By Tayler Shaw (Jour, Span, ex’21)
After reaching the top of Machu Picchu in 2017, Katy Fetters (MMediaSt’19) commemorated her climb with an Instagram post.
This, and other images she shared while traveling 7,000 miles across South America wearing an ExoSym leg brace, was about more than a photo op; it was a celebration of victory and visibility, both for Fetters and an entire community of people with cerebral palsy.
Often called CP for short, cerebral palsy refers to a congenital brain injury that, in Fetters’ words, “manifests itself in a variety of ways, in different regions of the body.”
At 17, Fetters, who was born with CP and has limited mobility on the left side of her body, started a personal blog called TeenCP. During the trip, she was inspired to take the idea one step further, rebranding the blog into a collective online movement called Cerebral Palsy Strong.
“It really just started with me, kind of looking for a community—looking for a friend with CP,” she says.
Today, as an activist and recent graduate from CMCI’s Media and Public Engagement master’s program, Fetters is harnessing the power of social media to redefine what it means to have a disability. She now counts more than 4,000 Instagram followers, with over 11,000 posts featuring her signature hashtag, #CPstrong.
“I think what’s funny is that a lot of people look at social media as kind of a silly form of activism,” she says. “Whereas a lot of people in the CP community—the disability community—are like, ‘This is the only way I can participate, and this is the way I feel like I matter.’”
In March, for her thesis project, Fetters hosted her first CP Social event in Huntington Beach, California, bringing the community she’d formed online face-to-face.
Looking ahead, she aims to convert Cerebral Palsy Strong into a member-led organization and continue expanding its reach, empowering those with CP to share stories and find a sense of belonging while also educating people outside the community
“I think it’s constantly reminding ourselves that we’re all human,” she says. “And at the end of the day, we all just kind of want the same thing: To be accepted and to be recognized for what we’re doing and what we’ve done.”