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Ana Raya with her wheelchair in front of some stairs in a park in Granada. Pepe Marín
The Spanish influencer who is using Instagram to share her experiences as a wheelchair user
Disability

The Spanish influencer who is using Instagram to share her experiences as a wheelchair user

Through her Rayada Life project Ana Raya is hoping to raise awareness about disability, inclusion and accessibility

Javier F. Barrera

Granada

Tuesday, 23 April 2024

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Granada resident Ana Raya has created Rayada Life a project through which she uses social media to talk about her experiences with disability, accessibility and inclusive tourism. The digital creator, who is a wheelchair user herself, publishes videos on social media in which she checks (non)accessibility and talks about disability under the name 'Coja Exploradora', (limping explorer). She talks about her adventures and misadventures around the planet while travelling.

"People come up to me and tell me about their lives. With the videos people identify you and you go viral"

Ana has been built up an active community and has transferred her ability to empathise and connect with people on social media to the real world. She now gives talks, courses and conferences at all kinds of institutions including the University of Granada.

A number of her posts have gone viral. For example, the one she posted on Instagram entitled 'Soy disca' (from discapacitada, the Spanish word for disabled)': "I'm 'disca' because of a disease, not because of an accident. I'm 'disca' and of course I work. I'm 'disca' and of course I have sex. I'm 'disca' and of course I like to party. I'm 'disca' and of course I know what I want. Don't ask my companion."

Not only is Ana Raya intelligent and funny, but she's also a fighter. "I have juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which has now become rheumatoid arthritis. I got it when I was nine years old. It completely changed my life. One day you're running and the next day you're in chronic pain, fever and hospitals. You change school for the hospital."

Adolescence was the same, or worse. "They decided for me. I didn't go to university. I was infantilised, with very paternalistic treatment, with a lot of prejudices."

So Ana Raya stopped studying. "But I have always reinvented myself. I didn't stay at home. I tried 'oposiciones' [public sector exams]. But I had the thorn in my side of passing Selectividad [university entrance exams], which I had been denied. In 2002-2003 I went to Cadiz to a residence for people with disabilities and passed Selectividad to study graphic design."

Ana Raya, creator of the Rayada Life Project
Ana Raya, creator of the Rayada Life Project Pepe Marín

A lot of operations

So she set to work but it was never going to be an easy journey and there were a lot of operations along the way. To date Ana has had 12 operations and her body has suffered the consequences of the disease.

"But I have always looked for a way out. The question is: 'If I can't do this, what else can I do?' So I gave computer classes to older people, for example. I reinvented myself to be able to work sitting down. I studied to become a community manager and I worked with social media. But being in front of a computer is painful, I have had three cervical operations that limit me a lot." Despite this, Ana continued with her education and did a Master's in accessibility in Smart City and Ciudad Global.

It was in 2016 when she started posting on YouTube. "One night while lying in bed in hospital, I started recording myself. I couldn't sleep. I started to tell my story," Ana explains. She goes on to say, "I wanted to show what it's like to live with a disability." She then went on to post her travel, disability awareness and inclusive tourism videos.

"The idea is to encourage people to go out in spite of the barriers they might encounter. Because they encounter many barriers on a daily basis." Ana's videos are acidic and funny. "One of the characteristics of my content is sarcastic humour. I have that touch and I like to give it to the videos."

Another is the emotion. "I do it above all from the heart. I give visibility to a woman who has reinvented herself eight hundred thousand times, a woman with a disability due to illness, which is not due to accident or from birth."

The aim of Rayada Life project is to break down prejudices and stereotypes about people with disabilities: "To show with humour that disability can be de-dramatised and that it is possible to have a full life, that we are not all bitter and in the Instagram videos you can see it perfectly."

A question of concepts

Concepts are important to Ana Raya. "I am a content creator and a communicator - I am not an influencer - of issues that I have suffered since I was a child." She gives examples. "I have had barriers since I was little because the buses were not accessible, the first wheelchair I had was a piece of junk. I have experienced the evolution, I have had prejudices that have infantilised me. I was 18 years old and I was still treated like a child. I want to break all of this so that the new generations change."

For Ana nobody with a disability in the classroom should be left out and should be included in games and everything else. "That's why my Instagram is for you to put on your accessibility glasses." And so that no one looks the other way again.

-What has social media given you?

-Social contact, the satisfaction of receiving messages. People tell me 'you don't know how much it has helped me to identify with this' or 'it has happened to me too'. Or they simply tell me about their experience because their environment doesn't understand them. Sharing this feeling and feeling that I am helping helps me. I am doing something that is right, I am helping, I am opening many people's eyes, I am breaking down prejudices that have haunted me all my life."

Ana goes on to say, "People come up to me and tell me about their lives. With the videos people identify you and you go viral". It happened to her the other day at hospital. "A guy came up to me showing me his scar. He told me he followed me on Instagram and we got talking."

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