Opinion

Hey Twitter, where are all the verified disabled people?

It was on 9 June when Twitter passed judgement on my notability and authenticity: “unfortunately, your request to verify your account has been denied.” The so-called ‘blue tick’, long sought after by many users on the platform, was on offer to accounts again after Twitter recently re-opened applications, but alas, it was not to be bestowed upon me on this occasion.

There are moments where it feels a little egotistical of me to complain that I didn’t receive a tiny blue icon which classes my journalism and campaigning as “notable”, but when you spend time listing your previous achievements and successes, only to receive a short rejection email, it’s understandable that someone’s pride may be somewhat dented by such a brief dismissal.

As disappointing as it is, I’ve had to march on, hoping that the 30-day countdown before I can apply again goes as quickly as possible.

I had already written about my hopes that impersonation would be an important factor for consideration when it comes to verification (after another account chose to impersonate me once I called out ableism), but in a Twitter Space on 4 June, an employee from Twitter’s trust team revealed that “impersonation is not something we’re taking into consideration”. This is despite the fact that this act of malice is often deployed against marginalised creators.

Up until this point, this article may read as an exercise in self-pity, except it soon became clear that I wasn’t the only disabled person who had had their verification request rejected. Dr Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and a good friend of mine with more than 28,000 followers, tweeted on 3 June: “Feeling disappointed that @Verified denied my application hours after submission. I provided MULTIPLE instances of news coverage over the last 6 to 12 months and referenced my #JustAskDontGrab campaign, a hashtag used thousands of times.

“But all of that dismissed in an afternoon.”

Viewing this tweet, in isolation, as evidence that Twitter’s verification system is unfairly dismissing disabled influencers would be ill-advised, and several outlets did turn down my pitch on this issue – no doubt because it is, at the moment, purely anecdotal.

But even so, Amy isn’t the only prominent disabled person to have had their application rejected. There’s a long list:

