Net Neutrality, Accessibility, and the Disability Community
Let’s face it, social media can be a troll-infested, fetid dumpster fire polluting our timelines. There are days when I don’t want to be online. As I try to practice self-care, I invariably return to the Internet because it is my second home, my playground, my workshop.
Net neutrality is important to me because the Internet & social media are essential tools in my activism & social participation. I’m the Founder of the Disability Visibility Project®, a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. With the DVP, I’ve been able to build community & amplify our media to the public with Twitter chats, a podcast, and blog posts. As a co-partner in #CripTheVote, an online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people, I’ve seen first-hand the power of hashtags that create a space for action and conversation. Without net neutrality, I wouldn’t have the same reach, platform, or voice.
A majority of my work takes place online. It’s also where I go to find support, solidarity, and friendship across time and space. Some disabled people like me encounter barriers while being out or are isolated socially and geographically. There are disabled people who cannot leave their beds who are badass activists with incredible social media presence because of the Internet. It is a literal lifeline for many including myself.
Even with a free and open Internet, there are major issues that prevent us from fully engaging and harnessing our power. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, people with disabilities consistently have lower rates of broadband service usage and ownership of smartphones, computers, or tablets compared to people without disabilities. The digital divide is real and wide for the disability community. Economic reasons are one part of the equation but another major problem is the resistance of individuals, corporations, and institutions to follow web accessibility standards and other regulations.
Imagine if you could only access a small percentage of YouTube videos or podcasts that are out there. This is the current media landscape that Deaf and disabled people experience: videos without captions, radio without text transcripts, images without alt text, or apps that don’t work with one’s assistive technology. Imagine not being able to apply for jobs or access services through online portals because of your disability. Imagine trying to take the same online courses with your classmates at universities that refuse to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Here’s my public service announcement to everyone: Stop creating inaccessible media and tech. Stop discriminating against Deaf and disabled people who have the right to the same information, services, and content like everyone else.
Media justice needs to fight for a free, open, AND accessible Internet. There’s a lot at stake for me personally and the disability community if the FCC repeals the 2015 Open Internet rules. Net neutrality is a civil right. It’s also part of disability rights.
For more, check out a video prepared for a congressional briefing organized by the Voices for Internet Freedom that took place on November 1, 2017:
Alice Wong, @SFdirewolf