Pain, sorrow, loss, all out suffering, all of the above – these are part of the disability experience. Before the Internet, we went to support groups at rehab centers and hospitals, and they’re still there, but enough can’t be said about the healing powers of the internet and the way it’s brought so many people together these past 18 years.
I must say, these past 18 years have been glorious for the disability community, and that’s about how long I’ve been using the Internet to communicate with people with disabilities online too. For me, it all began with an AOL account in 1994 and a visit to the “Disability” chat room. I met individuals here who knew exactly what I was going through. It almost made me want to cry.
Feeling such camaraderie with these people helped my whole spirit lift. I was 16 years old, newly paralyzed and oh-so depressed. They say finding someone who you can relate to if the best healing medicine, and they’re right. When I finally discovered the Internet is when I finally started to feel better.
Before “online” existed, I had no one commiserate with except an older woman with quadriplegia who lived on the other side of town. We really didn’t have much in common and she wasn’t able to truly help me in the way that I needed. But the people my age I found online with varying disabilities ranging from paralysis to cerebral palsy and amputees, they could help, and boy did they ever.
What’s really great too about developing online relationships with people with disabilities is finally meeting your new friends in person, if it’s possible. I’ve met people that I first met online at spinal cord injury research rallies, stem cell conferences, and just meeting them for coffee when their passing through. I one time even met someone for lunch in the airport to discuss disability and travel. That was pretty awesome.
I’ve also made much stronger relationships with people I’ve met online. My friend Kelly, a paraplegic and travel agent who I met nearly 10 years ago on a message board, flew to meet me in person and we’ve been friends since. She loved to shop, was girly like me – our friendship was destined. But the thing is, we never would have met had it not been for the Internet.
Millions of people can say this, “If it wasn’t for the Internet we never would’ve met,” but when you have a disability, finding a fulfilling relationship, platonic or romantic, is critical to our well-being. It’s essential for us to find someone we can relate to fully, so when it happens it’s pretty awesome. From disability websites, message boards and chat rooms to social media, online communication has been one of the greatest gifts to the disability community.
Relationships heal. They can make us want to go outside and live our lives when before we didn’t think it was possible. They give us hope there’s something better out there waiting for us. Family, a great job, kids, heck even great sex, and we can’t forget possessing an awesome fashion sense, the internet shows all this is possible in the face of a disability; much better than any pamphlet or therapist ever could.
If you haven’t tried developing an online friendship with someone with a disability, you really should. There are so many wonderful people you would never be able to meet otherwise, but if you hop online they’re there waiting for you. If you ask me, this is one of the most magical things currently in existence. Say it with me know – thank god for the Internet.
Have you developed amazing relationships because of the internet? How have they helped you with your disability?