    1. Dr Amy KavanaghVisually impaired activist and founder of #JustAskDontGrab
    2. Dr Hannah Barham-Brown: Disabled campaigner and deputy leader of the Women’s Equality Party, a registered political party in the UK
    3. Kate StanforthModel, dancer and activist
    4. Justin Yarbrough: Blind freelance journalist and accessibility expert
    5. Brandon ColeAward-winning blind accessibility advocate and video game consultant
    6. Grayson Schultz: Disability activist and sex educator
    7. Charis HillDisabled writer, speaker, and activist
    8. Rikki PoynterDeaf YouTuber and campaigner
    9. Marin KaydenAutistic activist
    10. Gui Fernandes: Deaf YouTuber
    11. Dan MalitoDisabled gamer
    12. Katie PennickAccessible transport campaigner
    13. Angharad Paget JonesAccessibility consultant
    14. Faith Martin: Disabled journalist
    15. Teona StudemireDisabled queer writer and Twitch streamer
    16. Wonder CrippleDisabled activist
    17. Peter MorleyDisabled patient advocate
    18. NASCAR SammyAutism advocate
    19. Shona Louise: Disabled writer, photographer and theatre blogger
    20. Ellis PalmerBBC journalist
    21. Anna CzamanDisability activist
    22. Alan ChauletChief Operating Officer at wheelchair crash-test company All Wheels Up.
    23. Alim JaydaHard of hearing presenter, actor and sign language interpreter
    24. Jennifer KretchmerDisabled producer, actor, bestselling author, tabletop game designer and streamer
    25. Robin Wilson-BeattieDisabled sex and reproductive health educator
    26. Lucy Dawson: Disabled model and activist
    27. Tony GovernmentDisabled activist
    28. SilverDisabled creator
    29. Ana: Deaf content creator
    30. MysticMoon: Disabled designer
    31. Clinton Lexa: Accessibility Product Manager at Ubisoft
    32. Chris RobinsonKnown online as DeafGamersTV, Chris is a Deaf accessibility reviewer and consultant
    33. Dermot DevlinFounder of the disabled rights and disability blog, My Way Access
    34. Emma Vogelmann: Policy advisor at the disability charity Scope, freelance writer and disability consultant
    35. Cristina Serråo: Lived Experience Ambassador in NHS England and Improvement working on bringing coproduction to forefront of healthcare.
    36. Tanja Kollodzieyski: Disabled blogger and literary scientist
    37. Jen SouthallDeaf professional athlete and accessibility advocate
    38. Katherine Kampko: Disabled model, actor, activist and inclusion consultant
    39. Tiara MerciusDisability activist and juris doctorate (JD)
    40. Gabe CazaresDisabled accessibility advocate
    41. Kayle Hill: Disability advocate and writer
    42. Courtney Craven: Founder of Can I Play That?
    43. ‘Autistic Science Person’: Autistic neuroscience graduate
    44. Sabrina Epstein: Disabled person working in public health policy
    45. The Autisticats: A group of autistic activists
    46. Matthew Broberg-Moffitt: Autistic kid lit and cookbook writer
    47. Tara Voelker: Xbox Accessibility Program Manager
    48. John Loeppky: Disabled freelance writer
    49. Mark WebbDisabled speaker
    50. Suswati Basu: Former ITV and Channel 4 News journalist
    51. Cara LisetteMental health blogger and eating disorder campaigner
    52. René BrooksADHD campaigner
    53. Shannon Dingle: Disabled author
    54. Dr Zoë Ayres: Mental health advocate
    55. Darrell BowlesAccessibility consultant
    56. Robert KingettFreelance journalist and advocate
    57. Kaitlyn YangVFX supervisor
    58. Rachael RoseDisability advocate
    59. Dr Liz Powell: Disabled psychologist, author and speaker
    60. Brianne BennessChronically ill podcaster and #NEISVoid founder
    61. Morénike Giwa Onaiwu: Disability, race, gender and HIV justice advocate and writer
    62. Zipporah: Disabled queer writer
    63. Sara Gibbs: Autistic author and activist
    64. Syreeta NolanDisabled writer
    65. Veronica LewisVisually impaired blogger
    66. Laura McConnell: Autistic and dyslexic writer, keynote speaker and radio presenter
    67. Haley Moss: Autistic author and attorney
    68. Margaret GelDisabled writer
    69. Paul Amadeus LaneAccessibility consultant and TV and radio personality
    70. Antonio I. Martinez: Disabled gamer
    71. Morgan BakerDeaf game developer and accessibility advocate
    72. Melly Maeh: Accessible gaming campaigner and blogger
    73. Luke Sam SowdenBlind blogger
    74. Lauren DelucaPresident and executive director of Chronic Illness Advocacy and Awareness Group (CIAAG)
    75. Ben Canham: Autistic advocate and YouTuber
    76. Dax EverrittDisabled blogger
    77. Sarah Boon: Autistic blogger
    78. Alicia Jarvis: Digital accessibility specialist, researcher and strategist
    79. Craig Ceecee: Disabled meteorologist
    80. Kathryn O’DriscollDisabled spoken word artist and poet
    81. Sarah Kurchak: Autistic author
    82. Wille Zante: Deaf writer and journalist
    83. Natasha Lipman: Chronically ill blogger and journalist
    84. Johnnie Jae: Disabled journalist, speaker, podcaster and advocate
    85. Gemma Stevenson: ICU World Champion, freelance broadcaster and journalist
    86. Lelainia Lloyd: Disabled artist and writer
    87. Amy Gravino: Autism sexuality advocate, consultant, author and international speaker
    88. Lydia Wilkins: Disabled journalist
    89. Kay Barrett: Disabled poet and cultural strategist
    90. Siena Castellon: Autistic neurodiversity advocate
    91. Karli Drew: Disabled activist and copywriter
    92. Hannah Hodgson: Disability activist and poet
    93. Autistic PB: Autism advocate and mental health activist
    94. Carlyn Zwarenstein: Freelance journalist and writer
    95. Allison Wallis: Freelance journalist and activist
    96. Rachael Gass: Commissioner on the DC Commission on Persons with Disabilities
    97. Tom Byford: Founder of @LGBTDisability
    98. Dr Kara Ayers: Disabled professor, researcher, writer and speaker
    99. Ashley Hubbard: Freelance journalist and ADHD activist
    100. Karen Kaiser (a.k.a. The Muslim Hippie): Mental health blogger and advocate
    101. Zemen Sarah Berhe: Black and disabled mental health activist and chemist
    102. Punteha van Terheyden: Disabled British-Iranian journalist
    103. Jade Bryan: Award-winning filmmaker and activist
    104. Elsa Sjunneson: Deafblind professor, historian, media critic and author
    105. Dani Donovan: ADHD artist, TikTok creator and public speaker

