Computer Enthusiast Culture, Disability, and Ableism

I recently wrote a thread on the fediverse about my thoughts on the subject. This thread was written entirely from an iPad Mini, while struggling through a day bedridden. As such, I feel it might be worthwhile to rewrite the thread in a format more conducive to long form reading.

Okay so this has been brewing in me for a while, but various systems of oppression and what not have prevented me from going on about it much. Fair warning, typos may happen regularly. As I’ve said elsewhere, “fingies hurty, typing is hard”.

For context, I struggle with a number of disabilities that I will regularly reference. Firstly, I love with a chronic pain condition that mobility – from varying ability to walk to varying capacity for fine motor control in my hands (hence the typos). Secondly, neurodiversity. Autism and ADHD come with their challenges, as well as dissociative amnesia. These all provide unique intersectionalities that I am constantly working to adapt to.

Over the last number of months, I have had to make a number of changes to my digital life to make things more accessible for me. Primarily, a partial return to the Apple ecosystem. I’ve gone from a decade long Ubuntu user, with nearly 5 years using Linux exclusively, to “techno sheeple”. From a free and open source software enthusiast and avid scripter (bash and python for life), to excitedly awaiting the newest iPad OS drop. I streamed music production from Ubuntu, DJd raves with Mixxx, and I refused to spend any money on new computers, upcycling systems into servers. Now I gush over fancy USB-C adapters and the new dictation tech in iOS 16.

While I acknowledge the privilege I have for having access to a 2021 generation MacBook and iPad Mini. I truly am lucky to have been able to invest in these products. However there is a prevalent shame in most nerd spaces inherent to owning Apple devices. Whether it be the PC gaming community and the way MacBooks are often immediately dismissed, or the open source community and the Apple bro image. Shit, I even feel weird talking about being an Apple owner alongside being anti capitalist and an activist.

However I have to respect that since switching back partially, I have so very much improved my quality of life, both for pain and neurodivergent needs. I have to acknowledge that having systems with mature accessibility features and consistent predictable behaviour have reduced the pain in my hands that I experience every day.

I am typing all of this using my iPad and the swipe floating keyboard today. Unfortunately, today is a day where my hands can barely sustain short bursts of typing, much less what is turning into a whole long ass thing. Today is also a day where I can’t even sit up without worsening the pain, nor can I walk well. The journey from my bedroom to my apartment’s kitchen requires a few minutes of sitting to recover. I am effectively bedridden, and can’t use a laptop keyboard. And yet I must still work, attend meetings, answer emails, be social, find entertainment, etc. My solution today then is an incredibly lightweight device that enables “claw hand mode” typing, that can reliably keep up with an entire work day: an iPad Mini.

For the last few months, I’ve wanted to gush and info dump about the various features and what not of this device that have improved my life so much on the fediverse, but I am always caught with the aforementioned shame. I am afraid of the backlash I can receive for being a “capitalist sheeple Apple cultist” (a statement I have absolutely had hurled at me in the past). And honestly this shame or pressure is so unfortunate. I want to share what I’ve discovered works for me in the off chance that it might help another person. I want to be excited about the things that help me so much, but too often I stop myself from talking about these devices due to the perception of “bragging” or other various forms of backlash.

When I was debating buying the MacBook earlier this year, I asked for input on purchasing options from a Linux music production community. I had asked about technical differences between various forms of hardware for music production, and included the M1 chipset in the list of questions. Including a MacBook in the list proved a terrible mistake, as I spent the next few hours being shamed and berated for even considering using a MacBook.

I’ll never forget being told that “using Mac makes you 100% less punk and trans and communist”, or later being told I couldn’t call myself an activist if I used Mac. It was funny you see, as I was in a meeting at the time wherein we were changing local systems to be more communal, queer, trans, and radical.

This leads me to my point: why do I need to be shamed for using the tech that enables me to live my life in a way that is conducive to my needs? Why do I need to fear mistreatment just because I happen to use a different brand?

The fact of the matter is that switching to Apple has helped, through and through. Switching from an android tablet that did what I needed it too after a while of fiddling and tweaking to an iPad that is generally “good enough” at everything I throw out at – not to mention considerably lighter – has increased the reliability of my life when bed ridden like this tenfold. Buying a MacBook that can confidently handle every compute heavy task I can throw at it while still being lighter than almost any other competitor has significantly reduced the back pain resulting from carrying the weight of a laptop. Purchasing a computer with a much lower need to tweak settings to make my studio work has enabled me to make music even on days like today. Going to a system that enables me to use the same cable for everything I need (especially external storage) has reduced the amount of things I need to plug in or carry, further reducing pain. The automatic “focus modes” makes keeping my adhd brain on task by reducing notifications to only those that are relevant to the task at hand or setting I’m in has been amazing. The list goes on.

Why can’t I just use these things, be excited about the ways they help, and get on with my fucking life. I hate hearing “oh Mac scrub” when I play games online off the MacBook. I hate the incessant need people have to treat these devices like affluence competitions. I hate that I have to be well off financially to afford items that have been literally life altering. All of this is bull shit. The whole thing. Why can’t these devices be affordable or considered under disability mutual aid or whatever? Why does there have to be barriers to these devices, especially social barriers?

It all just feels the same as shit I get about my cane or my compression gloves or any of the other various traditional physical disability aids I use: weird, gatekeepy, and weirdly intrusive.

Like fuck off Karen, let me use my shit in peace and go on with your life. Yes I’m excited about the cane. Yes I’m going to plan outfits around my compression gloves to make them look like hacker gloves, get over it.

Who cares what device someone uses, maybe just don’t be a gatekeeping shitlord? Who cares if someone has fancy devices and shit, what business is it of yours in the first place? Who cares if I spend my hard earned money on things that are technically inferior just because it’s lighter and smaller or otherwise helps accommodate my needs? Just let people use the things they use.

Am I privileged for being able to afford these things? Yes! Am I privileged to have access to disability support mechanisms that work for me (sometimes)? Yes! That doesn’t somehow require shame or mistreatment. Trying to be in less crippling pain every day isn’t a bad thing.

Ariana is a disabled, queer, non-binary trans woman who lives and works from Treaty 4 land. When not writing you can often find her obsessing over Star Trek, making electronic music and collecting all kinds of music, or resting with her cats and a warm cup of coffee.

She writes about the things that excite her, including but not limited to disability and ableism, music production, her adventures in learning new art forms, and queer and trans activism and advocacy.