The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Bullies have singled me out in the Trump era because of my disability. But I won’t stop speaking out.

President Trump is reflected in the sunglasses of a woman attending a Trump campaign rally on Wednesday in Goodyear, Ariz. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Melissa Blake is a freelance writer covering relationships, disability issues and pop culture.

One night last week, as I was checking social media before bed, I opened my direct messages on Instagram to find this: “Humans on this earth like you just shouldn’t be alive. LOOK AT YOU!” The message also included the words “Trump 2020.”

The more I thought about it as I drifted off to sleep, the more I realized just how unfazed I was by the message, how common it has become to see those types of comments in my inbox, how desensitized I, as a disabled woman, have become to that cruelty and how, frankly, I’ve actually come to expect such words, especially on social media.

But you know what? I shouldn’t have had to build up an immunity to that kind of hate. That’s why I’m fighting back.

I was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a genetic bone and muscular disorder, and I’ve had more than 26 surgeries to correct things such as joint contractures and scoliosis. I love spending time with my family and binge-watching my favorite shows, and since graduating from college, I’ve made a career for myself as a freelance writer and blogger. Typically, I spend my days writing about my favorite bits of pop culture and what life is like with a disability.

My career also means I’m on social media. A lot. I joined Twitter and Facebook when both platforms were in their infancy, so I’ve always had a social media presence. But it wasn’t until last year that I became very visible.

Ironically, my increased visibility was the result of Internet trolls attacking my appearance. After I wrote a CNN op-ed, conservative pundit Mark Dice mentioned me in his YouTube video. The comments? I’m fat, ugly and look like a blob fish, a parade balloon and a potato with a face.

One person even said I should be banned from posting photos of myself online because I’m too ugly. So, in response, I posted this tweet, which went viral and kicked off a much-needed conversation about the type of ableism that disabled people face every day.

This is the reality that many disabled people live in 2020, and it’s something I’m constantly trying to change. Because the truth is, never in my life have I experienced the kind of bullying that I have in the past four years.

That the bullying spike corresponds with Donald Trump’s presidency is no coincidence. He has normalized, encouraged and, yes, participated in this bullying behavior.

None of this is okay.

Maybe that’s why I get so frustrated when people pull the “it’s just a difference of opinion” card when it comes to politics, particularly in this year’s presidential race. Politics matters. Brushing off the differences between a vote for Trump and a vote for Joe Biden means ignoring serious issues facing the disability community. So many of those issues are the direct result of Trump’s public policy — everything from budget cuts that make it even harder to qualify for disability benefits to a proposal to change the definition of “full-time work” to 30 hours per week, instead of the usual 40 for Social Security Disability Insurance, meaning fewer disabled people who work would qualify for SSDI benefits. These programs help people afford food, health care and housing. Weakening this social safety net could prove catastrophic for many.

In 2020, your vote has very real consequences for disabled people such as me. When you support Trump and this administration’s policies, you’re condoning ableism.

One of my favorite phrases is “the personal is political,” and I’ve been saying it a lot lately, especially to people on social media who would prefer I not get political. But for disabled people — and all marginalized people — it’s impossible to separate the two. Who I am as a person and what I’ve been through includes politics.

In Trump’s America, disabled people are considered less than. Should that really come as a surprise given that Trump openly mocked a disabled reporter early in his 2016 campaign? Today, when people such as myself aren’t being bullied because of our disability, we’re being ignored and overlooked — cast aside as if we don’t matter. But I’ll never stop speaking out. My voice matters, on social media and at the ballot box, because disabled people demand to be heard.

If I could tell society just one thing, it would be that I’m tired. So many disabled people are tired. My value, my worth and my very right to exist are not open for debate. So, no, I can’t say this year’s election is over just a “difference of opinion.”

Watch Opinions videos:

Not making the effort to say someone's name correctly is a sign of disrespect. When it's done intentionally, it's downright racist. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara, photographer; Danielle Kunitz, designer/The Washington Post)

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The Post’s View: Presidents are expected to set the national tone. What we got with Trump has been catastrophic.