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The founder behind Cripple Media, a platform for disabled teens

Emily Flores
Emily Flores Image credit: uk.pcmag.com

At first the title may sound alarm bells, a digital platform called Cripple Media sounds like a project asking for trouble, but once you discover who is behind the project it kinda makes sense.

Emily Flores was frustrated with the lack of teenage content online aimed at young adults with disabilities.

So the 19-year-old launched her own – Cripple Media. And being the user of a power wheelchair herself she can’t take much slack for the name. In fact we think it’s pretty cool, it’s also the first Gen Z digital platform for, and designed for disabled people.

Flores is in her second year at The University of Texas at Austin and a researcher at the Center for Media Engagement where she is focusing on computational propaganda, cybersecurity and digital politics.

She told PC Mag where she discussed that title: “I admit that part of the reason I called it Cripple is due to its shock value for non-disabled people when they first hear it. But, in all seriousness, it’s called that mainly because of its historical value and meaning to our community—a way of reclaiming our power and ensuring our visibility.”

During her early and mid-teenage years as a freelance reporter Emily found it difficult to find disabled community groups solely aimed at her age bracket, making it tough to form friendships.

Until this time, I'd never had a friend—or even talked to someone—that had a disability like me, let alone connected with older disabled adults," Flores explained. "So when I started to report and make connections in the online disability community, I found a new identity. And, importantly, could channel the anger I’d felt at the way disabled people were treated. I knew there needed to be a bigger platform, with many voices to represent us, so I started Cripple as a platform where young disabled people can speak about these issues at a mainstream level.”

The platform publishes entertaining, informative articles related to disability issues influenced by content found on social media as well as championing tech giants making their products more accessible, shaming companies who don’t and providing multi-media content for teenagers with disabilities.

“The moment I read more about the social model, my world changed,” said Flores. “Everything made sense for the first time. The truth is that systematically, and deliberately in places, society and institutions are not built for bodies like mine. And the pressure should not lie on people like us, but rather the institutions that deny bodies like mine an existence.” 

Looking ahead Flores visualises Cripple offering fee-based consultancy to businesses wanting to improve their services for disabled people to earn the platform’s stamp of approval.

Explaining how studying social media and programming at a young age helped her design Cripple, Flores said: “Our online platform is completely managed and was created through WordPress.

“When I was in middle school I spent a lot of time on Tumblr, the blogging site. Since Tumblr allowed for HTML editing and customization of your site, this allowed me to become pretty comfortable with the basics of web design and editing.

"When Cripple first started out, I took to WordPress because I knew it allowed for the customization and control I wanted, and from there I was able to choose and modify a theme for our website," she added "Flash forward to May 2021 when we completely redesigned our website, we now had the honour to work with an amazing art and web designer, Jennifer Heale, who completely redid our website and expanded the site’s look and functionality.”

She already has her sights working on a certain sporting event in a few years’ time, being able to blag press accreditation for Beijing 2022 so Cripple can report back from the Paralympics.

“Covering the Paralympics is a huge event for the disability community, and so creating and reporting the news on the topic is as essential as any breaking news story,” Flores told PC Mag.

“It’s also crucial for disabled journalists to be the one telling those stories of the disabled athletes, as far too commonly non-disabled reporters frame the athlete’s story in an inspiring stereotypical trope. What’s needed in the next season is for more disabled journalists to take control of those narratives.”

The budding entrepreneur also wants to expand her journalism skills to cover wider topics and not just to stay focused on disability content.

“Cripple Media is pushing for the inclusion of disabled reporters in those newsrooms as well by amplifying young journalists' voices today, and through offering training in media upskilling. Because not only does increased diversity in newsrooms encourage for the better telling of diversity stories (ex: disability stories), but also disabled journalists should also be supported and expected to tell any story that is outside of our community as well.”

Emily Flores was inspired by Tavi Gevinson’s millennial brand ROOKIE.