How Twitter's Voice Tweet Blunder Can Change Your Mind About Accessibility

July 7, 2020

Twitter recently announced the rollout of its new voice-activated tweets by unveiling a demo online that has drawn criticism from some advocates and individuals with disabilities. The voice tweet demo featured an uncaptioned audio clip and a flashing image, both of which violate Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Twitter stated this was an "early version" of the feature, and later issued an apology: "We’re sorry about testing voice Tweets without support for people who are visually impaired, deaf, or hard of hearing," its tweet reads. "It was a miss to introduce this experiment without this support. Accessibility should not be an afterthought."

Twitter’s costly blunder

Twitter’s apology hopefully indicates the company is understanding the importance of integrating website accessibility from the beginning of a project. Taking cues from several critics, the company is backtracking to make voice tweets identifiable on timelines and exploring ways to support manual and auto transcriptions. The company also announced its intention to build a group dedicated to "accessibility, tooling, and advocacy across all products."

Of course, customers with disabilities shouldn’t be forced to request access to a product. But if there’s an upside, Twitter’s blunder enabled the company to gather important feedback and tips on where users’ experiences differ from expectations.

Feedback is powerful. If Twitter implements a dedicated digital accessibility team, they can solicit future feedback for products where accessibility has been integrated from the beginning. Being accessible by default and continuing to consider feedback can lessen the likelihood of backlash and lost time, money, and customers.

Every time a brand fails to prioritize accessibility, it loses customers who are negatively impacted and who may never return. The time Twitter has spent apologizing, retooling the product, and contending with a public relations snafu is time and money that are hard to get back.

Developing an accessibility mindset could prevent embarrassing mistakes like these and enable more productive testing experiments.

What does it mean to develop an accessibility mindset?

Companies with an accessibility mindset recognize that accessibility is an opportunity for saving time and money, developing great products, and satisfying all customers — that it’s good for business. But further, they know that this isn't achieved with a checklist or quick scan. Rather, it's a commitment to putting people first.

Companies with great digital experiences keep all customers, including those with disabilities, in mind at all phases of website or digital product development. Accessibility begins with this mindset.

Is your company a "people first" company?

To begin developing an accessibility mindset, determine whether your website or digital products and services put all customers first. Asking yourself a few helpful questions can assist you in assessing whether your company is a "people first" company:

  • Can people with disabilities equally perceive and engage with your products?
  • Can they use products without facing significant barriers?
  • Are you leaving the door open for future enhancements by listening to and incorporating feedback from your customers with disabilities?
  • Do your metrics confirm that your products are accessible?

If you answered no or don’t know the answer to any of these questions, then it’s time to take a deeper dive into how customers experience your products. Doing so will enable enhancements and new designs that integrate accessibility from the outset.

Accessibility is not really a destination

Accessibility is a continuing journey that should mature and evolve. Adopting an accessibility mindset means committing to continually creating, reviewing, and enhancing digital inclusion. A digital accessibility policy that implements systematic processes can assist these efforts. But remember that accessibility is often a gradual process. Every improvement protects your business from further risk and harm while satisfying more and more customers.

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