Social Media & Disability

Posted December 4, 2016 by Ely in Discussions / 7 Comments


I was compiling my reference list for an essay the other day when I came across an article on my University library about epilepsy and Twitter. I instantly opened it up in another tab so I could read it once I’d finished my assignment. Unfortunately, I can’t link you all to it because you’d have to be a student at my University. In case you wanted to search for it online, the name of the article is: Epilepsy in the Twitter era: A need to re-tweet the way we think about seizures.

If you can’t find it, the basis of the article is looking at how people discuss seizures and epilepsy on Twitter. If you read a lot about disability or have one yourself, then you’re probably not surprised to learn that most people were pretty ableist about the whole thing. If that’s something you want to read more about, I can’t recommend this post Lara did more highly.

The study found that most people used the term ‘seizure’ in a metaphorical way, i.e. ‘my phone is having a seizure’. Even more worryingly, a lot of people used it as a joke—the example they used was this; ‘What do you do when someone’s having a seizure in the bath tub? Throw in a load of laundry’, which honestly makes me feel sick to my stomach. I could go on a long rant about how seizures, or any disability for that matter, is not a laughing matter. People do not choose to have seizures, and it’s disgusting that people think it’s okay to make that kind of joke. I would never wish a disability on anyone, but those are the kind of people I’d like to sit down and educate on disability and human decency.

The article got me thinking about social media and disability. They talked about stigmas and education. That led me to think about the type of language I’ve seen used on Twitter. To be honest, I don’t see disability a lot on my feed, at least not from people who aren’t advocates and academics on the subject I’ve followed. I’ve followed a lot of people who talk about diversity only to be seriously disappointed when they never mention disability as an area of that.

This is why I wanted to organise Disability Diaries. Social media is such a huge part of our lives nowadays, and in all honesty, I wanted to force people to think about disability (in a positive way) in our community. I’m not claiming this is the first or only event to do so—in fact, the first one that comes to mind is the incredible Shattering Stigmas event hosted by my fave, Inge, and a bunch of others. I’d hope there are more events that I’ve missed, but it saddens me that I have to wish for that. I would be totally okay with being bombarded constantly by disability advocacy on every social media platform.


I’m starting to wonder whether this post even has an argument or point to it, so I’m going to wrap it up with just a few recommendations for you all. If you’ve spoken to me about diversity at all, I’ve probably shared this with you, but if not—read this now.

Cee Arr’s Diversity Link List
Dina’s post about representation
Help Jolien compile a list of diverse books
Lara’s post about things to remember when talking with a person with a disability
Disability in KidLit’s entire website, but more specifically this post about language
And of course, sign up for Disability Diaries.

I think one of the best ways to get a conversation started on Twitter is to blog about disability and diversity, so if you ever write your own post on this subject, please tweet it to me so I can share it and discuss it with you.


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7 responses to “Social Media & Disability

  1. I actually was pretty much an asshole about disability prior to my own illness, so, yes, I know how ugly things get. I said awful things and had no understanding of how disability works. Being this ignorant made my disabilities so hard to accept. But, I don’t think it should take this pain to be accommodating and courteous towards other people, and to be careful with phrasing..

    We need to get a dialogue started and keep it going because disability is part of life. Disabled people deserve respect and inclusion. And, I thank you for sharing your own perspective and getting the conversation going.

  2. I really feel like I need to educate myself more. I don’t have a disability or illness, so I feel like I must have said something at one point in my life that is offensive, without even knowing it. I want to learn as much as I can about disability, diversity and representation, so I don’t do it again. That’s why I was so excited when you asked whether I wanted to join disability diaries! I’m looking forward to it.

  3. I was just having a conversation with my coworker about disability yesterday, and it shocked me how blatantly ableist people can be without even thinking about it. It’s really great that there are people open enough to blog about their experiences so others can learn more about what it’s actually like to live with a disability or illness. I’ll have to remember to sign up for Disability Diaries. It seems like it’ll be a great project!

  4. Agh, yes I’ve seen that kind of language used a lot and it makes me sad. I do genuinely think some people don’t realise what they’re saying because that kind of speech is so ingrained in just everyday language…I’m not trying to excuse it! But I do think good people say the wrong things at times and don’t mean it. But yeah, any sort of joke at the expense of disability is not funny and it should stop. I love the websites you’ve recommended! I’ve read so many articles on the kidlit Disability site and they’re amazing. I know people do tons of diversity advocacy book posts and recommendations, but I’d love to see more on disabilities recs too. *nods*

  5. *faffs in late and breathing heavy from running* – sorry, I’m behind on my blog-hopping!

    Thanks for the link to my post o.o (Ely = awesome!)

    And yes! Spread the talkity-talking about disability!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. I will need to check out these links you shared and am definitely in agreement when it comes to the way disability is treated in social media, especially mental disabilities. Epilepsy is a bit of both, though, and the first thing people think about is when the person with the condition convulses. In many cases, they find it as a laughing matter, which is sadistic. I really like your idea of putting together a Disability Diary and have a great amount of admiration for people that are willing to open up and share their experiences. I have brought up my condition on occasion, but only when I feel it is relevant to the discussion at hand. I responded to your personal story via Goodreads message (where you talk about your foot), but I must say that I am moved by your stories and thank you for what you have done with regard to your research and spreading awareness of disabilities.