Robin Wilson‐Beattie: Hi. I’m Robin Wilson‐Beattie, and I am a dis­abil­i­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tor based in San Francisco, California. I apol­o­gize for being late. Like, every­thing hap­pened this morn­ing.

What I do is I do dis­abil­i­ty and sex­u­al­i­ty edu­ca­tion. And activism and advo­ca­cy around sex­u­al­i­ty and dis­abil­i­ty issues, and repro­duc­tive health issues. And I want to teach the world that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties have the right and abil­i­ty to give and receive plea­sure.

On Twitter, I am @sexAbled, and I tweet about nation­al and glob­al issues relat­ed to human sex­u­al­i­ty, as well as how it inter­sects with dis­abil­i­ty and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, race, gen­der, and cul­ture.

Now, dis­abil­i­ty is a nat­ur­al part of the human con­di­tion. One bil­lion peo­ple (which is you know, rough­ly about 15% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion), are peo­ple liv­ing with some form of dis­abil­i­ty. And to have a dis­abil­i­ty means that a per­son has a phys­i­cal, or men­tal, or cog­ni­tive con­di­tion that impacts your abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in soci­ety. This is a med­ical def­i­n­i­tion, but it’s due to biol­o­gy. But it’s also a social def­i­n­i­tion, because we’re talk­ing about the bar­ri­ers that lim­it your par­tic­i­pa­tion in your com­mu­ni­ties. And I’m a per­son with both vis­i­ble dis­abil­i­ties and hid­den dis­abil­i­ties, so I am also one of that num­ber. But regard­less of where peo­ple in the world live, we face sim­i­lar issues in our strug­gles sur­round­ing inclu­sion and access.

Okay. So why Twitter? Twitter has actu­al­ly real­ly become a crit­i­cal dig­i­tal plat­form for advo­cates and activists in many social jus­tice move­ments to share thoughts and ideas, and events, and to par­tic­i­pate in actions relat­ed to their cause. It’s free. It’s acces­si­ble. And it allows peo­ple to pub­licly dis­sem­i­nate their thoughts, infor­ma­tion, and their news real­ly quick­ly and real­ly effi­cient­ly.

What makes Twitter par­tic­u­lar­ly unique in the social media sphere is the very open and pub­lic way that peo­ple are able to con­nect around the world and have unpar­al­leled access to orga­ni­za­tions, busi­ness­es, pub­lic offi­cials and fig­ures. Like, you con­nect with peo­ple real­ly quick­ly, real­ly open­ly, in a way that you can’t con­nect some­times with a phone call or writ­ing a let­ter.

So why is Twitter an ide­al plat­form, though, for dis­abil­i­ty advo­cates and activists who want to cre­ate change in their com­mu­ni­ties? And like I men­tioned, first off it is free! And one bar­ri­er to access that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties face are eco­nom­ic. Across the world, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties have less eco­nom­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion and high­er rates of pover­ty than peo­ple with­out dis­abil­i­ties, and this is part­ly because peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties expe­ri­ence bar­ri­ers in access­ing ser­vices that many able‐bodied peo­ple take for grant­ed, includ­ing health, edu­ca­tion, employ­ment, and trans­porta­tion. As well as infor­ma­tion. And these dif­fi­cul­ties are even more exac­er­bat­ed in less‐advantaged com­mu­ni­ties.

With Twitter, you don’t have to leave your house in order to con­nect, and orga­nize, and edu­cate. And as such, it’s accom­mo­dat­ing for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties that can face acquir­ing trans­porta­tion to meet up with oth­er like‐minded indi­vid­u­als. Like going to a meet­ing; that takes more than just takes effort, it takes ener­gy, but also is the trans­port even there? But it also offers peer sup­port in a way that is unique, because peo­ple can eas­i­ly find and fol­low and inter­act with oth­ers who share and iden­ti­fy with your expe­ri­ence.

And Twitter also has some real­ly cool fea­tures like as far as acces­si­bil­i­ty goes, they even offer a way to embed image descrip­tions into a pho­to­graph so that peo­ple with visu­al dis­abil­i­ties can know what’s going on, and what’s being depict­ed in a scene or a pic­ture.

So how are peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties using Twitter to start the rev­o­lu­tion? Well, a prime exam­ple of how Twitter has been amaz­ing­ly effec­tive in get­ting out the word is at this hash­tag #ADAPTandRESIST. And National ADAPT is a… It’s in the United States. And it’s a grass­roots dis­abil­i­ty advo­ca­cy group. And they orga­nize non­vi­o­lent civ­il dis­obe­di­ence actions and protest in order to protest injus­tice, and to pro­tect the civ­il lib­er­ties of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

And in September 2017, there was impend­ing leg­is­la­tion from the love­ly Trump admin­is­tra­tion to repeal parts of this Affordable Care Act in America, that would make cuts to Medicaid. For peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, this could be life‐threatening because Medicaid pro­vides the health­care for peo­ple dis­abil­i­ties. And also, in home med­ical care you can select your car­ers to help you, so you can stay out of liv­ing in insti­tu­tions and nurs­ing homes. Because that’s what they’ll do, put you in there. But hav­ing sup­port allows you to live inde­pen­dent­ly in the com­mu­ni­ty and have that auton­o­my. And it also is cheap­er but you know, they haven’t seen it like that.

