The hashtag #hotpersoninawheelchair went viral after the Youtuber and activist Annie Segarra used it as a response to an offensive tweet by Ken Jennings, reports The Guardian.
Jennings, best known for winning the game show Jeopardy! seventy-four times consecutively and earning $2.5 million, tweeted four years ago “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” The obviously offensive tweet was generally condemned on Twitter at the time, but Jennings did not take it down.
The tweet recently resurfaced after Annie Segarra, who is disabled and suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, replied to it with a picture of herself in her wheelchair with the caption “Cry about it, babe. #hotpersoninawheelchair”. Over 2,700 people liked her response, and some other users joined in by posting their own pictures of themselves in wheelchairs using the hashtag, including Robyn Lambird, the Australian para-athlete.
Ken Jennings’s tweet was particularly badly worded, but it reflects attitudes that remain worryingly prevalent. The negative stereotype that people with mobility aids cannot also be attractive is an attitude that affects many disabled people. By using the word “sadder”, Jennings also implies that he feels pity for the “hot person in a wheelchair.” This choice of phrase suggests that the impact of having the disability is worse when people are attractive. There is also an uncomfortable undercurrent of sexism in the tweet; women tend to be valued based on their appearance, and the tweet plays into this. It is sad if a “hot” person, or woman, uses a wheelchair because Jennings implies, it detracts from their appearance, and therefore their worth. In a society where disabled people often have to face these biases, somebody posting a picture showing themselves with a wheelchair with the caption #hotpersoninawheelchair is a political act; it calls into question the stereotype that disability and attractiveness cannot co-exist.
Ableist attitudes have been challenged before through hashtags, including #babewithamobilityaid and #disabledandcute. However, the idea that disabled people cannot be considered attractive is still widespread. Some people mentioned in their pictures that they had to take new photographs so their wheelchairs could be seen because they usually try to exclude them from photos. Other people tweeted that they didn’t feel confident enough to post a picture. One person wrote that learning to be self-accepting can be difficult when society makes it so hard. However, the backlash against Jennings’s tweet also shows the determination of people to challenge harmful attitudes.
Annie Segarra is vocal about body positivity, and has since talked about the tweet and hashtag in a Facebook post, writing
“We’re here, we’re hot, we deserve to feel hot, to be seen, to take up space.”