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Ever since Elon Musk decided to buy Twitter, accessibility advocates have been preparing for the possibility that the platform’s Accessibility Experience Team would suffer losses. Many were hopeful that someone, literally anyone, with power at Twitter would make a strong enough argument to the new chief twit about the importance of access and save the numerous people who have worked tirelessly for years now to make the platform more accessible for disabled users.
Sadly, all that hope was in vain.
On Friday, Nov. 4, the Accessibility Experience Team, and many others who worked closely on accessibility features for Twitter, were let go as part of mass layoffs that have gutted most of the platform’s global workforce. This is a huge blow for the future of access on Twitter, an area the platform has been making significant progress in.
In 2020, Twitter released a statement promising that it would be making a more dedicated effort when it came to accessibility on the app. The statement was in response to backlash and feedback the platform received from the disabled community after the beta launch of voice tweets proved to be inaccessible for some users.
Before that, the last significant accessibility update Twitter made was in 2016 when it introduced alt text for images, so a lot of people were understandably skeptical that anything on the app would actually change.
Thankfully, Twitter was eager to prove everyone wrong. A few months after its renewed dedication to accessibility, Twitter made it so the ability to write alt text for images was automatically available to all users and not something that needed to be turned on in Settings. In July 2021, captions were added to voice tweets followed by auto-captions for all video uploads in December.
The Twitter Accessibility Experience Team continued to power ahead with new updates in 2022, rolling out the visible alt text badge and a new closed captions button in April. A few months later in September, the highly anticipated alt text reminder was launched globally followed by updated app sounds and updated app icons in October.
All that progress has more than likely come to a screeching halt with the Accessibility Experience Team being forced into unemployment. The @TwitterA11y account was able to post its monthly update on Nov. 1, but it’s unclear how any of those projects will continue without the people who made them possible in the first place.
What is clear, however, is that Twitter’s new leadership does not value its employees, access or the experience of people with disabilities.
If users want to emphasize how important the continued prioritization of accessibility actually is, we need to lean into one of the best parts about Twitter: how easy it makes it to amplify a cause.
Disabled and abled users need to be incessant about their disappointment in the decision to remove the Accessibility Experience Team. Tweet about it, blog about it, devote whole podcast episodes to it. Tag remaining Twitter leadership in every single post and point out how much accessibility impacts the platform.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 15% of the global population has some sort of disability, so it stands to reason that a similar percentage of Twitter users are disabled. Members of the disabled community deserve equal access to information just like everyone else online, and abled allies need to back them up.
Accessibility also affects the marketing and advertising industry. Accessible content can result in more leads, better sales, and new customers, all because more people can actually access the information being advertised to them.
Money is already a concern for the bird app, with Musk voicing his desire to turn Twitter back into a profitable platform. If Twitter is truly desperate to bring advertisers back to the platform, prioritizing access could really impact their bottom line.
Advertisers should be demanding that Twitter continue improving its accessibility features or threaten to pull their Twitter budgets. Afterall, there are plenty of other social media platforms where marketers can spend their money.
The future of accessibility—and most areas of diversity equity and inclusion—at Twitter has seemingly been put on the back burner in the name of capitalism, pettiness, and a misguided understanding of free speech. Hopefully, the voices of the remaining Tweeps and Twitter users can help bail out a sinking ship and keep the platform an accessible place for everyone.