Op-Ed: The Destruction of Twitter Is Disastrous for Disabled People

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Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Their work is featured in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, The Guardian, and Business Insider. Charlton-Dailey often uses their platform to spotlight issues that affect disabled people.

While it's always been a bit of a hellscape, Twitter is in even more disarray than usual. After Elon Musk bought the platform for a whopping $44 billion (with a b), there was outrage and a mass exodus from many users.

But for those of us that have made Twitter our home, we don't want to leave. The changes feel like a mourning period.

Twitter is vital to the disability community. It’s the easiest place to ask questions, share our lives, and connect with each other.

Why Twitter Matters to Me

Twitter became a lifeline for people with disabilities during the pandemic, especially when it was particularly unsafe for those with chronic illnesses to attend social situations in-person. We shared our COVID-related fears, frustrations, and tips on how to survive.

For many disabled people, Twitter has served as a place of validation and acceptance long before COVID-19. After years of being ignored by medical professionals or being dismissed by family and friends, we found a community that seemed to say, "We believe you."

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always smooth sailing. There are always trolls and people who tell you you’re faking it. But for the most part, I ignore them. And there are easy ways to do so. I have a substantial Twitter following, and I rely on the ability to turn off notifications from people I don't follow.

But now our wonderful community is at risk. As the site becomes even more deregulated in favor of "free speech," I fear that marginalized people will become easy targets for hate. 

Problematic Changes Underway

I am especially worried that Musk fired the entirety of the Accessibility team. The team, led by their own experiences as disabled people, ensured that all users could access the site with ease. They were responsible for changes to fonts and layouts to make the site easier to read, as well as alt-text reminders to help the visually impaired understand images.

Eliminating this team demonstrates a clear disregard for the needs of the disabled. It says that we don't matter.

Verification is another concern. Disabled activists like myself who've been granted Twitter verification (as denoted by a blue check mark) are seen as trustworthy sources. But now, anyone can purchase that blue check. Legitimacy will erode, and misinformation will spread more easily.

What's Next?

Over the course of the last few days, there’s been a mix of emotions within disability Twitter. Many seeking other avenues for online community. However, a great amount of us are determined not to have our community stripped away from us. I fall into this category.

If it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn’t have most of my friends. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am in my career.

At a time when those with all the privilege are trying to silence those of us who’ve been voiceless for so long, I intend to make as much noise as possible.

I’m exactly the sort of voice Musk wants to get rid of, which is why I'm not going anywhere. 

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.