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How Tiktok’s Erin Novakowski Puts Ableists In Their Place

Erin Novakowski
Welcome to The Floor Is Yours, where we spotlight the creators behind the meaningful content on your FYP — because it’s not just about who they are, but the message in what they’re creating.   
If you’re planning on checking out Erin Novakowski’s TikTok page (@wheelierin), let’s get one thing straight: The 20-year-old content creator isn’t here to make people without disabilities feel warm and fuzzy or comfortable with her disability. Because her content isn’t really for them. 
“My main goal has always been helping disabled people, making content for disabled people, and just being a little bit of representation on my little corner of the internet,” she tells Refinery29 over Zoom. 
The Calgary-based creator is doing just that, sharing funny videos about living with spinal muscular atrophy (Novakowski has used a wheelchair since she was in kindergarten), and calling out ableists, usually with a cutting burn and sometimes a fart noise or two. 
Novakowski’s videos weren’t always meant to be a form of activism. In fact, she first started posting to TikTok in 2019 for a pretty relatable reason — all her friends were doing it. So she started doing it too: hopping on viral audio sounds, doing makeup tutorials, and responding to comments — and misconceptions — about using a wheelchair. 
“I made my little jokes, and some of them just happened to be seen by a couple of other people,” she says, “and from there I said, ‘Okay, I'll keep making my little jokes.’” 
It was one of these signature crude-but-oh-so-funny jokes that put her on the map: An April 2021 video in response to a troll criticizing Novakowski for using help in her day-to-day life. In response, Novakowski simply explained everything she can do on her own — including their mom (you know, like the "your mom" joke). It racked up over 7 millions views and is one of Novakwski’s favorite videos. 
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“It was the most awful thing that I've ever posted, but I love it,” she says. Plus, “it’s fun to think about the fact that 7 million people have watched me say that I’d do their mom.” (One TikTok commenter responded: “This is it, this is the video that convinced me to download TikTok.”)
@refinery29 #ad @🕊 erin 🕊uses their platform to put ableists in their place and we love to see it #sponsored by @Clorox ♬ SHIFTING - TruFeelz
While they might be layered with fart jokes and sarcasm, at the heart of Novakowski’s videos is a greater message of self-love and resistance. She doesn’t try to hide her wheelchair, which she’s decorated with stickers, or the fact that she uses one in any of her videos. “I love my wheelchair, it’s pink and adorable,” she says. 
And her attitude is helping others. Very early into her time on TikTok, after one of her first videos went viral, she got a DM on Instagram from a young viewer who’d recently started using a wheelchair. “She told me she was excited to go to school with her new wheelchair because she had started seeing people who looked like her just living their lives,” Novakowski says. “The fact I could help [even one person] be a little bit more confident and comfortable using her wheelchair and with her disability was a really important moment for me, and I'll remember it for a really long time.”
Seeing the overwhelming response to her videos has been “surprising in the most amazing way,” she says. “It was incredible to learn that even just posting on the internet can be a really huge form of resistance against ableism or help make the world more inclusive.” 
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Moving forward, Novakowski plans to continue making content for her community, as she always has — maybe she’ll throw in some sick makeup vids, too (she's killer at a cat eye). I like to make people laugh, and I like to teach people about disability,” Novakowski says. “But most of all, it's just me talking — because no one can stop me.”

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