Social media is often associated with negativity, trolling and hate comments. This is particularly a problem for disabled content creators of such sites, as online disability hate crime recently increased by 33% in the UK (according to Leonard Cheshire research).
However, TikTok – a short-form mobile video app which has gained popularity since the beginning of the pandemic – is now being used by disabled content creators as a platform to raise awareness of their disabilities.
A large community of disabled users have taken to the platform to teach their followers about their disabilities and health conditions, often using humour to highlight some of the difficulties in completing every-day tasks.
“Disabled Content Creators Normalising Disability”
Gem Hubband (@wheelsnoheels_tiktok) is a paralysed content creator with 31.8k followers on TikTok.
Her website claims to be ‘one of the top Disability Lifestyle Creators in the UK’ with over 3.7m hits on Youtube.
She uses TikTok to post informative as well as humorous videos about her life as a wheelchair user, including dance videos and wheelchair user ‘hacks’.
On her Youtube channel, Gem spoke of the platform’s potential to raise disability awareness and explained how she aims to empower others through her videos.
“It’s kind of young and fresh and a bit different and it adds a lot more humour to disability awareness.”
“When I was growing up, I felt very insecure, I didn’t have any confidence and I wanted to crawl into a hole and have no one look at me.
“But thanks to social media, and TikTok and things like that, it has really helped normalise disability and put a bit of humour onto that as well.
“And other people with lower confidence may be watching those TikToks and it might help boost your confidence seeing other people being so content with their life.”
The ‘blind TikTok teacher’
Lucy Edwards (@lucyedwardsblind), blind Tiktok user and BBC Radio 1 presenter, says that she decided to start a TikTok account because she thought it would be ‘a good opportunity to show the world how capable a blind person can be’.
She is possibly one of the most well-known disabled TikTok users in the UK with over 584k followers on the app, despite only lauching her TikTok account in August this year.
Lucy suffers from rare genetic condition called Incontinentia Pigmenti (IP) which caused her to go partially sighted at 11 and became fully blind aged 17.
She posts videos answering questions from her followers on how she completes everyday tasks.
Lucy answers common questions such as ‘how does a blind girl do her makeup’ and ‘how does a blind person pick up guide dog poop’.
In September, one particular video of Lucy went viral as she explained how blind people safely light a candle.
The video amassed almost 8 million views.
In the video she demonstrates how she ensures that she always strikes a match over a glass table to avoid creating a fire.
Talking to Buzzfeed, Lucy said that the app offers her a platform upon which she can become a ‘blind TikTok teacher’, teaching users about her condition and adapted lifestyle whilst also empowering her disabled followers.
“People are genuinely curious about how I do things in my day-to-day life.
“I am so happy that so many people want to learn about my life and my disability.”
“It wasn’t something I learned about at school. I only knew about blindness because I became blind, so it is fabulous that I can be the ‘blind TikTok teacher’ and make all of this information so accessible.
“It truly is a privilege that I can be someone’s daily reminder that they can overcome anything and reach their dreams.”
However, last year the app came under fire after reports of social exclusion of disabled users.
It was found that TikTok was actively hiding videos featuring people with disabilities to help prevent trolling.
The app tasked moderators with flagging up accounts owned by disabled content creators and stopping them appear on the app’s main feed.
This meant that disabled users were much less likely to gain views and increase their following.
TikTok have since admitted to socially excluding disabled users and apologised for their actions:
“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy.
“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, and while the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong.
“We want TikTok to be a space where everyone can safely and freely express themselves, and we have long since changed the policy in favour of more nuanced anti-bullying policies.”
“A shift in the right direction”
Katie, who has been using TikTok for around a year, says that she has recently seen more videos from disabled users on the app’s main feed and enjoys watching their content.
“I follow quite a number of disabled content creators on TikTok.
“I don’t have a disability myself but I like to watch the videos because I feel like it helps me to understand their conditions and I’m interesting in learning about their lifestyle and how they adapt.
“You can’t just go up to a disabled person in the street and ask them a question about how they complete everyday tasks but a lot of TikTok users, like Lucy Edwards, actively encourage you to ask on the platform which is great.
“I also like how a lot of disabled TikTok creators talk about how best to help them in the street if they need help – what to do and what not to do. It’s useful information.”
Overall, it seems that the content which disabled content creators are posting on TikTok is receiving a welcome response from users of the app – a positive breakthrough for those who may have previously experienced bullying on social media due to disability.
As Gem Hubband says about the app – ‘it’s a cool, fun way to add confidence if you are struggling a little bit with a disability’.