When I was little, I used to find myself wondering why no one in the commercials I’d watch on television or the catalogs I flipped through looked like me. Though I didn’t really understand advertising, I knew that I was different than the people I’d see wearing the clothing I wanted to buy or the toys I wanted to play with. And it made me wonder if I wasn’t supposed to be a part of those things.
It wasn’t until years later, when I’d already outgrown toy catalogs (and for that matter, when toy catalogs were being replaced by the internet) that I finally started to see better representation of people with disabilities. But by that point, it had already been ingrained in my mind that wheelchair users weren’t the kind of people that could sell a product.
Lately, the tides have been changing on this though. It wasn’t long ago that a picture went viral of a young girl in a wheelchair captivated by an advertisement on the side of an Ulta Beauty store that featured a model using a wheelchair. Looking at that photo, I felt tears spring into my eyes. I realized that I’d never had the opportunity to see myself in that light, to see myself as beautiful.
More recently, another photo went viral of a young boy in a wheelchair looking awestruck at a photo in Target of another young boy using a wheelchair, modeling clothes for the store. Again, I found myself near tears looking at this moment of the young boy feeling seen and represented. What a powerful moment. I’m truly glad he got to experience it, and I hope it’s the first of many moments like that for him as the media becomes more inclusive.
The impact of seeing yourself reflected back at you is profound. It’s something I hope disabled people will continue to experience in ways I never did when I was younger. And this is why I’ve loved being a Q Roll Model. I used to crop my wheelchair out of many of my photos before I’d post them on social media. I thought that what I wanted people to see was me, not my wheelchair. But that couldn’t be further from how I feel now. What I want is for people to see all of me. I want them to see that I celebrate my life as a wheelchair user, and that I consider it to be an important part of my identity.
Now, I take photos that show off my wheelchair on purpose to make it shine on social media. I want people to see the life I’m living not in spite of, but because of my wheelchair. I want people to know that I love my life at iLevel, and that being a wheelchair user isn’t something to hide away. It’s something I’m proud of. And my hope is that even just one young wheelchair user will see these photos I’m posting and realize that they can feel proud, too.
About Emily Ladau: Emily is a blogger and serves as the editor in chief of Rooted in Rights. She co-hosts a podcast and has been recognized as an emerging leader in the disability community. Emily lives on Long Island and enjoys traveling and trying new restaurants. Click here to learn more about Emily.