Organisations are also affected, such as:

  • Open Style Lab, a New York-based non-profit which works to make style accessible to everyone, and worked on a disability-friendly deodorant with Unilever.
  • Can I Play That?, a website dedicated to accessibility reviews of video games.
  • CreakyJoints.org, a digital community offering support to millions of arthritis patients and caregivers.
  • Deutscher Gehörlosen-Bundn (German Federation of the Deaf), the national association for deaf people in Germany.
  • Transport for All, a UK-based pan-impairment organisation with a focus on making travel accessible to disabled and older people.
  • CommunicationFIRST, a US-based non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting individuals who “are unable to rely on speech alone to be understood”.
  • Special Needs Jungle, a non-profit organisation which offers “resources, training and information for parents and carers of children and young people with special needs and disabilities”.

I’m sure there’s more people and organisations I have failed to pick up on. If that’s you, reach out to me on Twitter, and I’ll get you added.

Since first publishing this article, some handles may have changed and links have broken. Only a limited number of people have now been verified:

  1. Matthew CortlandChronically ill and disabled writer
  2. Pete Wharmby: Autistic writer and speaker
  3. Rebecca CokleyCivil rights activist
  4. John Pring: Disabled journalist and editor of Disability News Service
  5. Dr Frances Ryan: Disabled Guardian columnist and journalist
  6. Liam O’Dell: Deaf freelance journalist and campaigner
  7. Izzie Jani-Friend: Disabled journalist and campaigner
  8. Justin GDisabled activist
  9. Sara Luterman: Disabled journalist

Twitter is aware of this in some regard. One employee, speaking in an unofficial capacity, has already voiced their frustrations, and the social media platform plans to roll out a voluntary demographic survey “to better understand if our verification process is fair and unbiased”.

A Twitter spokesperson tells me over email: “Having a fair, equitable verification process is a priority and we strive to be consistent in how we’re assessing verification applications based on our policy criteria […] We’re working to introduce a voluntary demographic survey in the near future and will have more to share soon.”

Amid speculation that some applications could be processed automatically, the spokesperson went on to confirm that “trained agents” review each application against Twitter’s “official policy”. Of course, they couldn’t comment on individual cases, but shared common reasons for rejections, such as:

  • Their official website input doesn’t link to qualifying website (Wikipedia, blog post or personal website are not considered qualifying)
  • The email address to confirm authenticity in the application should be not be a personal email address
  • The official website that the person uses in their application doesn’t link to a website referencing the applicant’s name and/or Twitter account
  • News articles that reference the person are not from verified publications

There’s also the matter of timings. When I applied, I was told the process could “take up to seven days”. It actually took a couple of weeks, but people have been rejected in a matter of hours. Why?

The spokesperson got back to me once again: “If an account is not qualified based on some of those common reasons [shown above] (such as submitting a personal email address to confirm authenticity for example), then that can be the cause of a shorter response time to their verification application.”

Yet disabled people are arguing that they did meet the criteria, and with the number of rejected disabled accounts rising, more and more people are beginning to suspect bias, even before Twitter has rolled out its voluntary survey to help identify any instance of this happening.

With thanks to Poppy Field (@P0ppyField) for her support with this investigation.

13 comments

  1. I got over 7,500 followers and I got a big role at Council for Disabled Children which is one of the biggest disability organisations in the UK and I’m also a blogger part-time and I’m still not verified. I attempted in May 2021 and was unsuccessful and now when I try, I apparently don’t meet the follower threshold for being verified as an activist despite having over 7,000 followers.

    Like

  2. I tried to get verified twice – once in 2018 and once in early 2020 – as a disabled female city councillor who met the listed criteria. I used an official email address both times and submitted relevant links. Both were turned down with no real explanation.

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      1. Not since March time last year – I stood down in May as a result of the closure of the Access to Elected Office fund and it’s successor which is another scandal entirely, as is the behaviour of the council without a openly disabled councillor holding them to account for some of their decisions.

        Like

  3. That list was longer than the article 😉 I have only a couple of recent stories about me: being rejected from the Brandenburg dormitory as an Erasmus student indicating a disability issue. The case was then reversed by the international advisor on the German side. And now I only wait if I get one. My stay will be a huge story …

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