Writer Andrew Farkash wanted to change the conversation around disability.
Tired of the narrative that being disabled is a personal failure in mainstream media, he took to Twitter to start a hashtag that might change the way folks look at disability forever.
In October of 2018, Farkash tweeted (on his now-deleted account), “There's a common misconception that you can't be Disabled and happy. That you can't express joy, and if you do, you must not be hurting or Disabled anymore. I propose a new hashtag to empower us and show people otherwise: #DisabledJoy.”
He attached four photos of himself and it went viral, encouraging thousands of others to join in the conversation. Farkash has pudendal neuralgia, which means he has chronic pelvic pain. The original tweet, while deleted, went on to inspire hundreds of people to join in.
"I got the idea to start #DisabledJoy recently when people in my life noticed that I was starting to go out more and seemingly feeling better," Farkash told INSIDER.
"I hated the idea that every time I expressed joy it meant that I was no longer suffering. I felt like I wasn't able to be happy without people automatically assuming that I am ok. I also wanted people to realize that Disability and joy/happiness aren't mutually exclusive and that people who are Disabled don't live a miserable existence."
The disabled community has been outspoken about the nuances of what it means to live with a disability. Advocates have long asked that abled allies don’t reduce their existence down to only their disability, but also not to erase the existence of it.
This hashtag speaks to the simple truth that disabled people are more than capable of leading fulfilling, joyful lives — and there is a spectrum of experiences within the community.
According to INSIDER, Farkash’s goal was to “empower — and bring joy — to my Disabled community, and I was happy to see that it did for so many people."
It’s a testament to how one simple action can create a ripple of hope and with the power of social media, can start an entire movement built on acceptance and joy.
"I don't think there was a single negative reaction, which is rare for social media. Hundreds of people shared their photos or moments of Disabled Joy and it was beautiful to see," Farkash told INSIDER.
"Disabled people go through a lot, be it ableism or just dealing with their conditions, and so when they do have a moment of joy, that's special, and I want there to be an avenue for people to express and share that."
Despite the negatives of social media, Twitter has proven itself to be a place where people can connect with others with similar experiences that they might not have gotten to know otherwise.
Through this hashtag alone, the disabled community was able to share their views and educate others, while also shedding light on the idea there’s more to them than their disability.
"What was cool was that it also raised the issue of 'invisible' or better, unapparent disabilities. On the surface, unless you see my curved back without my shirt on, I look like a young, healthy person. Many people assume that. But really I'm going through hell underneath it all," Farkash told INSIDER.
He also added, "We still have a lot of struggles and hurdles to overcome as a society when it comes to Disabled people. Ableism — [which is] discrimination against Disabled people — is rampant and systemic in our society. And it literally kills. I wanted to show people that even so, we exist, we are surviving and fighting, and in some cases — despite our disabilities — thriving."
One of the participants (@natadonut on Twitter) of the #DisabledJoy hashtag tweeted, “PSA: invisible disabilities exist. I wish it didn't hold me back from certain aspects of "normal" life, but I can still be happy and cherish all of the relationships I've formed through-and because of-my "ab-normal" life!!”
They were joined by others, all of them chiming in with their own thoughts and examples of what brings them joy.
Collectively, the #DisabledJoy hashtag is proof that in spite of the unexpected, there’s always a reason to applaud each other.
With a single tweet, Farkash was able to bring together strangers from across the world in celebration of their journeys with disabilities.
It only takes one person to truly change the way another might see themselves and if Farkash has shown anything, it’s that anyone can start that movement.