Representation of folks with disabilities in media is few and far between, which typically leads to able-bodied folks not knowing how to act when they’re interacting with them. It’s messed up on multiple levels, but particularly for those who are differently abled experiencing bias, are being stereotyped, and overall just treated terribly.
Enter Lewis Elder. The 25-year-old St. Louis native moved to Austin, Tex. right after he graduated from college for a job offer. As a person with a disability, born with a birth defect that has made his left arm smaller than his right, he said that the transition made for a lot of “weird” stories.
“When I moved to Austin, so many ostentatious things happened to me in a row,” he told CASSIUS. “Starting a new job, being ‘the disabled guy’ at the new job and new city, I was having a lot of arm-related situations my first couple of months that I was here so I thought ‘I should write this stuff down.'”
That’s when he decided to collect the stories of all of the messed up things that would happen to him and publish them on his Tumblr. Lewis’ stories cover everything across the board, from awkward moments at the gym when his trainer tells him to “cut that thing off” to unbelievable moments involving upcoming new artist KYLE. The best part about the entire blog, though? The hilarious yet humble voice that the young professional and sneakerhead brings to the retelling of these otherwise messed up happenings. He doesn’t judge anyone for their ignorance or response— he’s just another human experiencing people take in his body.
“I essentially end every post asking, ‘is this right or wrong? I don’t know what the answers are,” he said. “I think that the jokes and things like that are a byproduct of the nuance in my humility. I don’t know how I expect people to treat me, but if I feel like something’s fucked up, I’m gonna say something about it.”
While Lewis’ readers currently consist mostly of his Facebook friends, he’s had various people he doesn’t know well message him. They let him know how his stories have helped them recognize biases within themselves. But his one pet peeve? The narrative in which people with disabilities have to be “success stories” in order to be valid.
“People condense what has been years of pain, blood, sweat, looking weird and wanting to cry into one happy moment that they’re going to then try to project as motivational fuel for themselves,” he said. “I’m not here to make your life better, fuck that shit, my life is hard.”
People condense what has been years of pain, looking weird and wanting to cry into one happy moment.
But there is one person who makes all the messed up stuff that happens to him worth it — a little boy named William.
William also has a limb difference, and his mom discovered Lewis’ music two years ago on YouTube, particularly a song where he talks about his disability. His mom has sent him pictures of Will lifting little weights while watching the music videos saying, “He wants to have a strong arm like you.”
“To have William look up to me, that’s amazing because I would have killed to see something like that as a kid,” he recalls. “It makes all the shitty things that happen to me just funny anecdotes because I get to talk to William and his mom about them. I finally have a common thread with someone.”
Ultimately, Lewis feels like he’ll be blogging his experiences for a while — it’s as fun for him as it is for readers. But he says when it comes to this type of writing, it’s more than just a healing mechanism or a hobby.
“If I don’t document these things, they just happen to me, and that’s it,” he said. “They would just be shitty moments. But if I write them down, it goes from something that gets lost in the ether to a tool to educate. The biggest thing for me is giving those moments and experiences meaning, so they don’t just live and die with me.”