Entertainment and Media Reflections

With Twitter Crumbling, It Feels Like The World Is Collapsing On Disabled People

I don’t want to leave the platform and I feel like I am mourning it in real time.

They call us the “chronically online,” those who “need to touch grass,” the people who need to “log off,” but for disabled people, online spaces have been a lifeline in a world that seeks to erase and eradicate us. Even prior to the pandemic, platforms like Twitter helped us to feel less alone and gaslit by our experiences and allowed us to contextualize our experiences in a way that gave us peace.

When I started CrutchesAndSpice.com, I was coming off another major depressive episode and was feeling hopeless about the future. It had taken a long time for me to find a job. My resume always “looked good” but I could see the enthusiasm drain from the interviewee’s faces when they clocked my crutches and, now that I had found a job, it was only part-time, and I was spending more on inaccessible transportation than I was making on my checks. Despite all the tv shows and films that I watched, none really showed what it was like trying to be an adult—or any person—with a disability. It was like we all hit adulthood and disappeared.

I was raised to overcome my disability in quiet ways and always outperform people’s expectations, but that didn’t matter much once I was no longer cute and “inspirational.” And, because I was “normalized” in school from childhood, I didn’t have many disabled friends who could relate, and any time I spoke on these things, I was just told to work harder.

That is—until I got to use Twitter more often.

I set up my Twitter profile in 2009 but didn’t spend too much on the platform until I started my first job outside of college in 2014. I had begun using my blog to write stories about being brought up as a Black, disabled child because that was something I never got to see growing up. I shared these stories on Facebook, but then branched out to Twitter and began engaging in conversations like #CripTheVote.

Through those hashtags, I met other disabled people, particularly, Black disabled people who affirmed my experiences and were vulnerable enough to let into their worlds. I was finally seeing the representation I had always wanted and disabled people—Black disabled people were in the directors’ chairs creating our own narratives and forcing people to see us.

Moved by the community, I went to Graduate School for Global Communications with the express purpose of telling better disability stories and utilizing online spaces to create representation and community. Soon, I started creating my own hashtags and online movements like #AbledsAreWeird and #PatientsAreNotFaking.

Through the disability community on Twitter, it is no exaggeration to say that the disability community saved my life, and it is through knowing them that I have found my purpose. I found answers to questions I didn’t even know to ask and support from people who only know me through their phones.

Without their grace, kindness, and understanding, I can honestly say I don’t think I would be alive right now.

The disability communities and discourse that was done prior to 2020 became critically important during the pandemic. We knew that the ways we discussed disability would mean life and death for thousands of disabled folks across the United States. Disabled folks, being criminally underrepresented, now more than ever were reliant upon nondisabled people’s view of the value of our lives as they debated whether it was prudent to participate in COVID-19 mitigation efforts or not.

It was important that we shared information and resources and information with one another as the entire world had stopped more for us than any other group. While a lot of companies focused on the importance of disability in DEI work and how the pandemic proved accessibility and inclusion of us was always necessary, they fail to see the full picture. While the world finally came to the realization disabled people were right the entire time and that accommodations were for all, everything halted completely for disabled people.

We were left for dead.

Hospitals quickly reached capacity and medical rationing guidelines meant that we were at the back of the line to get care. Society and the system saw no point in saving us. On top of that, we were cut off from our regular medical care, services, and education almost entirely. We had to sit and listen as people debated the merits of a disabled life and whether the economy should be punished for our existence.

We were isolated completely, but we were able to connect and come together in our fear and anger over how our community was being pushed to the margins. We could make it to the timeline even if we couldn’t make it out of our homes and despite a world that had forgotten about us.

And now a billionaire has bought Twitter.

It seems cartoonish that he would buy the platform that kept so many disabled people connected and therefore alive (for a greatly inflated price) and then seemingly scuttles it with bad decision after bad decision. For all the talk about how keeping disabled people alive throughout the pandemic was the greatest threat to the economy, it was he who cost corporations billions in mere hours.

Thousands have lost their jobs or quit because of his “leadership” and the guardrails are off as content moderation disappears and accessibility no longer matters to the company.

Aside from the increased threat of harassment, the greatest threat to the disability community is all the advocacy, networks and supports we created on the platform could be wiped off of it.

I fear that if the platform disappears, the visibility that we’ve built—demanded—will be gone as well.

All my sarcasm over the last few weeks has been out of fear of what seems to be this eventuality. I am looking for ways for us to continue to be connected, but I don’t think there’s any platform that can replicate the magic we created on Twitter.

I don’t want to leave the platform and I feel like I am mourning it in real time.

I don’t want to say goodbye.

I have decided to stick it out as long as possible, but before it’s curtains, I just want to say to each of you: thank you.

Thank you for saving my life and making it make sense. Thank you for the trust and privilege of getting to know you. Thank you for helping me understand my purpose. Thank you for helping me reach my dreams. Thank you for being unapologetically yourselves. Thank you for this community.

I’ll see you on the next one—wherever we go.

6 comments

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve not been using Twitter much at all for over two years, but before it became to emotionally fraught for me to use, it was where I first discovered the Disability Justice community and the life changing work of organizers like Alice Wong and savvy communications experts like you.

  2. I can’t help but think that perhaps destroying Twitter was Musk’s whole point in this exercise. Despite its obvious flaws, Twitter is where so many marginalized communities were able to connect with each other and spread awareness of the issues that mattered to them onto the world stage. It’s not just us who will have to try and find a new way to shout out the things we see wrong with the world, and I have no idea what can take the place of Twitter. I never posted anything, but I read a lot of content from there. This all just really feels like a deliberate effort to shut people who aren’t like Elon Musk up, and I hate him for that. It’s getting hard to hold on to the hope that things can change for the better when we have seen how our very lives were considered not important enough for people to be willing to wear a flipping mask and when they tried to increase funding for caregiving that was going too far. Imani, your words and fierceness are so powerfully motivating to me, and I love how you are willing to just call out the bs when you see it. Thank you so very much for that. We’ll see what happens with Twitter, and maybe all the people who are losing this important place to communicate can find another way to get their messages out. We have to. It’s too important not to.

    1. I appreciate that. As for Musk’s motives I go back and forth. Sometimes I think it’s intentional and other times I feel like he’s just a useful fool.

  3. Imani, I found you on Tik Tok. As a black, abled woman, I recognize my privilege and it brings me great pride to share your content with others around me because I love learning more, doing more, and just engaging with the world of disability advocacy. You are a true force, a beacon of light, even when you didn’t have to be, for many of us. I am forever in awe of your humor, spunk, and mind as you articulate yourself so well across so many topics. I can always count on you for a lesson, a kick ass think piece, and your vulnerability, which I am so thankful for. Thank you for all that you have done and this was so beautifully written…sending you love during this time and I don’t know what we’d do without these platforms. Twitter provides so much space and relief for us, but I’m grateful that amazing people like you exist on and off this thing we call the internet.

  4. Not saying this is going to be just like Twitter, but have you looked into Mastodon? There’s a vibrant disability community there. You might like it.

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