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

* – Individuals who have later been verified on further attempts

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.

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.

12 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.

    Like

      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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