So, with this tweet, what they did was they used this hash­tag #ADAPTandRESIST, and as you can see they put it on the backs of their shirts. But they used this hash­tag add to tweet their activ­i­ties, the actions. And and they did live updates, using Twitter, of what was hap­pen­ing, what was going on, and gar­ner­ing sup­port in the forms of every­body shar­ing that infor­ma­tion and it going out every­where, and peo­ple are see­ing these images. But also not so much about just shar­ing the infor­ma­tion, but as well as fundrais­ing. They were able to raise funds through this. But also to edu­cate peo­ple about why the pro­posed cuts were dan­ger­ous. And as you can see, they had sit‐ins at the Senate build­ing to kill this bill that was intro­duced to cut Medicaid. And so peo­ple all over the world saw these images of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties being dragged out of their chairs and being hand­cuffed. (And it’s like, you can’t push your wheel­chair if you’re in hand­cuffs.) But they use this very proud hash­tag, #ADAPTandRESIST, and that was picked up all over the world from peo­ple tweet­ing this.

And as a result, at BuzzFeed, that was the num­ber one hash­tag for that. And the nation­al news also picked up on it as a result of this action and every­thing. And here we have Rachel Maddow, a reporter for MSNBC, a nation­al news sta­tion at home.

But hash­tags are also used for rep­re­sen­ta­tion and for empow­er­ment as far as pro­mot­ing inclu­sion. And recent hash­tags such as #DisabledAndCute, which was start­ed by Keah Brown right before Valentine’s Day to talk about self‐love and empow­er­ment and cel­e­brat­ing that as a per­son with a dis­abil­i­ty. And that was one Twitter trend. And you know, see­ing your­self and see­ing oth­ers that are like you, that’s very pow­er­ful. And peo­ple own­ing what it is that they have about them­selves.

And anoth­er one that’s recent­ly been trend­ing has been #HotPersonInAWheelchair. It was in response to… It was a tweet that was a cou­ple of years old, where this guy said there’s noth­ing more sad than see­ing a hot per­son in a wheel­chair. And peo­ple were like, Yeah, you’re cry­ing because you can’t get with this #HotPersonInAWheelchair.” So that was pret­ty cool.

But, anoth­er form where peo­ple are using Twitter for advo­ca­cy, activism, and infor­ma­tion is Twitter chats. You’ve heard of the #MeToo hash­tag and peo­ple talk­ing about sex­u­al assault, sex­u­al harass­ment in com­mu­ni­ties. But peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties are like, Hey. Wait a minute. We’re get­ting com­plete­ly left out of the con­ver­sa­tion,” because peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, on aver­age we have a high­er rate than able‐bodied peo­ple of being sex­u­al­ly assault­ed or hurt. And so this Twitter chat was a very impor­tant con­ver­sa­tion that Alice Wong, who is the founder of the Disability Visibility Project, got togeth­er with another—and this is where groups are also get­ting togeth­er with oth­er social jus­tice groups. And they got togeth­er with Rooted in Rights and host­ed a Twitter chat where peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties were able to talk about their MeToo moments.

But not just talk about it, there were also things that were talked about— okay, what about self‐defense? And peo­ple were like, Well you know, most of the time self‐defense is built up for peo­ple who are able‐bodied.” Well, some­one else was able to share across the coun­try, Hey. This per­son is doing self‐defense class­es for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and mak­ing accom­mo­da­tions and fig­ur­ing out dif­fer­ent ways.” And so that was [some­thing] unique that came out of that chat, and peo­ple were like, Oh! Hey. I want to see if we can find some­body to start this in my com­mu­ni­ty.”

Another thing that came out of this then was SE Smith is a writer and a founder of [Disabled] Writers, an orga­ni­za­tion for peo­ple that want to hire peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to write about issues. And they wrote an arti­cle about dis­abil­i­ty and inti­mate part­ner vio­lence as a result of this chat.

But Twitter chats can also be used for oth­er things. In my work I used it to find out about sex toys and dis­abil­i­ty, and the kinds of things that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, what they want from man­u­fac­tur­ers of sex toys, sug­ges­tions, and also want­ed to talk to retail­ers about things that they could do. And I did this Twitter chat ear­li­er in the year in January. And there were peo­ple from all over the world that were on this chat.

And here was some­body from Berlin, as a mat­ter of fact, who post­ed when we were talk­ing about how can retail busi­ness­es assist cus­tomers with dis­abil­i­ties on hav­ing a bet­ter expe­ri­ence in their shop. This per­son and talked about Other Nature Shop in Berlin, and how not only the shop is per­fect­ly acces­si­ble, but they’re like if you’re house­bound you can’t reach their store they’ll come see you with a selec­tion of toys, and it’s free with­in Berlin. And we were all like wow, that is amaz­ing. What an idea! So that was that.

Tollan, Jeff. You Make a Very Good Point. We’re Changing That Right Now.” Tweet. @jefftollan (Twitter), April 23, 2018.

But also, Twitter works for chang­ing lan­guage and ideas and thoughts. Because often­times the media will use the phrase wheelchair‐bound.” It’s not…we’re not bound to it. It’s a mobil­i­ty device. Actually it helps lib­er­ate you and allows you to enter the com­mu­ni­ty. And this is where the reporter had wrote, Teenager bound by wheel­chair to enter in first Lego com­pe­ti­tion.” And this gen­tle­men wrote, We’re not bound to our wheel­chairs.” And as a result, the edi­tor was like, You make a good point. We’re chang­ing that lan­guage right now.” And that’s a pow­er­ful form of show­ing that hey…that’s a form of being able to do direct action and to be able to get in con­tact with peo­ple that can help make change, and to edu­cate.

And so this is how the rev­o­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing. And it’s pret­ty amaz­ing about how awe­some Twitter has been for orga­niz­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and for mak­ing and cre­at­ing some real change in this world. Thank you very much. And you can find me on Twitter at @sexAbled. Or my web site. Or SexAbled on Facebook. And thank you.

Further Reference

Session page


Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.