19 July 2012

Segregation and Infantilization in Social Media

I noticed the arrival of the site Autspot about a year or so ago, possibly closer to two years. I was thinking about Autspot again when someone emailed the website Disabilinet, a new social networking style site marketed as a "safe" place for people who are "less able," requesting my thoughts. Dutifully, I went to the site and looked around, and these are my first impressions, some of which are shared with my impressions of Autspot.

a.) It was envisioned by non-disabled people, which instantly raises a red flag.

b.) They use ableist language, like “less able.” Another huge red flag.

c.) It’s supposed to be “safe?” WTH? Only disabled people get to determine what are “safe spaces.” From a non-disabled person, that just reeks of paternalism and infantilization.

d.) It’s intended to be a segregated community for disabled people, created by non-disabled people (see a.), which flies in the face of either intentional communities created by disabled people as safe space of our own OR integrated spaces welcoming and accessible to all. For example, there are already vibrant disability and disabled communities on mainstream sites like Facebook and Tumblr and in the blogosphere.

e.) Despite a claim to serve all people with disabilities, it seems to be focused on people with physical disabilities, though perhaps not necessarily.

Autspot is only different in that a.) it focuses specifically on autism, and b.) rather than directly paternalizing or infantilizing Autistic people, it pretty much actively excludes them as the last time that I checked, the site interface claimed to be a community for the "autism community," which seemed to mean pretty much anyone with a connection to autism except Autistic people. Like Disabilinet (and no, I am not providing direct links to either site; you can find them easily on your own), it was conceived and created by non-disabled people as something almost charitable to benefit disabled people (or, apparently, our poor families.)

Don't you love segregation and infantilization? Yeah, me too.


  1. No, I don't. They are really frustrating to deal with.

    1. @ Alyssa: I believe when Lydia said, Don't you love segregation and infantilization? Yeah, me too. she was being sarcastic. I understand if you got confused though, since she said it somewhere it's not really possible to use a sarc mark.

  2. Brava! Lydia -- short and sweet and to the point, and, btw, right on the money!

  3. "About Us" states Autspot was "created by Dele Popoola and Greg Koltsov, graduates of the University of California Santa Barbara. Dele’s 18-year old cousin, Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, inspired the two young men to create the online community following their graduation from college in 2007"

    Ummm...OK. Good for them having degrees. But they didn't state what the degrees were in. Which tells me two things a)they probably had nothing to do with autism or psychology, and b)they nevertheless felt their degrees were of utmost importance in listing, which tells me they lack self-awareness and have a simplistic and shallow concept of Autism/Autistic people.

    A cousin? Great job. An autistic relative. But unless they express actual understanding and empathy for this cousin as an individual (and use THAT as a primary qualification), I really just have to say, so what?

    "...Like many others, Dele and Greg are alarmed at the increasing number of children being diagnosed with autism each year. Through [autspot]...they intend to raise the level of awareness about the disorder. They are hopeful that the site will be the bridge that links more experienced individuals with parents of newly-diagnosed children. Through [autspot] Dele and Greg envision autism being vigorously addressed with collaborative strength."

    Thank you, Dale and Greg, for being so "alarmed". Thank you guys not only for being alarmed, but for being willing to see that Autism is addressed "vigorously". And with "collaborative strength". As an Autistic person, you guys have no idea how much you care and concern matters to me. I mean, you guys have college degrees! And an Autistic cousin! Sign me up! I don't expect you guys to let me have any say in anything, but that's OK, because you guys know what you're doing so I trust you to do everything in my interest! It's not like I really have anything to say or contribute anyways - after all, I have huge cognitive deficits that keep me from having any really legitimate and fully human or mature opinions, just like your poor cousin.

  4. Hi Lydia

    Thanks for your comments regarding the Disabilinet website. I'm the owner of the site and will take your comments onboard and adjust accordingly.

    I must admit, I'm pretty new to all this website stuff so please bear with me. As you rightly say, I am not disabled but I have been surrounded by disabled people for most of my life, through work and other groups that I've been involved with.

    The website is very new but the intention is to use it to provide work for disabled people. Because it's all web based, location and physical ability are not hindering factors as traditional workspaces tend to be.

    It will be some time before the site generates any income, but when it does, some of this will be diverted into a foundation which will provide specialist assistance to people with mobility difficulties. This is my particular area of expertise and where my networks lies.

    Any help you can give us with making sure the site is a positive thing for disabled people would be very much appreciated. Our intentions are good.

    Kind regards



Hi! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I manually approve comments, so sometimes it takes a few weeks, months, or even years to find and approve comments. This delay is normal. (Note that I also don't publish every comment, since this is my personal blog.) Unfortunately, anonymous commenting isn't available anymore since it resulted in over one million spam comments in a short period.