After several rounds of layoffs, Twitter’s staff is down from about 7,500 employees to less than 2,000 — and one of the numerous cuts across the company eliminated the platform’s entire accessibility team last year.
In an open letter to Elon Musk, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) called on the new Twitter owner to bring the accessibility team back.
“Not surprisingly, since you shut down Twitter’s Accessibility Team, disabled users have reported increased difficulty and frustration using Twitter,” Markey wrote.
Like any social platform, Twitter has had its foibles when it comes to accessibility — in 2020, Twitter didn’t even have an accessibility team and only established one after public outcry when the company rolled out voice tweets without captions. But in the few years Twitter did have an accessibility team, the company rolled out features for alt text on images, automatic captioning on videos and captions for Spaces live audio rooms and voice tweets. Many disabled users found community on Twitter, because its built-in accessibility features made it easier to use than other social platforms.
With no accessibility team at Twitter anymore, it’s not as though the platform’s features have simply remained dormant. Captions on Twitter Spaces have disappeared altogether, making the feature unusable for any user who is deaf or hard of hearing. To disabled users, this sends the message that accessibility is no longer part of the conversation at Twitter HQ (which, by the way, the company has stopped paying rent for).
Twitter’s accessibility was dealt another blow when the platform cut off access to its API. Now, third-party developers will have to pay yet-to-be-determined monthly fees to build on a platform that previously welcomed them for free. This means that long-beloved apps like Ironfactory’s Twitterrific, which gave users expanded accessibility features, are no longer available.
“I received more than a few emails from Blind users who were upset and outraged because they would most likely have to stop using Twitter without accessible third-party clients like Twitterrific,” Ironfactory co-founder Gedeon Maheux told Forbes.
Markey’s letter poses a number of questions to Musk, to which Markey requested responses by March 17. Markey asks about why Musk eliminated the accessibility team and if he will reinstate it, Twitter’s compliance with ADA and FCC accessibility regulations, why Twitter removed captioning from Spaces, and if the platform will commit to creating user-friendly experiences for all kinds of content.
“All of these changes under your leadership signal a disregard for the needs of disabled people,” Markey wrote to Musk.