Twitter has been important for disability activism – it’s getting lost under Elon Musk

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Before buying Twitter, Elon Musk said a public platform for free speech is a “societal imperative for a functioning democracy.” As part of this, he asserted that Twitter being “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive is extremely important to the future of civilization.”

However, it has become clear that people with disabilities and their conditions of access do not feature in Musk’s vision of an inclusive platform. In Musk’s sweeping restructuring of the company (mostly through mass layoffs), Twitter’s accessibility team was wiped out. There is no evidence that accessibility roles have shifted to other areas of the business.

This means that there is no longer an effective way for Twitter users to report inaccessible features on the website or app. It also means that there is no dedicated team to add or improve accessibility features. Without them, it’s hard to imagine how Twitter can continue to align with frameworks like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These changes mean that people with disabilities will find it difficult to participate in Twitter’s many online communities. Opportunities for highlight important issuestell stories, exchange knowledgeand bringing people together to drive change are lost.

It also poses a threat to the community of disabled activists, who use Twitter and other social media to promote their rights, challenge political conditions and celebrate their identity.

Disability activists argue that disability is a result of the way society is organized. The way environments are built, people’s attitudes towards accessibility, and political decisions all contribute to making the world more inaccessible. But the work of activists has helped dismantle these systems, for example by creating the Disability Justice Framework.

Online activism is sometimes disparagingly dismissed as ineffective or “slacktivism”. But platforms like Twitter allow people with disabilities to connect when it’s difficult or impossible to meet in offline spaces.

Activists are also using social media to increase visibility on issues ignored by mainstream media. For example, people with disabilities mobilized online during the 2012 Paralympic Games to resist austerity measures introduced by the UK government.

Twitter has become an important tool to illustrate that accessibility and disability justice are global issues. People from all over the world were able to build solidarity, collaborate on projects and discuss how disability intersects with other aspects of their identitysuch as gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

Read more: Black Twitter’s expected demise would make it harder to publicize police brutality and discuss racism

Inaccessibility in activism

Some are less convinced by the influence of Twitter. Research in Sweden explored how Twitter users can influence disability policy and argued that online social change is limited. Indeed, Twitter’s most active contributors are individuals, who struggle to create and maintain widespread engagement. The researchers found that the contributions of people with disabilities to Twitter were rarely amplified by other Tweeters, unless they were linked to advocacy organizations and politicians, or known to the media.

I have written about the struggle of young people with disabilities to promote their ideas in disability activist circles. Often this happens because spaces for participation are inaccessible and other activists may restrict or undermine their contributions.

Musk’s plans for Twitter will mean more activists with disabilities will find it difficult to access the platform and promote their ideas. For example, paying “blue tick” scheme will exclude many who cannot afford to pay for verification. This includes people with disabilities, who overall have higher levels of poverty than others.

Its fixation on free speech also fails to explain how incidents of violence and hate will be prevented on the platform. People with disabilities and other communities often exposed to violence need to be protected from the platform.

The future of Twitter

Twitter’s trajectory is dangerous for disability social movements, but hope should not be lost. The platform can still be a place where ideas flourish, but some things need to change.

First, Musk should reinstate Twitter’s accessibility team. And it should secure funding so they can continue to address accessibility barriers and create new assistive technologies.

He should meet with people with disabilities and organizations (like the International Disability Alliance) to understand the requirements for a safe and accessible platform. Another option would be to set up an international disability advisory committee, which would be compensated for its time and knowledge and could support long-term work to make Twitter more accessible.

Some would say disabled activists should ditch Twitter and find alternative spaces. While it is important for activists to use other resources (online and offline), the exclusion of people with disabilities should never be acceptable. If Musk wants Twitter to be an important space for democracy and debate, it must be safe and accessible for everyone to participate.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The conversation

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Miro Griffiths does not work for, consult, own stock, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

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