Gen Z on Disability: How Young People are Challenging Ableism

Gen Z disability activists are taking to TikTok and beyond to challenge and educate their audiences. Here’s where you can get started.
Fanbytes | Gen Z disability

In 30 seconds:

  • The most diverse generation in history has big ideas about the future – and they’re shouting about them online.
  • From increasing workplace support for disabilities to challenging prejudices, you’ll find Gen Z creators using their platforms to educate and inspire change.
  • So from “day in the life” style updates to dark humour, here’s how Gen Z is challenging ableism online.

You might have noticed by now, but Generation Z, the “generation of changemakers”, are out to make a difference in the world. 

From fighting climate change to showing up at protests demanding racial justice in huge numbers, this age group has established themselves as active participants in the fight against many -isms, and ableism is one of them. 

What is ableism? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as the “unfair treatment of people because they have a disability”. It’s this unfair treatment that Gen Zers are bringing attention to – both in their schools and workplaces, and online. 

Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have grown highly engaged communities of disabled influencers, who are challenging the narratives that so often surround disability. These popular accounts are highlighting the ways in which ableism is still prevalent throughout society – and ways in which we can all improve. 

And, once again, Gen Z are at the forefront. 

How do different generations view disability?

According to the World Health Organisation, around 10% of the global population are disabled – that’s around 650 million people. And, according to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem each year. 

Disability, then, is not rare. But talking openly about ableism is. In 2018, charity Scope released a report detailing the “perception gap” – the difference in the number of disabled people who said they faced prejudice, 1 in 3, and the number of non-disabled people who thought the same, 1 in 5. This research highlighted the hidden scale of ableism in society; it showed how many non-disabled people weren’t even aware there was still a problem. 

For previous generations, the conversation around disability has been largely a quiet one. Both Baby boomers and members of Gen X report experiencing disabilities far less often than their younger counterparts. They are also less likely to report experiencing a mental health condition. It seems that, for older generations, disabilities are seen but not heard (or talked about). 

But Gen Z are doing things differently. McKinsey research into the differences between consumer generations found that while Gen Xers are “individualistic”, and Millennials “Oriented to self”, Gen Zers are inclined to “be radically inclusive” and “ethical”. 

This radical inclusivity is evident in their activism (you can read about Gen Z activists here), and it’s why they’re so vocal about vital areas that must change. 

Gen Z: Challenging ableism at work, school and in advertising

In the UK, the “disabilities act” (Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005) was replaced in 2010 by a more comprehensive Equality Act. This is the legislation that provides protection against discrimination on the basis of disability (among other things). The disability rights it protects cover most areas, including dealing with the police, education, and employment. 

A study that surveyed Gen Z on their attitudes towards workplace diversity, equity and inclusion found that 99% of respondents said that these initiatives were important to them. That’s huge. Not only that, but 80% of Gen Z respondents said that a lack of support for health issues or concerns like neurodiversity would lower the likelihood of them applying for a role. 

Work environments that support disabilities are far more popular amongst Gen Z employees. They’re  looking for places that allow them to bring their entire selves to work. This isn’t just a priority for human resources, but businesses as a whole: Gen Zers are more likely to buy from brands they consider to be inclusive. They’re tech savvy and motivated to find out whether your company is socially responsible. 51% of Gen Z will always research a company to make sure it aligns with their views before making a purchase.

Better representation of disability also plays a big role in marketing, with more than half of Gen Zers saying they want to see more diverse casting and imagery in brands’ advertising. 

Interestingly, one study found that while Gen Z commend TV shows for their diverse representation in casts, it’s social media they consider to be the most representative media source. This could be because TV still has a way to go in their equal opportunities programs. For example, in British TV, disabled people were under-represented at all organisational levels in 2020; overall, only 7% of Television employees were disabled, compared with 19% of the working age population.

Social media, however, can be an outlet for people of all abilities and identities to tell their story in their own words. With that in mind, here are three social media accounts you should follow. 

3 Gen Z disability activists to add to your feeds

There’s no better way to begin diversifying your feed than by going straight to the young adults using their social media accounts to educate audiences and challenge ableism in their daily and online lives. 

We’ve found three Gen Z disability activists’ accounts to get you started:

Amy Pohl

Amy joined TikTok in 2020, where she began to share content around her condition and experiences living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Dystonia, Functional neurological disorder and PTSD. 

