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Twitter API Changes Mean Bad News for Accessibility

Mar 27, 2023

As of February 9, 2023, Twitter has discontinued its free API tier. Accessing the Twitter API now costs a minimum of about $100 for its “basic" tier, with other tiers available with expanded capabilities (and higher price tags). 

API stands for “Application Programming Interface.” Essentially, an application’s API allows other applications to communicate with it and provide services that rely on the primary application’s features. Many automated Twitter accounts (or “bots") have used the free API to generate responses to other tweets. 

Twitter announced the change on its official Twitter Developer account. Elon Musk, the company’s controversial chief executive, claimed that the free API was being “abused badly" by “bot scammers and opinion manipulators.” 

But by disabling its free API tier, Twitter may also limit efforts to spread awareness of important web accessibility barriers.

How Twitter’s Free API Improved Accessibility

Twitter’s basic API tier is fairly limited, but developers have found novel ways to use the service to promote web accessibility. 

The bot @AltAwareness, for example, searches for missing alternative text (also called alt text) within accounts associated with news, journalism, and media. When the bot encounters missing alt text, it tweets at the offending account, gently reminding them to include text alternatives for users who can’t perceive visual media.

Similarly, @UK Gov Alt Bot highlights inaccessible tweets from accounts operated by the United Kingdom. @A11yAwareness, operated by Patrick M. Garvin, retweets articles and tips about accessibility. 

Disabling free API access forces these creators to make a difficult decision: Discontinue their bots, or pay each month to continue their important work. 

Some accessibility advocates have responded by creating the hashtag #SaveA11yBots and asking Twitter users to help spread awareness. 

“Many (but not all) of these bots are related to alt text, which is a type of description that exists alongside an image to provide an accurate representation to anyone who cannot see the image itself, such as those with vision-related disabilities,” explains @LXReads, an accessibility advocate who has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dysgraphia (a neurological condition characterized by writing disabilities). 

“Most of [the bots] are just side-projects built by helpful developers as a public service to cover for accessibility gaps in the site.”

Asking those developers to pay for an API will certainly decrease the number of pro-accessibility bot accounts — and discourage creators from finding novel ways to promote the accessibility movement.

Related: How Accessibility Helps Social Media Engagement

Improving Accessibility on Twitter

At this point, it’s unlikely that Twitter will change course, but the company has reversed controversial decisions in some cases. In late 2022, Twitter attempted to ban external links to other social media sites, but ended the new policy less than a day after introducing it.

By openly discussing how the API improves accessibility, advocates hope for a similar reversal. In the meantime, organizations can promote web accessibility on Twitter by taking simple steps:

  • Include alt text with all images. Follow the best practices of writing alt text.
  • Use appropriate color contrast for images that contain pictures of text. Review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements for accessible color contrast ratios.
  • Use a limited number of hashtags and emojis.
  • Use camelcase within hashtags. This means that each new word within the hashtag starts with a capital letter; for example, “SaveA11yBots.” 
  • Post the same content across different social media channels. This gives your audience different ways to receive (and engage with) your message.

For more Twitter accessibility tips, read our article: Becoming More Accessible on Twitter: Avoid These Accessibility Barriers.

Accessibility Begins with Inclusive Web Design

Finally, make sure your organization’s website follows the best practices of accessibility. As the international standard for digital accessibility, WCAG is a vital tool. Most organizations should aim for Level AA conformance with the latest version of WCAG, which reasonably accommodates most users with disabilities. 

To learn more about WCAG and digital compliance, download our free eBook: The Definitive Website Accessibility Checklist.

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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