya advises to simply be authentic and have fun. “You may come across people who will be insensitive but also those who’ll have your back. Cherish the latter. Also, don’t shy away from sharing your work repeatedly." Somya adds, “It’s always the right time to start if you think you can do it. Being disabled, we don’t need to stay shy or hidden. We need to normalize our visibility.”
By initiating conversations around disability, Gauri hopes to build a community and safe space of mutual learning and unlearning and create a better, more inclusive world. Not just Gauri, it’s the responsibility of us all to work towards making social media more inclusive. After all, as Kavya says, “Disability is natural. It's fun, exciting, and adventurous. It's not ugly. It's neither a defect nor an imperfection. It's also not something divine or supernatural. It’s just one of the identities that some people live with. Also, disabled people are super fun to be around. Interact with them and you will know! Be kind to everyone.”