Closeup on a woman's hands using a braille keyboard.

Disabled People Do Not Exist for Your Entertainment

The internet is a damn cesspit.

Content warning: This article discusses disableism and ableism which some readers may find upsetting.

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It’s been shown time and time again—via actual studies along with an incalculable amount of anecdotal evidence—that disabled people often feel excluded, misunderstood, or have outright had hate crimes committed against them. Now, with the internet and social media being as big as it is, ableism and disableism are more pervasive than ever.

Ableism and disableism are two different concepts. Ableism is defined as “prioritizing the needs of non-disabled people. In an ableist society, it’s assumed that the “normal” way to live is as a non-disabled person” while disableism is when you “treat someone differently, or choose to offend or hurt someone, because of their disability.”

Thanks to social media, those of us with disabilities are often subjected to memes and trends across various platforms that are either blatantly discriminatory toward us or more perniciously so—forcing us into a position where we almost have to persuade non-disabled people that, actually, that thing they’re saying or doing or laughing at is ableist. Not only is that exhausting in itself, but the prevalence of these memes goes far in normalizing everyday discrimination and dehumanization.

Recently, one specific meme that isn’t only ableist but also misogynistic started making the rounds. The picture features paraplegic presenter Sophie Morgan in her wheelchair, with a caption reading, “Women are like good parking spaces. Normally all the good ones are taken so sometimes when no one is looking, you have to stick it in a disabled one.”

Addressing the vile image, Morgan wrote on her own social media accounts: “Tbh, it’s upset me more than it should. Please report it if you see it.”

I can’t imagine how violating it must be for Morgan to be subjected to this. Seeing it made me, a fellow woman who is also disabled, feel extremely icky and angry. The intersection of being both means we have to deal with double the bullshit. There’s a long list of said BS, but studies do show that disabled women are more likely to be physically abused or assaulted in their lifetime, including sexually.

I’m not shy about disability and sex, because non-disabled people’s warped perception of that intersection often results in instances like this: dehumanization and objectification. Like, hello, just because we are disabled people doesn’t mean we don’t have or enjoy sex. We are as human as you are.

Ableist memes and other online trends don’t stop at making us the butt of sexual “jokes.” One of my least favorite memes (if it’s even possible to rank the awfulness out there), which makes me feel a bit ill every goddamn time I see it, and I see it semi-regularly, is one featuring Homer Simpson. In it, the character is very clearly animated to look like a stereotype of someone with cerebral palsy. The captions vary, but an example would be “Look at me Marge, I’m triggered.” As someone with a form of CP, it’s horrible and I hate it.

TikTok arguably has some of the most socially-conscious users among various social media platforms, yet ableism still runs rampant on the app. Take, for example, the “faking it” trend, where, for example, a user on TikTok would take it upon themselves to “check” if their sibling really has autism, or if someone is deaf, or if a stranger really “needs” their disabled parking spot. People with disabilities already have a hard enough time fighting to “prove” that they have a disability (remember, kids, not all disabilities are visible) and so, whether or not the person with a disability found it funny and consented or not, it definitely perpetuates the belief that a lot of people have—the belief that a lot of disabilities aren’t real, as well as the belief that they have earned the right to be some sort of disability detective for a public audience.

Language is always evolving and awareness is constantly being brought to eradicate ableist terms from our everyday vocabularies. Not everyone is quick to keep up, though, as Lizzo and Beyoncé both discovered when they used the same slur on their respective albums. Both changed their lyrics after backlash but this hasn’t stopped other songs with derogatory slurs from trending on TikTok.

A portion of the song ‘I Love Kanye’ by West became popular on the app. People mouth the same word that the two aforementioned women used, and it’s done so casually, it’s painful. However, this trend was big before the Lizzo/Beyoncé incidents so their ignorance is arguably forgivable. Since then, I haven’t really heard the sound on my For You Page. This, I hope, is because people are actually listening and being sincerely conscious of their actions.

What was less digestible was the trend of people using the earlier version of the Black Eyed Peas song “Let’s Get It Started” (whose original title and lyrics centered on a slur), along with movements—not unlike the Homer meme—to mock people with CP. That trend was really unsettling and disheartening.

Another recent one is seeing people use ALT text (which is for people who have visual impairments to be able to have access to images online) to dump a load of random shit in with the caption being “click here,” turning the very concept of accessibility into a joke format. The lack of awareness people have is, unfortunately, unsurprising, but Google is freeeee, baby.

What all of these trends and memes and jokes and videos have in common is that they commodity ableism and disableism for entertainment. There have been so many others beyond these few examples, but unfortunately, this article would be thousands of words long if I continued on with the amount of ableism and disablism I’ve seen on the internet over my years scrolling and clicking.

I would say I hope the internet does better, but I highly doubt it will. Ableism isn’t and has never been okay or cool, but being a disability ally is.

(featured image: inside-studio/Getty Images)

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Image of Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock
Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.