Twitch and Its Continued Failure of Disabled Streamers

Whenever I think of activism, I’m sometimes skeptical one act can create meaningful change. Yet, it happens all the time. Sometimes, the positive payoffs will come decades later, which is why it’s essential to look ahead to the future, even when an act seems inconsequential. I want people to understand how a single decision will pave the way for progress. 

Recently, Twitch removed a tag, and I disagreed with the decision at first. After sitting on it for a while, though, my perspective has changed. Tags are a way for streamers to categorize their streams so that viewers can find interesting content. After this past weekend, users can no longer use the “blind playthrough” tag. 

“Happy to see Twitch has listened to everyone who shared feedback and removed the “Blind Playthrough” tag to encourage more inclusive language for our community. You can still use “First Playthrough” or opt to use it combined with “No Spoilers” for the same sentiment.”

At first, I agreed with many blind people who also opposed the change. I didn’t welcome this decision because Twitch is still not fully accessible, and “blind playthrough” was one of the few ways of potentially adding accessibility options. There are still unlabeled buttons, focus problems, especially with dialog boxes, and not everything can be accessed via the keyboard. It seemed odd to me that Twitch would instead focus on language rather than the constant harassment on the platform and the rampant inaccessibility issues.

I certainly think Twitch should do more to fix its vast array of problems. They have not recently inspired much confidence that they will address these shortcomings, though they did release a statement affirming their commitment to accessibility and inclusion:

“Twitch is a place for everyone, no matter their interests, background, or ability, and we are deeply committed to accessibility and inclusive design. We work hard to deliver an accessible experience for our community through thoughtful product innovation and through programs that celebrate our creators and employees of all abilities. We’re also continuing to learn and improve in this area. We introduced our company-wide Accessibility Statement in March 2020, and we will continue to learn, improve, and invest in accessibility in all of our work. “

Even though I think Twitch has a lot of work to do to convince everyone, including me, that they care about content creators and disabled content creators especially, I do want to say I fully applaud Twitch for taking this first baby step.

Language matters. Language helps to shape ideas and perceptions, including ableist assumptions. Stereotypes are a perfect example of this. With a few choice words, I can reduce the blind population to a group of ignorant people. I can do this so easily because blindness has such a negative connotation in our culture that we’ve learned to associate the term blindness, or visually impaired, with ignorance.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few examples.

The blind leading the blind implies that an ignorant person is leading another ignorant person.

The term blind date means a meeting where people are ignorant of all things about the other partner.

All of these connotations don’t describe vision loss or lack of vision. I mean, just because a blind person can’t see, we can still read, write, and think critically. We can make jokes. We can be ironic. Just because we can’t see the world clearly, doesn’t mean we’re ignorant of the world around us and what happens within it. The general public has associated the term blindness to indicate ignorance, not a loss of vision.

When someone refers to a blind playthrough in a video game, people usually mean that the player is ignorant of everything about the game. They can see the game perfectly fine, so why are they using the term blind playthrough? The only reason it appears to be used is to imply that the player hasn’t played the game before. They’re ignorant of the game and how it will run. Then again, they can see the game perfectly fine, so is the term blind playthrough really accurate?

Clarity is important. Someone who’s not in gaming culture won’t know what a blind playthrough is. They may assume that a blind playthrough is a visually impaired player playing the game since visually impaired people play games all the time. Myself included.

When the tag is changed to “first playthrough,” it will be easier for people looking to watch a certain kind of playthrough. It also doesn’t enforce negative stereotypes by inherently assuming blind people are ignorant. Players can focus on finding content rather than loosely associating blind people with awkward first-time fumbles.

Ableism is prevalent in language the same as it is in our infrastructure and culture — just like racism, sexism, homophobia, and other cultural cornerstones that make people less than equal. With this step, Twitch isn’t doing enough to combat its other massive problems, but it is helping to curb ableist language, and that’s a good thing.

My hope, in the future, is that Twitch will allow for disabled streamers, including blind and visually impaired streamers, to get their own category so they can hang out and network with each other. One step at a time, I guess. It can’t happen fast enough.

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Robert Kingett

Robert Kingett is a totally blind author that writes essays and fiction where disabled characters live normal lives. When he's not writing, he loves to listen to fiction podcasts. Visit him online at www.blindjournalist.wordpress.com

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