When Keah Brown shared a photo of herself on Twitter last week with the hashtag #DisabledAndCute, she just wanted to “commemorate and celebrate” herself. She’d been feeling attractive, and a selfie was a great way to show it. She hoped other disabled people might join in, but she wasn’t sure that would happen.
Within hours, Keah’s hashtag went viral, and disabled people from many walks of life were sharing their photos, along with shortened versions of their stories in 140 characters.
I shared my photos using the hashtag — some with my bright lavender cane in hand, some without — and watched as my Twitter feed became full of the diverse faces of disability. Intersectionality is so often missing from the mainstream representation of disability — when disability representation even exists at all.
Most mainstream media portrayals of disability involve easily visible markers — such as a manual wheelchair, hearing aids, or a white cane. Intersectionality is hard to find — most characters are white, cisgender, heterosexual, and middle or upper class.
It’s always best when disabled people get to tell our own stories. As the saying popularized by the disability rights movement goes, “Nothing about us without us.” And even when we’re in charge of our own stories, we still won’t please everyone and we can’t encompass every experience. Keah experienced this when she received backlash for using the word “cute,” which is often used to patronize disabled people. But we’re telling our truth, and nobody can speak to what it’s like to be disabled better than someone who is.
#DisabledAndCute reminds us that mainstream depictions of disability are limited; disabilities aren’t always easily identifiable. Keah has cerebral palsy, which isn’t always visible. My disabilities aren’t totally visible if I don’t have a mobility aid, like my cane, with me — and even then, people often assume that I’m temporarily injured or that the cane is simply a style choice.
Tweets shared under #DisabledAndCute disrupt the ideas held by many people about what it means to be disabled. Most mainstream depictions of mobility are very all-or-nothing; either the person can walk with ease, or they can’t move at all without a wheelchair — there’s no in-between.
But for many in the disability community, mobility aids change depending on our individual needs that day — and it’s important for us to show that.
Often, people are accused of “faking it” when they park in the disabled spot and walk to their car trunk to get their wheelchair. People with disabilities can be part-time wheelchair users, or have the ability to stand and walk short distances with a cane, walker, or forearm crutches.
Other folks who used the #DisabledAndCute hashtag included people with facial disfigurements, breathing or feeding tubes, hair loss, and scars — which breaks the mold of what we’re usually told is “beautiful.” Many people shared pictures of themselves in a hospital bed or after they’ve had surgery. People also talked about their experiences with neurodivergence, learning disabilities, and mental illnesses.
It’s often easy to erase someone’s disability from their narrative, especially if it isn’t immediately visible. But our disabilities are often central to who we are; they’re a non-negotiable part of us, and disabled is an identity that we can claim and take pride in.