@amyepohl POV: “amy’s not here because she’s just got the flu or something”… i actually didn’t have the flu 😏 #fightwithamy #chronicillness ♬ original sound - ay cabron

Her family members are supportive of her TikTok career – especially her father, who also has a TikTok account of his own. He said that during the pandemic the video-sharing platform became a way for Amy to communicate to the world, and gave her “a sense of purpose”

From healthcare updates, to videos with her caregivers, Amy works to demystify the life of someone living with such a serious condition. 

Amy herself described how “the more I shared, the more I realised I wasn’t alone and other people were going through similar battles. Realising that I was helping others meant so much to me and inspired me to keep posting.”

This community-building is one of the reasons TikTok has fostered so many positive conversations around ableism and disability, and it has allowed disabled creators to reach ever-growing audiences with their content – supporting one another along the way. 

Talking to Fanbytes about what she wants people to take from her account, Amy replied, “that really I’m just a person, I’m just like everyone else, I just obviously get around differently.” 

Talking about the overwhelmingly positive response to her TikTok account, she added, “It feels really good that now Gen Z have a better understanding about disabilities – and ableism as well.” 

Louie Lingard

Known by the handle @notlewy on TikTok, Louie Lingard has amassed over 1.3 million followers who follow along for his music – and his dark humour. 

With videos that often poke fun at the stereotypes and prejudices he faces, as well as posts that address his condition or mental health, Louie has become one of the most popular disabled creators on TikTok – and one of the most challenging. 

He regularly posts videos with the intent to shock; often referring to himself as “a cripple”, or with other traditionally ableist terms. 

In an interview with Lithium, the comedian stated that forcing people to confront their own discomfort was one of the central aims of his posts. 

“I want people to realise that disabled people are able to joke and make the best of their situation,” he said. “My TikToks may be really dark, and some viewers might think that I’m shitting on myself, but that’s me making the best of my situation.” 

By creating a space for his viewers to laugh with, but not at, him, Louie is challenging the common tendency to completely disregard disabled experiences out of fear of appearing ‘rude’ – or otherwise focusing on them too much, and reducing the person to only their disability. 

Louie’s disability is at the centre of a lot of his content – but that has made it just another thing to comment on – normalising both the “look” and experience of his disability. 

Lucy Edwards

With over 48 million likes on her TikTok content, @lucyedwards posts regular (and popular!) content about life as a blind woman in the UK. 

With videos that poke fun at society’s expectations of living while blind, Lucy addresses common misconceptions with a humorous slant – and draws attention to the ridiculous nature of many people’s preconceptions. 

This kind of gentle education is rife on TikTok – and especially so in disability-focused spaces. The #LearnOnTikTok hashtag has seen huge success (perhaps unsurprisingly, in a context of rising student loans interest and covid-prompted online lessons and webinars.) It now has over 310Bn views. 

Lucy’s videos therefore appeal to a Gen Z audience keen to educate themselves on a variety of subjects. And, as a disabled contributor herself, her videos benefit from an easy authenticity that does more to further her message amongst Gen Z watchers. 

For example, among Lucy’s more structured videos, she also shares snippets of her daily life, pointing out common accessibility issues and inspiring conversations around the need for better accommodations for the visually-impaired. 

Gen Z v. Ableism

There’s no denying that Gen Z are the future of the workplace – and their demands for better accommodations and education are promising to make positive changes for many. 

Likewise, their support of brands who show a more diversified image in their advertising and branding has already led many brands to publish campaigns that highlight a more inclusive cast of people, like the record-breaking Gucci Beauty campaign starring Ellie Goldstein, an 18-year-old model with Down syndrome. 

Similarly, outspoken activists like autism educator Chloé Hayden have sparked international conversations about the portrayal of non-neurotypicals in the media. 

But, as the activists on this list have made clear, there’s still a long way to go. 

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against ableism, and by sharing their experiences with growing audiences, these Gen Z influencers are making a real difference to the way disabled people and their experiences are perceived – and that’s a hugely positive step forwards. 

Why not continue diversifying your feed by exploring the #disabilitytok community on TikTok?

Ableism isn’t the only frontier Gen Z activists are fighting on – you’ll find this generation directing their attention at a whole host of different societal issues:

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