From race to gender to sexuality, it is despicable that anyone would attack another person for being born different to them. But when it comes to disability and those most vulnerable and unable to defend themselves, it’s all the more disgusting.
In the digital age, discrimination has spread further than comments in the street, as disabled people have found themselves victims of online trolls, mocking their appearance, mental and physical abilities, and even questioning their existence.
One person who knows this all too personally is Natalie Weaver, a passionate advocate for disabled children, and mom to nine-year-old Sophia, who suffers from Rett disease. Sophia’s illness is a rare neurological disorder that occurs mostly in girls and affects the ability to walk, talk, eat and even breathe.
In addition, Sophia – described by her adoring mother as a major daddy’s girl who loves to laugh – also has an immune deficiency, type 1 diabetes and an undiagnosed syndrome which causes facial disfigurement.
However, no matter how many cases Natalie has worked on in helping victims of online bullying and hatred, nothing could prepare her for the moment she was recently sent a disgusting tweet, which used her daughter’s image to promote abortion.
The downright evil message, written by someone using the Twitter handle of @OBSIDIANSMOAK, read:
“It is okay to think that every child matters however a lot of them do not hence the amnio test which should be a mandatory test and if it proves negative and the woman does not want to abort then all bills accrued after that is on her and the father.”
Natalie – who is also a mother to two other children – blocked the vile Twitter user, but it was soon brought to her attention that the photo was still being circulated.
In fact, the Twitter user had the audacity to pin the tweet at the top of their feed. It was then that she decided that enough was enough and she, along with many of her supporters, started to report the tweet to the social media platform.
But two days later, Twitter responded with the shocking claim that the tweet did not violate its rules and regulations. It was only after Natalie continued to fight against the tweet and complain once again that Twitter Support eventually acknowledged their glaring mistake and suspended the person who posted the photo. Twitter also apologized for their error.
Nevertheless, Natalie’s battle against Twitter had only just begun.
Julie Ross, a fellow disability advocate, tweeted Natalie informing her that Twitter does not include hate against people with disabilities within the user complaint form, the Natalie took it upon herself to personally address Twitter’s policy issue. Now, she is fighting for them to include ‘disabilities’ in their violation reporting
When contacted by VT, Natalie discussed the stress of having to fight off the trolls at the same time as looking after a sick child:
“It’s been very difficult.
I’ve had days where I’m just crying. It’s interesting I shared my story with a reporter because I wanted to put pressure on Twitter to have the person who was promoting eugenics and using my daughter’s image, I wanted them to take it down and I never imagined it would go viral like this. It’s been difficult because this man was using my daughter in a hateful vile way, which has now led to other reporters from right-wing media groups to change the narrative to fit their devices, agenda, they lie which opened me up to more attacks. So a story about hate and attacks on my child has now led to more hate and attacks on my child.”
However, Twitter is not Natalie’s only ongoing battle.
As one of the three co-founders of Advocates for Medically Fragile Children NC, Natalie often works alongside legislators, senators and the Department of Health and Human Services in order to ensure they are appropriately educated on the hardships and impact of having a child with disabilities.
As a staunch Trump opposer, Natalie was disgusted when she first learned the news that her country had elected a man who openly mocked a disabled person in his presidential campaign, and when the Republicans first unveiled their health care bill to repeal the ACA, she knew she needed to act, fully aware of the catastrophic effect it could have on her daughter’s health – and millions of others across the country.
Trump’s bill proposal eventually failed, but a tax reform was put in its place, which is set to increase the deficit by 1.5 trillion dollars. In order to decrease the deficit, the GOP is coming for Medicaid (or Medicare), the joint federal and state program that supports the medical costs for some people with limited income and resources.
For multiple families with disabled children across America, Medicaid is a crucial lifeline – especially considering the fact that people are accepted onto the optional program based on their disability, not their income.
In the US, even those with private insurance find it almost impossible to afford the proper care they need, and many families face putting themselves into medical bankruptcy if not for programmes like Medicaid.
For Natalie and her family, Medicaid allows a “hospital style” setup, complete with in-home nursing, meaning Sophia can be properly cared for in the comfort of her own home, rather than a medical facility.
If the programme is scrapped, optional set-ups like this are at risk, and Natalie believes that reducing Sophia’s services could be deadly:
“She’s a more extreme case with all her medical needs, so that’s why I fight. I also fight because, of many attempts to repeal the ACA; the individual mandate, and people with pre-existing conditions wouldn’t be able to afford insurance and ACA provided protection for people with existing conditions.
My child has private insurance through an employer but anybody could lose their job, nobody’s job is guaranteed, so I’m just overall fighting for the protection of people with chronic illness and disabilities and my child in the process.”
Living with any disability is always difficult, but in the age of Trump, it seems things have become more of a struggle for both disabled people and their families. When asked if Natalie had noticed a shift in certain people’s attitudes towards her daughter since the 45th POTUS came to office, she confessed she believed that people were following by Trump’s example:
“They seem to be a little more bold, people in their attacks towards people with disabilities. They’ve seen the President make fun of someone with a disability, so they say ‘I can do it’, publically attacking my child. I know that the attacks have been there all along before this, but I feel like it has emboldened people to just go after us a little bit more.
Also, there are these outward attacks on my child because she’s disabled. ‘Kill her, put her out of her misery, she’s a waste of life’, those types of things. So you’ve got these loud vile attacks, but these quiet attacks from our administration to those with disabilities and so it just seems like more of an outwardly open expression of what has been quietly going on behind closed doors with our administration.”
But at the end of the day, no matter who or where it is from, this unforgivable hate goes hand-in-hand with a strong sense of irony. The thing is, anyone could get a disability at any time – which means Natalie is fighting for everyone, including her enemies who claim that her child shouldn’t be allowed to live.
The mother-of-three explains: “They’re attacking me and I try not to respond, but sometimes there are just days where you can’t take it anymore and I feel like ‘I’m fighting for you too’. And if something happens to you tomorrow, though you just told me to kill my child, I would fight for you too. Anything could happen to any one of us and healthcare should be a human right.”
Imagine if you, your partner or your own child was struck down by a drunk driver and left disabled – perhaps paralyzed from the neck down. Does this mean your life should be ended? Does this mean you still couldn’t feel love and compassion? No. And this is why these idiots need to be silenced, and this is why Natalie’s cause needs to be heard.
If you’ve been affected by Natalie and Sophia’s story, please donate to Advocates for Medically Fragile Children.