DSQ > Winter/Spring 2007, Volume 27, No.1-2

"Wheelchair Princess" <http://www.wheelchairprincess.com/blog/>

I am a blogger. I've been a blogger for what feels like forever but in actuality is a little more than six years. (The earlier years of which are, thankfully, lost.) I also have a disability; I've had it from birth. I didn't start my blog because of my disability (Cerebral Palsy or CP), and I've never meant for my blog to be anything more than my thoughts and feelings. Like it or not, however, I am a disability blogger and I always will be. My blog is my place to share my frustrations, things I am happy about and events that have happened to me. It started as a simple diary where I would write about things like my purchases when shopping — and the irritation at inaccessible shops would creep in as a part of that. I would always try to write a diary by hand but because I find writing painful, if done for long periods, I would never stick it for long. Then I discovered the online diary and fell into the trap of the blogger. I've tried to escape several times but I've never fully managed it. I guess you could say blogging is in my blood.

My blog has changed over time going from a simple diary to something more. I never set out to change my blog nor did I realize that something I started just for fun would come to mean so much to me and be such a big part of my life. It could probably be said that the changes in my blog reflect to a certain degree the changes in my life. I was 18 when I began to blog and in my first semester at university. At that time I had many issues relating to life with a disability and was quite shy. Now, at 25, I am much more settled and more accepting of my disability. It's not always easy but it's easier than it was. Those changes didn't come about because of my blog, but there is no denying that blogging helped to shape me and has influenced me. I've changed blogs and blog hosts several times over the years — like shedding a skin after a change. When I do re-read what little remains of my early years as a blogger I cringe the entire way through and wonder if that really was me who wrote it — did I really hate my disability that much? However, if I hadn't been that blogger, I couldn't be the blogger I am now and gain as much as I do from a simple hobby.

When Steve first asked me about blogging and disability my first thought was that, other than giving me a cool domain name in Wheelchair Princess and occasional subject matter, my blog is not affected by my CP. Thinking about it further, however, there is more to it than that and we can probably chalk my initial reaction up to denial. However, those disability-related "benefits" (for want of a better term) are intrinsic to it for me and so, whilst they may be obvious to others, previously I had not consciously acknowledged their existence. Part of that, I think, comes down to the fact that I've been a blogger for six years and after that amount of time they have become my "normal" and I don't really think about it.

Much as I had wanted to keep that diary and write in it all my secrets, like any other teenage girl, my inability to physically write more than a few entries meant I couldn't express all I wanted. Then in 2000 when I learnt about online diaries, it was a way for that 18 year old to fulfill a long held dream and give "one in the eye" to her disability. It's more than that now, and although I have tried several times to give up, I've always come back. Probably I always will, because blogging brings me a lot. I'm just no longer consciously aware of the disability aspect.

Blogging can offer support, information and friendship, too, although these are things it offers to all bloggers, not just disability bloggers. For a blogger with a disability, however, all this can become something different which can be both a good and a bad thing. The good comes from being able to communicate with others with disabilities (similar or dissimilar) and exchange useful information — for example, how good a particular wheelchair exactly is or different experiences with certain treatments. It can also allow friendships to grow with other similar people, friendships which can be hard to find in the "real world" away from the Internet.

Often when we blog (or at least, when I blog) I'm blogging a moment, a frustration, an anger, whatever. It's just a snapshot of that time. For example, earlier this evening, I had a rather spectacular fall. If there was an Olympic category for falls and I'd entered, that one may very well have won me the gold. I scared myself when I fell and I scraped my hand. However, the way I felt then doesn't reflect they way I feel now. Falls are a way of life for me and are a part of my "normal." But, for the able-bodied person coming to a disability blog, it can be hard to understand which can bring comments such as "you amaze me" or pity for falling. Those can be hard to deal with. Harder, in fact, in the blogosphere than in the real world, because in the blog world you could conceivably hide your disability. I'm sure there are bloggers out there who do not share that part of them with the blogosphere.

A disability can be a very public thing in the "real world" and everyone I know with a visible disability can tell you about at least one occasion where a stranger stopped them and asked extremely personal questions they have no business asking. The worst I ever got was an old man in the middle of a street of shops asking how I would manage to go to the toilet (I was alone at the time). That's shocking enough, but friends of mine have had far worse questions. So dealing with those things, in an area where you know you could just be another "average person" isn't easy. I know, however, that I could never hide my disability. I am not my CP but I cannot separate it from my life, because everything we experience shapes who we are, and we are constantly growing as we experience new things each day. I have experienced a life on wheels and a life trying to find acceptance and accessibility. Whilst I am so much more than "that girl in the wheelchair", the wheelchair has helped to shape who I am, so to be a true blogger I must open myself up to the world and share my disability, as well as myself.

I actually think that sharing our disabilities online is one of the best ways that we can help others to understand our situation as it truly is and to bring forward the disability rights movement. The media often portray people with disabilities as people either to be pitied or as true survivors to be amazed by. I am neither of those things. I'm just a girl trying to live her life just like any other 25 year old and my blog allows me to show that. Blogging allows people with disabilities to tell it like it is and show the real picture, without the spin that the media tends to put on things. I can show the annoyances, the triumphs, the things that really suck and the things I just have to laugh at. It is a way of showing a disability "warts and all" And I hope that by writing about all this stuff I can maybe show that things can be achieved by people with disabilities just as they can by the temporarily able bodied — life with a disability is just a little different to life without. As a good friend said the other day, we all have special needs (regardless of being labeled as "disabled" "special needs" "normal" or "healthy") because our individuality is what makes us human, and being human means being imperfect. Blogging is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to show how natural and positive disability can be. Labels such as those listed above aren't bad. It is the way they are applied and the negative feelings/connotations behind their use that make them bad and cause so many of the problems. When I blog, I can use people first language and the negative sides of those labels disappear, as I am showing myself as a person who happens to have a disability and not a disability who happens to be a person.

In terms of disability studies, it means that life with a disability can be on show without the actual person having to be on show, like a sideshow exhibit. Having your whole life be made public simply because you spend it in a wheelchair can be extremely infuriating and I have frequently ended up feeling as if I am a wheelchair and nothing more. The girl with glasses and wearing jeans seated in the chair is invisible but she has shouted at complete strangers who ask questions of her — and then she has to deal with their hurt and surprise. However there will also be the people who will view attempts at openness and education as attention-seeking or a desire for pity. I have faced this several times.

Blogging is becoming more and more mainstream but, unfortunately, will never mean that a lot of the questions and stares, and other issues we face disappear. We cannot force people to read our blogs and we cannot guarantee that those who read it understand our writings for what they are meant to be. One of the biggest downsides of the internet (and written blogs in particular) is the lack of context they at times provide and the fact that they do also leave things up to some interpretation. But if one or two people who know nothing about disability or who have an interest in disability studies but who don't know too much about wheelchair and physically disability issues can find my blog and understand what it's like, then my being an accidental disability blogger will be worth it. And as for being a blogger? Well that's not something I see changing at any point in the future either. I get too much out of it.



Copyright (c) 2007 Emma Crees



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