fbpx Disabled Cam Models Want Workplace Accessibility

Disabled Cam Models Want Workplace Accessibility

What web-based sex work reveals about labor and disability.
Aria Vega
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Aria Vega

Over the past two tumultuous years, "the pandemic" has come to refer not just to the dispersion of an unruly pathogen, but to the totality of its fallout. Around the world, the pandemic sent shockwaves through the labor market by disrupting our ability to work in person, shutting down some industries and altering the rest forever.

It's amazing how quickly major systems can shift once we're all suddenly anxious to protect our health in the office. But some workers have always had to navigate those concerns, often alone. For web-based sex workers with disabilities, accessibility has been a fraught labor issue since long before COVID-19.

Many disabled people who engage in online sex work do so, at least in part, because other work, including other sex work, is inaccessible to them. Whether it's webcamming, fetish modeling or content creation for subscription sites such as OnlyFans, this slice of sex work allows a degree of physical autonomy that few other jobs offer, especially for disabled creators.

Hoping for control

Go Ask Alex is a Canadian adult film star and content creator, as well as an advocate for disabled porn performers. Since childhood, she's had ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition causing abdominal pain, fatigue and other disruptive symptoms. In adulthood, she became an ostomate after ileostomy surgery to address the disease.

The nature of her illness also means Alex must be able to tailor her schedule extensively.

"If I have a last minute doctor's appointment, I can make that work. I can't put that in my schedule at a 9-to-5 job," said Alex, whose schedule flexibility also accommodates her fluctuating energy levels. "If I'm having a good week, I can just work, work, work, and then when I'm not feeling well, I can coast on that. That also doesn't work in typical industries."

That's certainly true for the tech industry, where content creator and fetish model Cripple Threat was once employed. Before becoming a cam model and the first quadriplegic Suicide Girls Hopeful (a subgroup of the online adult content platform Suicide Girls), Cripple Threat received a degree in web technology and began an internship at a web design firm in 2012. But accessibility obstacles, including a daunting three-hour commute with nurses on public transit, cluttered that career path.

Then, one day, after telling a friend she had discovered she could masturbate by focusing her mind on her genitals, the friend suggested Cripple Threat record herself doing it for Chaturbate. Intrigued, she went for it. Her first stream was a resounding success.

"I didn't think anyone would pay to watch me masturbate, but they certainly do," Cripple Threat said. "As soon as I learned I could make money masturbating, I quit my job."

Not quite nirvana

Portland, Oregon, sex blogger Sugar is intimately familiar with being driven out of a job by disability. Sugar's last formal employment was in adult retail in 2020. But due to worsening pain and mobility from ailments including fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Sugar was forced to quit.

Due to their disabilities, that sex shop job was the first time Sugar had worked outside the home in nearly seven years. But it became apparent pretty quickly that it wouldn't be sustainable.

"I would barely be able to walk home, even though it was a block and a half away, because I would be in so much pain," Sugar recalled.

After their departure, around the onset of the pandemic, Sugar pivoted to online sex work, doing pro-domination work remotely and creating clips for subscription sites, mostly JustForFans. While the work is far more accessible than Sugar's previous job, some requirements are still at odds with their capabilities.

"The problem with things like disability, housing insecurity and poverty is that consistency can be incredibly difficult," said Sugar, whose work also includes writing sex toy reviews and essays on topics such as relationships, kink and feminism. "With content creation and building an online following, consistency is the most important part."

Sometimes, the same disability that makes mainstream work tough can complicate sex work, too. Taylor J. Mace is an Ontario, Canada-based sex worker and writer with a chronic condition affecting his throat. Over the past decade, Mace has also held jobs in the mental health and hospitality industries. But his job was literally to talk all day, so it ended up not being sustainable at all. The communal nature of settings such as offices and restaurants was also a problem.

"Because of my throat, I have a weaker immune system, so I would get sick all the time," Mace said. "Having to try and find a place that was willing to keep employing me despite me being sick three times a month was not the easiest thing to do."

However, his in-person sex work came with accessibility challenges, too. Both escorting and performing in porn essentially require lots of throat action, Mace said. Pivoting to cam shows let him perform in ways that don't engage his throat, which Mace said gave him a great deal of agency.

It's this sense of agency that all workers deserve access to, whether their labor is mainstream, erotic, remote or in person. While disabled, web-based sex workers display incredible adaptability and resilience in navigating their health alongside their craft, a more just labor market would not have marginalized them in the first place.