Disability in Pop Culture: 4 Disability Advocates and Influencers Pushing for Change

Disability in Pop Culture: 4 Disability Advocates and Influencers Pushing for Change

Welcome back to Easterseals SoCal’s “Disability in Pop Culture” blog series, where we take a deeper look at the pop culture moments that promote disability representation and inclusion.

As Black History Month comes to a close we are continuing the celebration by featuring the impactful work of four black and disabled advocates who are using their platforms to change the way we see disability.  

Keah Brown: Author, Journalist, and Screenwriter 

@Keah_maria 

Keah burst into the spotlight nearly a decade ago when the disability hashtag #DisabledAndCute, which she created for X (formerly Twitter) to show her disability pride, went viral. The phrase amplified her writing career, which had just started to gather steam the year before. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Essence.

Her use of the word “cute” as part of the #DisabledAndCute hashtag caused some pushback in the disability community. Some members of the community saw it as a label that people without disabilities would use to infantilize them. Keah saw it as a declaration of self-love and was delighted to see how many others used it to tell their own stories, joining in her celebration of disability.  

Keah has also authored three books. Her debut novel, “The Pretty One,” is a collection of essays exploring what it means to be a black woman with disabilities. It became a New York Time’s bestseller when it was released in 2019.  

Since then she has written a children’s book called Sam’s Super Seats, about a disabled girl with cerebral palsy who goes back-to-school shopping with her best friends, and a Young Adult queer romance novel entitled The Secret Summer Promise.  

Keah’s popularity as a disability advocate also led her to present a talk titled, “The Power of Self-Love. Unapologetic Ambition, #DisabledandCute and Choosing Joy” at TEDxPrincetonWomen 

Today, Keah is exploring the fields of TV and film and is a co-writing a musical about twins who are looking for adventure. Her impact on disability representation is sure to leave a legacy. 

Garrison Redd: USA Paralympic Athlete 

@GarrisonRedd 

Garrison Redd, an American Paralympic athlete and TEDx speaker, exemplifies determination and resilience. In the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, Garrison placed sixth overall for Team USA in men’s Para Powerlifting competition, which consists of one discipline: bench press.

Before becoming a Paralympic athlete, Garrison was paralyzed at the age of 17 after being struck by a stray bullet. The accident shattered his dream of becoming a professional football player. He discovered a new way to compete in 2018, when a wheelchair-racing coach at his local gym noted his upper-body strength and introduced him to the world of para powerlifting.

Garrison is currently training to rejoin Team USA at the Paralympics in Paris, France in 2024!   

Beyond the sports arena, he actively engages in public speaking to raise awareness of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. 

Garrison hosts empowerment seminars and motivational workshops through his non-profit, The Garrison Redd Project, to motivate people with disabilities and provide opportunities to become independent. 

His commitment to promoting inclusivity makes him a powerful force in the fight for a more accessible world!  

Imani Barbarin: Content Creator, Public Speaker, and Disability Blogger 

@crutches_and_spice 

Imani is a disability advocate, dynamic content creator, and public speaker who uses her large social media following to amplify the disability community’s voice and raise awareness for topics that are often overlooked by the mainstream media. 

She does this through the creation of viral hashtags, like #DisTheOscars, which allowed her to call out the Academy Awards Ceremony for its lack of accessibility and disability inclusion. Imani launched the advocacy campaign to discuss disability representation in media, using the popularity of the annual awards show to reach over one million Twitter (X) users!  

Imani’s viral videos and thought-provoking commentary have also been featured in national publications such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, NPR, and Vice 

She also writes a blog called “Crutches and Spice,” where she explores current events and topics such as the intersection of race and gender, providing another outlet for the disability community’s voice to be heard. 

Shaheem Sanchez: Actor, Choreographer, and Brand Ambassador  

@Shaheem 

An inner ear infection at age four caused Shaheem Sanchez to lose his hearing, but it didn’t prevent him from finding the beat. By feeling the vibrations and letting them drive his rhythm, he was able to continue dancing to the music. Shaheem is an actor, self-taught dancer, and a TikTok star with 1.6 million followers. His passion for dance influenced his young siblings, and they joined Shaheem to form the “Family First Dance Crew.”  

You may have seen him in his debut role in the Oscar-winning film, “Sound of Metal.”  

As an advocate for the deaf community, he works to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing community by educating his social media followers on what life is like for those with hearing impairments, all while promoting inclusion. Shaheem also uses his platform to teach American Sign Language (ASL). Currently, he is advocating for ASL to be taught in schools.  

Shaheem also encourages everyone to amplify the voices of black deaf creators in the digital community. 

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As these black disability advocates continue to find new ways to amplify their voices, Easterseals Southern California stands alongside them, offering support to drive change in the digital community and the world.  

Stay tuned for more from our “Disability in Pop Culture” blog series, where we explore the latest in disability inclusion and representation in entertainment!  

About the Author:

Alexis Causey is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at Easterseals SoCal, where she has enjoyed working since 2021. Alexis is passionate about storytelling and learning.  

3 Comments

  1. Khirsty February 29, 2024 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this! I appreciate Keah for owning her self-love journey and letting everyone know that she’s #disabledandcute because she is! I know some people associate term with infantilizing but I know what she meant. And is!

    Garrison’s story makes me think about perseverance, determination and calling. His calling is to be an athlete no matter what and he did that. As a fellow non profit person, I am pleased to hear he has one.

    I appreciate Imani for her activism and using her platform to demand that there is disability inclusion in all spaces.

    Shaheem being a dancer that quite literally feels the vibe is beautiful. I can imagine he feels the music in ways hearing dancers can’t. I admire that.

  2. Siva April 29, 2024 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    These advocates are truly inspiring, using their platforms to amplify disability voices, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusivity. Their impact reaches far beyond pop culture, shaping a more accessible and understanding world.
    #aurahomes #cerebral palsy therapies #occupational therapy treatment for autism #applied behavior analysis aba therapist #special educator for autism #autism therapies

    • Easterseals SoCal May 2, 2024 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Siva! We agree, they are all using their platforms for the greater good of the disability community.

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