Thankful For Online Friends and the Technology That Connects Us

A white keyboard, mouse and notepad against a blush pink backgroundIt took me a while to accept the label “disabled,” even though I’ve been disabled my whole life. I used to think it was a bad word, something to be ashamed of – and that caused internal strife, because I loved who I was. It wasn’t until I met other disabled people that I embraced the identity comfortably and proudly – and I am thankful for having met and befriended these individuals. Even though we live far from each other, we stay connected online; the internet is tantamount to our survival in many ways.

My disabled friends taught me about disability rights and history, and gave me the tools I need to navigate society as a disabled person. They showed me programs I could utilize to keep my Medicaid while working. They told me different ways to handle rude comments from often well-meaning strangers. And most importantly, they taught me how to be comfortable with my body and mind, and to celebrate even the smallest of victories. It’s a lot easier to tackle the ableism in society, and the negative effects of my various disabilities, when I know hundreds of other people have gone through similar situations.

This holiday season, I am thankful for these connections I’ve made. I am thankful for the internet, which gives us the ability to form support groups and engage in activism. Considering the decades-long timeframe of the disability-rights movement, the ubiquitous nature of social media is a fairly new advancement. I didn’t have access to online forums until I was in my late teens; Facebook wasn’t created until I was in college, and Twitter began after I graduated. During those formative years, I felt very alone as a disabled person, so I don’t take the communities I have access to now for granted.

I wish every disabled person had the financial and physical ability to be a part of an online support group. Millions of people have the means to engage online, but there are disabled people who can’t afford the cost because they live on Social Security. There are people who can’t afford the tech needed to make computers accessible to them. And there are disabled people living in institutions who are wrongfully denied access to tech.

In addition to spending the holidays with family, I will be spending a lot of time with those online friends who changed my world in ways I could never repay. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Are you looking for an online support group? Meet other young women with disabilities on Easterseals Thrive. Find Thrive on their website, Facebook and Twitter.

Erin Hawley is the Digital Content Producer for Easterseals Thrive, and has Muscular Dystrophy, anxiety, and scoliosis. She is also a middle-school teacher, writer, and professional nerd.

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