Could TikTok be changing the lives of people with disabilities?

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Discriminatory behaviours towards people with disabilities are so deeply engrained in British society that many are ignorant to the harm that lies beneath their words, to the extent that many people with disabilities continually struggle with their mental health because of the discrimination that they have faced. Most often, this kind of discrimination takes place online, where the perpetrator can remain hidden behind the screen, where they cannot see the hurt caused by their words. In fact, with the suppression of disabled people in the media and a societal ignorance to the discrimination of people with disabilities, the internet has disturbingly become a place in which ableist trolling has become somewhat normalised. Ableism in Britain is so concerning that media personality Katie Price is stuck in a battle to enforce Harvey’s law, a law which would make online abuse a criminal offence, after her son Harvey Price is continually the target of ableist trolling. It seems that more often than not, when people with disabilities go online, they are faced with abuse. 

And this is where TikTok comes in. A space in which everyone has a voice, and anyone can hear it, TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms for young people and one of the easiest places to make a name for yourself overnight. But beyond just being a place to reach stardom, TikTok has become a fantastic educational space. Allowing creators to reply to comments with videos, TikTok gives people a great opportunity to combat hatred or challenge misconceptions, or even just to educate others. TikTok is becoming a place of positivity, education and growth, shocking for an app often dubbed brainless by the technophobic generations.

“life isn’t just about being blind — you can enjoy your life being disabled!”

Within the last year, there has been a significant increase in videos created by people with disabilities answering questions, challenging misconceptions and showing what life is like for people with disabilities. Jessie, known as @mimidarlingbeauty on TikTok, takes her following with her through the drive-through as she challenges her stammer, combatting the anxiety she has developed through the ableism she has experienced. Jessie shows her following that her life is not restricted by her disability, spreading not just awareness but kindness in the face of ignorance. James Sutliff, (@James_sutliff) discusses his life on TikTok as someone with Dystonia, answering questions about his disability and how it impacts everyday tasks, also showing his work as a disability fitness coach. James is also very open about the trolling he receives, which raises awareness of the lived reality of many people with disabilities in an ableist society. 

Toby, known as @blindtobes, joined TikTok just under a month ago, and has already garnered 81 thousand followers, and a staggering 1.5million likes from his posts answering questions about life as a blind man, and as someone with a disability at university. I reached out to Toby to ask him what inspires him to continue posting about his life online, and whether he feels social media can be used to make a positive change for people with disabilities: 

“I think what inspires me most is the feedback I get, I get a lot of blind people contact me and tell me, ‘this has given me so much confidence’, ‘this has given me hope for the future’, and I feel a responsibility to make sure those people do have hope for the future, and they can see life isn’t just about being blind — you can enjoy your life being disabled. I also do it for the parents of younger people who are blind as well, they have reached out and I like to reassure them that their child will be fine!

I’ve also witnessed some other creators, not just blind but with varying disabilities making such a change in society and how society views disability, and I want to to contribute to that, as there are so many misconceptions, and ableism is a huge thing. So if I can help to tackle that, and maybe grow a following in the process, I’m going to keep doing it!

I think platforms like TikTok can be used to induce positive change 100%, you can access so many people with it, because you don’t have to have followers for it- you can just go out onto the ‘For You’ page and if you are putting out quality content that is educational, it can influence people and change some misconceptions or stereotypes.”

Not only can TikTok accounts like Toby’s help educate people on ableism, but can also significantly help those directly implicated by this ableism. It is not the responsibility of people with disabilities to challenge discrimination that they face, but it is undeniable that granting people with disabilities a voice is raising awareness and making huge steps for disability rights. Whilst the UK still has a long way to go in uprooting and disposing of ableist attitudes, it appears positive change is on the horizon.

This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.