People with disabilities fear that changes to Twitter under Elon Musk’s leadership will leave them behind


Twitter has long been an essential public space for people with disabilities because of its unique look and reach. But now many people worry that Elon Musk’s recent cuts and changes will disproportionately harm disability communities.

Twitter employees tweeted that recent layoffs included The entire accessibility engineering teamwhich has helped make the website usable by people with disabilities, particularly those with sensory challenges, mobility issues, and visual or hearing impairments.

Additionally, several people said they’ve experienced more harassment about their disabilities in recent weeks as Musk dismantled the infrastructure needed to mitigate hate speech and abuse. Earlier this week, Musk sent What has been described as a capable tweet He compared the criticism of a former employee to “a tragic case of an adult starter in Torit”.

Amanda Talty, president and CEO of the American Tourette Association, said she was concerned that this kind of behavior from the platform’s owner could encourage others on Twitter to follow suit.

“It perpetuates a misunderstanding of what Tourette actually is, but it also diminishes this dangerous condition and gives a green light to people in the general public to do things like this,” Talley said.

Deaf actress Marlee Matlin chirp on Thursday about the dismantling of the Access team, which confirmed the site was compatible with screen readers and provided alt text and automatic subtitle support for video and audio tweets.

Twitter has “virtually leveled the playing field” for people with disabilities, Matlin said, and has evolved into a “barrier-free game changer.” She hinted that she might be pausing her account in protest of Musk’s decision to fire the Access team.

Twitter and Musk did not respond to requests for comment. Twitter has laid off most of its communications team.

Twitter has always been uniquely appropriate for people with disabilities in a way that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere. Since it mainly focuses on the written word, it is easier to use for the blind, deaf, and those who have problems with speech or fine motor control, Compared to social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, which focus on visuals and audio.

Twitter also has a wide reach. Platforms like Reddit and Mastodon group people into specific community spaces or servers, making it difficult for posts to catch the attention of the general public. Many people with disabilities use Twitter to organize businesses, raise funds and manage them.

Now many critical teams necessary to keep the site running have been cut, and fears are growing that the site may collapse.

“Being able to be seen online was a lifeline, it was literally a lifeline for a lot of us,” said Imani Barbarin, a prominent advocate for the rights of the disabled and cerebral palsy sufferer.

Before Twitter, Barbarine said she often felt isolated and wasn’t able to connect easily with others struggling with her condition. She has now amassed more than 173,000 followers and has often used the platform to launch awareness campaigns on issues such as coronavirus safety precautions.

Stephanie Tait, 37, of Salem, OR. She was isolated during the pandemic because she is immunocompromised and has health issues associated with Lyme disease. Twitter is the main way you interact with the world.

She said that there is always some harassment and empowerment on social media platforms. But since Musk took over, she now receives twenty malicious messages a day. It got so bad she made her mailbox private.

“I feel like the whole thing turned out to be one big joke,” said Tate. “It’s funny that you beat down different marginalized communities because Elon finds it funny. But it makes the site unusable for a lot of us.”

Tait attempted to start a Mastodon account, but so far she says she finds the site confusing and perhaps inaccessible for those with neurological differences, like herself. She said a more visible social media platform like TikTok is also not a great option because she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing photos and video on days when her health conditions make it difficult to get out of bed, shower or get dressed.

David Radcliffe, 40, of North Hollywood, Calif., a writer with cerebral palsy, said he tried to leave Twitter in 2020, only to return a few weeks later. Without Twitter, he said, it’s hard to communicate. Many of the in-person communication events are in small spaces that are inaccessible to his wheelchair or require him to stand for hours with crutches.

Twitter, he said, “gives our voices a place to be reckoned on our own terms.”

“There are a lot of places where disabled people are not seen,” he said. “Twitter’s loss is just another blow to that and it increases invisibility.”

Twitter has been a critical way for people with disabilities to share resources and research, said Aparna Nair, an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. She said she has epilepsy and does not have the same ability as non-disabled researchers to travel and share her work at various conferences.

If changes to Twitter lead to fewer users or more technical issues, it could affect some disabled business owners, who use the site to market their crafts, products, and services.

This includes Abe Oyewole, 32, of Calgary, Canada, who has multiple disabilities. She uses Twitter, where she has more than 25,000 followers, to sell items from her store, Bibipins, such as compression stockings or stickers with her designs. She said she’s tried marketing her business on other platforms, but Twitter is where she’s had the most success.

“A person who is able can get a different job if their business fails, but for us, that’s often the only option,” she said.

Many other disabled people rely on the platform to help find ways to pay for basic needs. Victor Manuel, 24, of New York City used Twitter as an online fundraiser to help pay for housing, medicine and health care. He has multiple disabilities and immunodeficiencies, but temporarily lost his family’s support when he came out as transgender.

“Twitter has completely changed my life, even nothing compares,” said Manuel, who asked that only his first and middle name be used to protect his privacy. “Without a platform like Twitter to easily share these things, I think a lot of people are going to suffer in very real ways.”

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