This teenage-led website is the first media company ‘by and for’ young people with disabilities

If you ask, Emily Flores will tell you plenty of reasons why she founded Cripple Media.

For one, she loved teenage magazines. Inspired by teen-led brands like Rookie magazine, Flores found herself alone in her room at age 15, Googling “how to create a magazine.”

She also wanted to make friends. When she was starting her brand, she spent hours interacting with other teenagers on Twitter and Instagram — some of whom would later become her full-time staff members.

Above all, though, Flores said she founded Cripple Media (originally called Cripple Magazine) because she couldn’t find anything else like it.

“I wanted to create a space that was for young people like me because I didn’t see a space that was anything at all like it,” Flores, now 18, told In The Know.

Flores, who has muscular dystrophy, spent a lot of her childhood in spaces designed by people without disabilities. She grew up in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, where she spent years attending events for other kids with her disability — which she described as “inauthentic,” “patronizing” and “confusing.” Those meet-ups, which felt awkward and wrong, affected her in more ways than she realized at the time.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have disabled friends up until like two years ago, I think,” Flores said. “So that — I didn’t realize it until later — really did impact the way I viewed myself and the way I viewed other disabled people.”

When Flores founded her community, it wasn’t at some staged, in-person meet-up event — it was online. Through social media, she found other teens with disabilities. Like her, many of them wanted something they could totally call their own. So, Flores got to work.

“I wanted to create a space where it truly felt authentic, and a space where you felt cool and fashionable and so just – trendy, for lack of a better word,” Flores said.

The result of that idea was Cripple Media. The print-magazine-turned-website, which calls itself the first of its kind, is a media brand by and for young people with disabilities. The site covers culture, politics, lifestyle, identity and more. There’s even an advice column and plans for an online merch shop.

Flores’ idea for the site’s name came from an ongoing trend in the disability community, through which activists, media professionals and more are reclaiming words like “crip” and “cripple,” which in the past have been used as derogatory terms.

“I wanted to name it ‘cripple’ was because it also brings a side of like shock value and it kind of makes a non-disabled person think like: ‘Oh my gosh, who would name a magazine about disability cripple?'” Flores said. “And so I guess I wanted the answer to be: ‘disabled people.'”

Everything about Cripple Media is decidedly youthful and cool. The staff is extremely young — Flores said her editors range from teens to 20-somethings — and the website flickers with Gen Z style. There’s even a flurry of hearts that follow your cursor around as you browse.

What started as a DIY, one-person operation has grown and flourished into something much bigger. The Cripple Media team is dozens strong now, and the brand has been featured online in VICE and in print for The New York Times.

Flores and her team have accomplished all of that in just three years. In the meantime, Flores, still just 18, has balanced running a website while also attending college at the University of Texas. She’s also written for Teen Vogue, guested on podcasts and given a TEDx talk on accessible fashion.

It’s a resume that sounds somewhere between impressive and mind-blowing for someone her age. However, Flores sees her own success as being totally replicable. For her, it’s all about your mindset.

When asked what she’d tell young people looking to start similar projects, Flores’ advice is clear.

“The advice I would give to young people is that you are literally not alone,” she said. “No matter how unique you think your problems are … I guess I would just want young people to know that there is a community out there who can support you and uplift you and advocate for you.”

Finding that support system isn’t always easy — it took Flores years to do it. But Flores is a firm believer in the good that the internet can do, especially for underrepresented communities.

“With the internet, you can really do anything,” she said. “Set up a space and boost it out to people. Your voice really does matter, and that is something that I really struggled with for a really long time, [but] we can take back our power. It’s difficult, and I don’t think we have done it yet, but we can do it.”

Flores wishes there were more brands like Cripple Media. Still, she’s optimistic that someday soon, there will be. In the meantime, she hopes her brand can continue to grow, so she and her team can uplift even more voices.

“I just hope that [Cripple Media] soon becomes and always is a truly accessible and open space, and a publishing media company where we can receive payment for the work that we do,” Flores said. “And that it can provide a fountain of job opportunities for young disabled creatives.”

You can check out the Cripple Media site here and follow the brand on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram.

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If you liked this story, check out In The Know’s interview with disability activist Aubrie Lee.

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