Melanie Wimmer is a young woman living with a disability and sharing her life experience on social media.
Having paralysis, Melanie uses a wheelchair to move around in her daily life. She has dealt with difficulties in school and society but has managed to be successful.
We had the pleasure to interview her for Inclusion Europe Radio. This is her interview*:
Would you like to introduce yourself?
- My name is Melanie, I am 26 years old, and I come from Austria.
Can you tell us about your disability?
- Yes, I have paralysis and I need a wheelchair. But I have my own flat, I have a job at Atempo so I really think I have a normal life.
Would you say that Austria is a place that accommodates people with disabilities?
- Yes, I think so. Most of the time it’s quite easy with my wheelchair.
So, you are on social media as a self-advocate. Which platforms do you prefer to use?
- I use Facebook and Instagram. I think both are a good way to reach different people because everybody uses social media, including young people. It’s also a nice hobby. I’m really lucky, I don’t really have negative reactions. Sometimes you must understand that not everything you see on social media is real. That is something to keep in our minds when we use social media.
Do you usually interact with younger or older people on social media?
- Usually, it’s younger people, but sometimes I get older people say that they like what I do. I use social media to show people what life with a disability is like. I really like to make fashion, makeup, and lifestyle content. I’m trying to show that living with a disability can be normal.
What is the biggest difficulty you experience in your daily life because of your disability?
- People. Other people who don’t have a disability. Sometimes they are afraid because they have no experience with disabilities. I don’t get a lot of negative reactions in public, but sometimes people stare at me even when I do something normal like go shopping. It is weird because I’m no animal in a zoo!
You have a job at Atempo. Can you tell us exactly what it is that you do?
- Yes! I am an expert on accessibility and also an influencer. I joined Atempo after school. For 2 years I did trainings to prepare for the job market, I did presentations and prepared. Atempo is a company for people with disabilities. We are here to show them a way in the job market, show them what job could be good for them. I love meeting different people and get really positive feedback for my presentations and workshops. I like that it’s not every day the same.
Was it difficult for you to find a job?
- Yes. I was afraid I wouldn’t find the right job for me because of my disability and my wheelchair. But I had a lot of support and I still work at atempo now, since 20120, and I’m so grateful.
Nice, it’s been a while then! Can you tell me about what has changed after you got this job?
- I changed myself! I was really shy but now I work with social media, I have my own flat, my own car. My life is much more independent. Before I started working I had support from my family and friends. My family and my friends are always there for me. It is great to have them. And it is very important for people with disabilities to have this kind of support. Otherwise, you will have problems in your daily life. As a student, I was bullied and this is something you can’t handle without support.
What type of difficulties did you face in school?
- It was not really easy. I didn’t have a lot of friends and even the teachers were not really nice. They did not want me because of my disability. They told me that nobody wants someone with a disability and I could never do something good in my life. It was hard to make friends because the other kids didn’t want to be friends with me, saying that because of my disability I am not normal.
Growing up we are always told that we should embrace our uniqueness and be ourselves, but then we try so hard to fit in because if we don’t, we’re not accepted.
- That’s right!
I’m sorry to hear you had difficulty making friends. I hope that if you did make some, they are real friends.
- Yes! Now I don’t have many friends, but the ones I do have are real. That’s more important than having lots of friends.
Do you think the work you do on social media can change the way younger people treat those with disabilities?
- I hope so! That’s my message to the people. Every little step in the right direction is important.
Do you have contact with younger people with disabilities who are now in school?
- Sometimes, but it’s usually people my age.
Your work on social media is in German, right?
- Yes, but I can always reply to messages in English. I sometimes get people from Germany on my pages, and we talk about what is different in our countries. In Germany, for example, people stare at me less compared to Austria.
Have you traveled around in other countries too?
- Yes, I have visited England, Wales, Finland, Italy. England and Finland are very wheelchair-friendly. In fact, if Finland wasn’t this cold, I would move there!
And which country was the least wheelchair-friendly in your experience?
- That’s a good question. I think Italy, but the people were so nice and willing to help. There’s a solution for everything!
Would you like to travel more after COVID-19?
- Oh yes! I love to travel, to see other countries, to be on the beach!
Do you travel for work as well?
- Yes! We meet people from other companies that work with people with disabilities.
What would you say to people with disabilities looking for a job?
- Look at your abilities and never give up. Be brave, believe you can do it and don’t believe those who say you can’t do it. My teachers didn’t think I could work but now I do!
What is your message to people with disabilities who would like to be self-advocates?
- Never give up! The more people who stand up for themselves, the better it is!
You can follow Melanie on her social media profiles:
Facebook: Melanie auf 4 Rädern durchs Leben
You can listen to Melanie’s interview here.
*The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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