Instagram | @melissablake81

Disability Activist Slams Harmful Viral Trend Of Parents Scaring Kids With Her Pic

An upsetting new trend on the video sharing platform Tik Tok sees parents use photos of disabled people to spook their children, some to the point of tears.

Known as the "New Teacher Challenge", the trend involves parents flashing their kids a photo of a person with a disability, and then telling them that person will be their teacher for the new school year. The child's reaction is filmed and then uploaded online for the sake of "entertainment".

But one disability activist, and victim of this cruel challenge, has had enough and is speaking out against what she says is an incredibly harmful trend.

Writer, blogger, and passionate activist Melissa Blake was born with a rare genetic bone and muscular disorder called Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome.

Instagram | @melissablake81

In an op-ed piece for the online publication Health back in 2019, Blake explained what the characteristics of her disorder are:

"Joint deformities in the hands, feet, and knees; deep folds of skin between the nose and the lips, and a small, pursed mouth (there's even an informal name for that one: 'whistling face')."

For the first 15 years of her life, Blake was a mainstay at the hospital and underwent more than 26 surgeries to correct her deformities.

Melissa Blake via Health

Despite the physical and emotional toll of her disorder, the activist shared that she doesn't resent her body or her experiences with FSS.

"I’ve never thought of FSS as something that happened to me," she wrote. "It’s simply part of who I am."

In 2019, Blake found herself the target of incredible hate and criticism after publicly speaking out against President Trump.

In a piece for CNN titled, "What if we all unfollowed Trump on Twitter", she said the POTUS should be banned from the social media site he so often posts on, but amended that will likely never happen.

So instead, Blake suggested people unfollow the president as a means of demonstrating "a powerful act of collective resistance". But this upset Trump supporters who came after the writer with hurtful jabs at her appearance.

Although Blake admits she's usually able to brush off the hurtful comments and move on, this latest Tik Tok trend has proven much harder to get past.

In a personal article for Refinery 29, she described learning about the challenge, which uses people's disabilities to prompt terrified reactions from children, all for the sake of a laugh online.

"I’m not laughing, though, because none of this is funny," Blake wrote. "I’m utterly disgusted."

Among those individuals targeted in the trend is motivational speaker and author Lizzie Velasquez.

She uploaded a Tik Tok video to her Instagram which shows a mom flashing her son a photo of Velasquez who she had claimed was going to be his teacher, all in an effort to frighten him.

“TikTok, I need your help,” Velasquez wrote online. “If you are an adult who has a young human in your life, please do not teach them that being scared of someone who doesn't look like them is okay. Please. Everything that these kids need to know about empathy and being kind to one another starts at home.”

Blake explained that if nothing else, this Tik Tok trend reinforces the importance of disability representation.

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"[We] need to normalize seeing people who don’t look like us or our family members," she wrote. "We need to teach the next generation that our differences should be celebrated, not feared or mocked."

"Disabled people aren’t here for your ridicule," she continued. "We’re not punchlines. We’re people. It’s my hope that more people (and platforms, too — TikTok, I’m also looking at you) join us in this fight. We need you all. Disabled or not."

Although accounts using such photos for the challenge have been reported, Tik Tok has done nothing, insisting that no rule has been violated.

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But Blake, on the other hand, disagrees.

"I am violated," she said. "Every single time. Each photo, taunt, and cruel word is a clear violation of my dignity and my worth as a human being."

Since her message condemning the Tik Tok video went viral, Blake has revealed the original uploader has removed it from the site.

Not only that, but she also messaged Blake to personally apologize for using her photo in such a hurtful way.

"I appreciate that," Blake wrote in a tweet about the user, adding the plea, "PLEASE don't participate in this prank."

h/t: Refinery 29, CNN, Health