'People are often scared to talk about disability' - Meet the Hartlepool Instagram star shining a light on life using a wheelchair
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When Jennie, 27, started her Instagram account, @wheelie_good_life, in 2018 to share her experiences of life using a wheelchair, she had no idea of the impact it would go on to have.
Two years and 26,000 followers later, Jennie has helped to raise awareness of issues ranging from tied-up red emergency cords in disabled toilets to the accessibility challenges that many face on a daily basis when visiting shops or petrol stations.
Jennie’s honest and engaging posts have resonated with thousands of people with disabilities, creating a positive support network for others to share their stories as well as providing a safe space for those wanting to see what she goes through.
"When I became disabled, I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about,” Jennie said.
"There was no one locally that I really resonated with or who could give me the answers that I needed as to how I adapt and adjust to everyday life.
"I found that most places – Hartlepool in particular – simply aren’t accessible and that people’s perception of what disability is and how a disabled person may live their life is quite different to the actual reality.
"I set up the account originally just to keep friends and family updated with my progression and the rehabilitation, and it just slowly progressed to talking more about my everyday experiences.
"Every day is different. I will meet someone new who asks a strange question or find myself in a strange scenario or I’m stuck somewhere.
"There is always something that’s happening, which to me seems bizarre, because I have lived 24 years without having to worry about anything like this.”
Jennie, a community engagement manager, believes 56% of her Instagram followers are disabled but says a large proportion are people who just want to learn more as well as those who want to become an advocate for people with disabilities.
"I think people are often scared to talk about disability sometimes for the fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing,” she said.
"But, in actual fact, if the conversations are just had regarding disabled life it’s just so much easier.
"I try to keep it as educational as possible. I think back to when I was able-bodied and all of the things I didn't know about and all the things I have had to learn and that is what I base my content on.”
Jennie has found that sharing videos and photos depicting the everyday scenarios she is faced with helps to give people an insight into what life can be life for someone with a disability.
It also makes them think about issues around accessibility and safety that they may not have ever thought about before.
"Lots of people say how much they resonate with it and say they are grateful that someone is talking about these things that they don’t have the confidence to do,” Jennie said.
“There are plenty of disabled people out there who put up with the negative stigmas and people’s misconceptions of them and the way people act around them just because they are too scared to say anything and it’s not always fair.
"So it’s nice in a way that I am shouting about it for people who haven’t got the confidence to do so.”
One of Jennie’s most-liked videos was a time-lapse showing how she made her bed while other popular posts highlight the importance of red cords remaining untied so that someone can call for help if they need to.
Working with charity Euan's Guide, Jennie places their red cord cards in disabled toilets around Hartlepool, which explain why they need to be untied.
Jennie has documented this on her account and says it acts as a ‘gentle reminder’ that could make all the difference to a person using the facility.
But Jennie stresses that her account is not about ‘telling anyone off’ for not having such an awareness; instead it is a ‘safe space’ for people to learn more about life with a disability.
"I always say it is a safe space within the comments and any question times that I put on,” she said.
"No one is ever in the wrong for admitting that they have ever done anything like tying up a red cord because we are all here to learn and without us pointing out these things then how would anyone improve and learn?”
She continued: "It’s not about pointing these things out and telling people off because, in reality, I was that person – I was that person for 24 years.
"It wasn’t that I didn’t care; it was more that I didn't know – I wasn’t educated around disabilities.
"Why would you know about red cords or how someone fills up petrol at a petrol station if they are a wheelchair user?
"Why would you know any of these things unless you were disabled or had a family member who was disabled and that was the reason for knowing?
"You are not taught these things in school. It’s not something that is in someone’s everyday life unless you are a close family member.
"So it’s not a case of telling anyone off. I take the approach of saying; ‘Hey, look at this, don’t you think this is mad? I’ve never thought about this before.’
"Now it's me sitting here telling everyone about it because if I save that one person from tying a red cord up – like I probably more than likely used to – then it makes everything a lot easier for people.”