In 2020, social media giant Twitter launched Voice Tweets on their platform. Unfortunately, the inability to add closed captions (also known as subtitles) to Voice Tweets meant that anyone who was deaf or hard of hearing could not use the new feature. This brought about a significant change in the form of Twitter hiring an accessibility engineering team. Within two years, it had grown from one sole person to a team of 10.
However, at the beginning of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in late 2022, the entire accessibility team along with many other employees were laid off. This team had been a vital asset to Twitter users with disabilities. Just like their users, every member of the team had lived experience with a disability. Their role had been to avoid the mistakes made during the launch of Voice Tweets, improve Twitter’s user experience for people with disabilities, and ensure that accessibility was prioritised during development.
The importance of having a team dedicated to digital accessibility cannot be understated. In just two years, Twitter made huge strides in their accessibility: they provided live captions upon the rollout of Twitter Spaces, included alternate text badges on images, and led research on how to improve their app for neurodivergent users. Although Twitter still has an accessibility statement, this must be updated often to ensure it is accurate to what is happening on the platform. Now the loss of the accessibility team means accessibility may become something that is disregarded or forgotten about as new features are introduced.
Twitter is also coming under fire for hate speech, which is negatively affecting many different groups and communities, including people with disabilities. Twitter are currently being threatened with a 50 million Euro fine by Germany’s federal office of justice because they are not removing illegal content from the platform in a timely manner.
IA Labs have decided that due to the layoff of the accessibility team, further layoffs of other employees with disabilities, and the platform looking like it will continue taking a turn for the worse, that we will take a step back from Twitter. Our blog posts will continue being posted to our website weekly and we will maintain a social media presence on our LinkedIn page.