Is Twitter Striving to Set an Accessible Standard Other Social Networks Should Follow?

Published December 31, 2020

In June, Twitter rolled out a new feature across all accounts that allows users to record 140-second voice clips in lieu of 280-character text messages. The move signified a broad effort by Twitter to mend its reputation of sub-par accessibility features, one that will have it dedicating more resources and time to making its service available to the 15% of the global population who have some form of disability.

This announcement was met with backlash, however, with users criticizing the lack of captioning, both manual and automatically generated, an essential feature for the deaf and hard of hearing community. Twitter was quick to respond to these complaints, though, stating "accessibility should not be an afterthought" and pledging to add automated captions to audio and video posts by early 2021.

A common oversight

Twitter’s oversight is, sadly, a common occurrence in social media and an indication of how social networks have struggled to catch up to the needs of people with disabilities. While Facebook, for example, is usually considered a relatively easy platform for many, the company has been criticized for overlooking essential accessibility features, such as making it easy for content to be accessed by screen readers, which read text aloud for people with visual disabilities. Like Twitter, Facebook has committed to improving accessibility, rolling out a plethora of accessibility features in July in hopes of improving overall navigation and user-friendliness for those who formerly struggled to use the platform due to its lack of accessibility.

Far from an afterthought

Following criticism of the audio tweet feature, Twitter made the wise decision to assemble two separate teams dedicated to increasing the usability and overall inclusion of its platform. Twitter said it hopes to create a more accessible platform for the whole of its user base, setting an example for other social media platforms in the process.

Dalana Brand, Twitter’s Head of Inclusion and Diversity, outlined in a recent blog post the purpose of these two teams. The first, The Accessibility Center for Excellence, is focused on implementing new features to make Twitter as accessible as possible, including improving accessibility in the company’s physical offices. The second, The Experience Accessibility Team, is looking at how to improve current features and products, working alongside the other team to ensure that new features are fully accessible when rolled out and preventing future oversights from occurring. Together, these teams are charged with ensuring each newly introduced feature or change meets accessibility standards, replacing an older and decentralized model, where each team handled accessibility features individually.

Setting an example?

Twitter’s popularity and longevity comfortably sets it as a forerunner in social media markets, establishing a precedent that other companies can strive to achieve. Ignoring accessibility issues is not only discriminatory but significantly narrows potential userbases and profits. "We know we need to do more to make our service accessible and we will," Brand wrote. You can follow Twitter's dedicated accessibility account here.

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