Guest Blog: Rebekah Taussig

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This Guest Blog comes from Rebekah, a writer and a teacher who lives in a very small, very old house with two chunky orange cats in Kansas City. She is currently pursuing her PhD in creative nonfiction and disability studies at the University of Kansas. While she spends a lot of her time writing long-form pieces about her connection to disability, she also has an Instagram account, @sitting_pretty, that she uses to 1) reflect on what it means to live as a disabled woman, 2) connect with others who are also processing what it means to live from a particular body, and 3) share more beautiful, nuanced photos of a body that looks and moves differently than most.
             "I became curious about the representation of people with disabilities in media because of my twenty-one nieces and nephews. I have used a wheelchair since I was about six years old, and when I was thirteen, my first baby nephew was born. When I move about in public, I am used to the wide-eyed stares of children. They follow my form up the greeting card section and down the party-supplies aisle as if I were actually flapping wings through the air. In contrast, my nieces and nephews clamor over my chair and onto my lap as naturally as if my wheels and handlebars were actually knees and elbows.

This contrast is noteworthy, but uncomplicated. My nieces and nephews see me regularly. The image of me loading my chair in and out of my car, pushing myself up a hill, and carrying a baby on my lap has become so commonplace it’s boring. Most people, on the other hand, are rather unfamiliar with bodies that look and move like mine. But the ease with which my nieces and nephews interact with me and my chair sparked my thinking about the implications brought about by the steady stream of disability-related images presented to the population at large.

Pointing out the skewed representation of disability in media is nothing new. Disability is used as a metaphor, a plot device, a tool to inspire compassion in nondisabled characters and audiences.

People with impairments are asexualized, assumed to be desperate for a cure, and depicted as either “super-crips” triumphing over life’s adversities or pitiable, isolated victims. Because those with disabilities are historically excluded from controlling these images, most representations of disability have been more harmful than helpful.

But what happens when we grab the reigns of our own representation? This is the question that gets me all jazzed up, because we are moving into this place in time when nearly everyone can self-publish any image or paragraph they wish to share with the inter-webs. We are granted the ability to put into the world whatever narrative of disability we want, and while it’s not the same as starring in a film, it’s not nothing, and it could be so much more. What would happen if we flooded our social media platforms with representations of disability that broke the victim/hero paradigms and cracked open the door for nuance? How could we show the beauty/humor/normalcy/idiosyncrasies of living life with a different sort of body? What images would we like to share? What ideas do we wish to be heard? What hashtags do we want to gather around? (#cripplepunk is one of my current favorites, but a friend and I are trying to get #crippleton to catch on) And what – I can’t help but imagine – might be the implication of our reclamation of representation? What new kinds of looks might we invoke when we move through public spaces? How could our voices reshape the cultural narrative of disability? What stories do we want to tell?"
All photographs provided by Rebekah.