By Ian Jones @IDJonesPhotog
In case you’ve been living under a rock, YouTube is an incredible thing. Apart from the ever-present cute cat videos, pranks, “let’s plays” and, let’s face it, pirated music, it can also be a great advocacy tool when it comes to things like invisible disabilities.
I’ve shied away for a long time from writing about invisible disabilities, mainly because it’s not something I’m that familiar with. Then I realized I was actually adding to the stigma by avoiding writing about it – and that goes against the very intent of this column.
The purpose of “How I Roll” is, in part, to help break down stigma by answering the questions that non-disabled people are hesitant to ask about disability. I wish I could write more about the invisible type, but again, it’s not something I know much about. I know it’s an umbrella term for any disability not immediately obvious to the eye. Heart conditions, Cystic Fibrosis (CF), epilepsy, learning disabilities – they’re all invisible illnesses.
My cousin, for example, has CF. The average person might think that she’s just got a cold and should stay home because of her persistent cough. I know it’s caused her problems at work as a vet tech, and from what I’ve gathered by talking to her, it’s all because people misunderstand her struggle. Because she doesn’t use a walker, wheelchair or cane, people don’t quite know what to do with it. Thankfully, there are people with invisible illnesses who are glad to spread the word.
Claire Wineland, 18, is a YouTuber who also has CF. She chronicles her life with candor – a recent video tackles the topic of her life expectancy – and people are watching. At this writing, her YouTube channel has over 109,000 subscribers – a far cry from PewDiePie’s 54 million subscribers, of course – but for a YouTuber talking about health issues, that’s pretty incredible.
Jessica McCabe is another YouTuber chronicling invisible illness – this time, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She’s got 70,000 “brains” (subscribers) – a figure that increases daily – to her channel. Again, that’s not bad for a channel about navigating your health issues.
They’re not the only ones, either. There’s a whole tumblr blog devoted to disabled YouTubers – both the visible and invisible types of disabilities. From spina bifida to arthritis and heart conditions, a pretty large number of conditions are represented there. With all due respect to the cute kitties, this is really what YouTube should be about. It’s a great advocacy tool.
I’ve even thought about setting up my own channel, answering questions people might have about disability. I think I’m a little too high strung to actually do it, but who knows what’ll happen in the future?
In the meantime, until I scrounge up the courage, I’ll be here. If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to cover, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’m an open book, and if I’m not covering a topic you’d like me to, I’d be more than happy to hear it.