After concerns were raised about the accessibility of Twitter’s new audio feature, the company admitted that it can do better.
Earlier this week, Twitter introduced a new feature that enables iOS users to communicate on the social media platform through 140-second audio clips.
It allows users to communicate to their followers through an audio clip that can be published as easily as a tweet, photo or video, and is similar to the type of voice notes available on platforms such as iMessage, Messenger or WhatsApp.
The company said that it wanted to provide “a more human touch” with the introduction of the feature, however it did not take long for people to begin asking questions about accessibility.
Accessibility at Twitter
While some users raised concerns about how the feature would be moderated, others suggested that the feature could be exclusionary to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In response, Twitter told the Verge: “This is an early test of audio for us and we’re still exploring the best ways to meet the needs of people with different abilities.”
Deaf journalist Liam O’Dell tweeted: “With the greatest of respect, Twitter, describing this version of the feature as ‘early’ to make up for the fact that it currently isn’t accessible (but may well be in a later version) isn’t good enough. Accessibility should be considered from the start, not as an afterthought.”
With the greatest of respect, Twitter, describing this version of the feature as ‘early’ to make up for the fact that it currently isn’t accessible (but may well be in a later version) isn’t good enough.
Accessibility should be considered from the start, not as an afterthought. https://t.co/qLA7Wcj3oQ
— Liam O'Dell (@LiamODellUK) June 17, 2020
It later emerged that the company, which has nearly 5,000 employees, does not have a dedicated team focusing on accessibility, but rather employees who volunteer to consult on new products.
Twitter software engineer Andrew Hayward commented: “The volunteers behind accessibility at Twitter (there is no formal team) strive to do their best to ensure products are shipped appropriately. Unfortunately though, we aren’t aware of every product decision, and the wider #a11y conversation is ongoing.”
Just to clarify, given that this seems to have gained some traction… we are volunteers in so much as the work we do is notionally on top of our regular roles, rather than being full time.
We are all otherwise paid employees – Twitter is not outsourcing unpaid labour!
— Andrew Hayward (⌀4.5m) (@arhayward) June 18, 2020
Twitter went on to apologise for testing voice tweets without support for people who are visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing. “Accessibility should not be an afterthought,” the company tweeted.
We're sorry about testing voice Tweets without support for people who are visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing. It was a miss to introduce this experiment without this support.
Accessibility should not be an afterthought. (1/3) https://t.co/9GRWaHU6fR
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) June 19, 2020
Twitter said that it is exploring ideas for how the platform could support manual and auto transcriptions, and is looking at how it can build a dedicated team to focus on accessibility, tooling and advocacy across all products.
In a comment to The Verge, a spokesperson for Twitter said: “We missed around voice tweets and we are committed to doing better – making this feature more accessible and also all features in the future. We’re constantly reviewing both the functionality of our products and the internal processes that inform them; we’ll share progress in this area.”
Twitter’s head of design and research, Dantley Davis, said: “It’s clear we have a lot of work ahead to make Twitter more inclusive for people with disabilities.”