I thrive on the internet. On camera, especially.
The phrase “chronically online” has been used widely throughout the past few years (especially after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.) This descriptive term refers to people who get all of their information and opinions from the internet, especially social media; people who can cultivate their in-person relationships, careers, and life goals but choose to remain online. The term is usually a derogatory one—but for my disabled self, being online offers benefits that I can’t get in the physical world.
Twitch is one example. I began Twitch streaming a few years ago to showcase my love for video games and the table-top role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. I use a webcam my dad gave me, a gaming headset I got for my birthday, and the PC my dad and I built freshman year.
Thanks to my experience with public speaking, streaming has come easily to me. If no one is interacting in the chat, I provide commentary to entertain those lurking. If someone is in the chat, I converse with them while playing.
Streaming has provided so many good friends. From streamers I’ve got close to, to my followers who keep me up-to-date with their latest shenanigans; I am never alone when I stream, even when the chat is empty.
The first video game I ever streamed was Final Fantasy XV. That game built up my little community of gamers and boosted my confidence to stream my gaming sessions. From there, I began streaming my Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Most recently, I finished the Final Fantasy VII Remake and started a play-through of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Each game draws in a diverse crowd of people, here for the same thing: the game and connecting with others who play it.
I have always felt like the odd one out around my able-bodied peers. Even as a member of the cheerleading team, I was still the “token wheelchair user”. I felt the same in theater, on the improv team, and in every other school/extracurricular activity that I have participated.
But in the video game and streaming community, I look the same as everyone else: I wear headphones, sit in a chair, and use a mouse and keyboard. My online persona, The Wheelchair Hero (@wheelchair_hero), gives away my disability, but it is something I take pride in. I am proud to be a disabled gamer and streamer with connections and a following in the online community.
This pride translates to off-camera, too. Since gaining confidence online, that confidence radiates into my daily life.
Public speaking comes naturally to me, and I befriend people who share similar interests. In my first block robotics class, I came to know two fellow students over our love for video games (and the movie Ready Player One).
Gaming and streaming bridges the gap between myself and my able-bodied peers. I bonded with classmates in elementary school over a shared love for books and YouTube. In middle school, we bonded over anime, movies, and musicals. In high school, it was all of these things, plus video games and Dungeons & Dragons.
It has been extremely important to me to be myself, both with my body and personality, no matter where I am. By embracing the fact that I’m online more than my peers, I can find hobbies that accommodate my disability and my insatiable hunger for adventure.
This Rare Disease Day, I’m reflecting on the fact that streaming provides me with a community I can find nowhere else. Even if many of my friends live on the opposite side of the planet, I can bond with them in ways I cannot with my in-person friends.
I thrive online, and that is ok. It’s pretty awesome, actually.