Snapchat video inspires student to speak out

By Kimberly Wethal

March 9, 2016

Sophomore Shaun Raymond has decided no one makes him “the butt of their joke” after a Snapchat video of him gained popularity last week.

Raymond was unknowingly filmed by a Snapchat user as he struggled to get around on the snow-covered sidewalk in a wheelchair.

The video had the “face with tears of joy” emoji over it, which Raymond took to mean as an intended joke.

In response, he shared the video on his Facebook page, speaking out against the actions of the Snapchat user.

Raymond has Cerebral Palsy – it doesn’t prevent his ability to walk, but he had borrowed the wheelchair to prevent himself from falling.

“People with disabilities come in many different shapes and sizes,” he wrote in his post. “Some people face struggles you can’t see. NOT EVERYONE WHO USES MOBILITY DEVICES IS PARALYZED. There are plenty of students on the UW-Whitewater campus who struggle every day.”

Raymond did not respond to a request for an interview by press time.

Raymond came to the UW-Whitewater Campus Climate Working Group last Friday with his concerns, and ended up joining, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Working Group member Tom Rios said.

“What he was describing to the group was how he felt,” Rios said. “Anybody who’s anonymously filmed and put out on social media would be upset or offended by it, and he was.”

Much of the message Raymond had for the working group was his reaction to the comments left on the video, Rios said.

Comments that questioned why he needed a wheelchair in the first place if he could walk, along with lumping all students with disabilities under the same assumptions bothered Raymond enough to bring it to the attention of the working group, Rios said.

“What he wanted us to understand was that UW-Whitewater has a mission, and a part of that mission is to serve students with disabilities,” Rios said. “We have just under a thousand students who have documented disabilities, but that could range from someone with traumatic brain injury to someone being on the autism spectrum, to somebody in a mobility device. He was talking about how oftentimes people who don’t live with disabilities, both seen and unseen, make assumptions about people.”

Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) Director Elizabeth Watson said she’s “proud” of Raymond for advocating for himself with the Facebook post.

“Shaun chose to self-manage the situation, and he managed it really well,” Watson said. “He posted on Facebook a reaction that he made publicly available, addressing how he perceived the situation and how he saw it as damaging and not within the campus culture, and damaging to the campus mission … he talked about the importance of education, and understanding individuals with disabilities are a heterogeneous group of people where everyone is different.”

When students experience discrimination based on their disabilities, CSD works to connect students with the proper department on campus and serves as an advocate for them if they request assistance, Watson said.

The difficult part of a situation like this, however, is the right to free speech, despite potentially being harmful, and the anonymity barrier created by Snapchat, so locating the person responsible is close to impossible, she said.

“Part of this for me is that students nowadays, with Snapchat, Yik Yak, Facebook, can respond without having to directly address the person to whom they’re speaking about, or with,” Watson said. “Often, students forget they have a real impact with that they do, and how they say it … there’s an opportunity to lack ownership.”

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