Stop Sharing Viral Videos of Disabled People Walking

Published: May 03, 2018

We’ve all seen these kinds of videos: a paralyzed groom walks down the aisle; a disabled graduate stands to accept their diploma, an injured veteran uses cutting edge technology to stand with their fellow service members

Don’t get me wrong, these are all wonderful videos that tell the stories of previously able‐bodied people who fought tooth‐and‐nail to make amazing progress towards better health and mobility.

However, these videos, while heartwarming, can be extremely damaging to disabled folks. Taken out of context, they can turn the accomplishments of one disabled person into unrealistic expectations for another.

How many parents saw the video of the man walking down the aisle, heard about all the hard work and preparation that one moment, and said to their disabled child “See? you could do more if you just tried harder”?

How many people saw the graduate walk across the stage videos and thought less of themselves because they knew they could never afford the assistive devices that helped him move?

How many former crutch users, tired of the aches and limited mobility, saw their choice to use a wheelchair as a sign of giving up instead of as a sign of wanting to live a fuller life?

I have yet to see a video of a graduate struggle to climb a flight of stairs in forearm crutches, only to sit down in their brand new wheelchair and glide across the stage while the crowd goes wild.

This narrative never gets applied to other disabilities. Where’s the video of the blind person throwing down their cane and glasses and reading their valedictorian speech off a sheet of paper printed in 70 point font? Where’s the video of the deaf bride taking out her hearing aids as her wife loudly shouts into her ear?

These videos play into the narrative that wheelchairs are a mobility aid of last resort and should only be used to represent the sad starting point of a much brighter, more inspirational story. In turn, this causes disabled people (and their able‐bodied friends and family) to resist the idea of getting a chair and instead continue to deal with the joint pain and limited mobility that comes with trying to walk.

Stop sharing these videos and call out your friends and allies that do. At best, they place unrealistic expectations on us and at worst, they lower our self‐esteem and cause us to question the choices we make about our own healthcare.