Last week, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) released a statement demanding Twitter reinstate its accessibility team and online services for people with disabilities. As we were prototyping World Blind Herald , we published an article called Time To Take Action in which we discussed two bills offered in the US Senate. Senator Duckworth offered a bill amending ADA to ensure Internet accessibility and extend it to include a lot more technology. Senator Markey's bill was a set of amendments to the 21st Century Video and Communication Act (CVAA), a bill he sponsored when it was first passed in 2010. Few people read our article and, as best as I can tell, the leadership in the blindness community (NFB, ACB, etc.) did nothing to try to push this legislation during the lame duck session, hence, neither was passed and now we have a hung congress and new civil rights legislation that, while specific to the US, effects every disabled person in the world died on the vine.
We had an opportunity to try to persuade the 12 GOP senators who broke the filibuster in the marriage equality debate and it was passed. We had to do the same, we knew which dozen senators to approach and our leadership sat on its hands. I wonder how many blind people even heard these laws were being proposed?
We were distressed to hear that Twitter had laid off its accessibility department. We are happy that, even if he cannot get legislation passed that Senator Markey is still standing up for our rights in a very public manner.
We wanted to bring you Senator Markey's statement as quickly as we could. Rather than analyzing it as we might in a feature article, for a WBH Extra, we'll run his letter to Elan Musk in its entirety from the PDF on his web site. Markey's press release includes a lot of footnotes which we removed so, if you want sources on the assertions he makes, go to the link to his press release and you can find it all there.
The Markey Letter To Musk
Chief Executive Officer Twitter, Inc.
1355 Market Street, Suite 900 San Francisco, CA 94103
February 24, 2023
Dear Mr. Musk:
Twitter has a responsibility to ensure that its platform is open and accessible to disabled users. Yet, you recently eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team, which played a crucial role in developing and implementing essential features for Twitter users with disabilities.
Not surprisingly, since you shut down Twitter’s Accessibility Team, disabled users have reported increased difficulty and frustration using Twitter. I urge you to immediately reinstate Twitter’s Accessibility Team and take all necessary steps to promote accessibility for disabled Twitter users.
Twitter’s historical record on disability access was far from perfect,1 but in recent years, the Accessibility Team markedly improved it. Twitter’s Accessibility Team was responsible for features that allowed disabled Twitter users to develop a community, advocate on key issues, organize, share information, and engage in commercial activity on Twitter. These improvements included adding reminders for users to include alt-text for images to describe content for people who are blind or low vision;4 creating auto-generated captions on videos for people who are deaf or hard of hearing; and changing app sounds to make them more pleasing for people with sensory issues. Today, these features are essential for disabled Twitter users.
Your decision to eliminate Twitter’s Accessibility Team therefore represents a dramatic and unwelcome shift, one that has already had devastating consequences for Twitter users with disabilities. Following the Team’s elimination, Twitter Spaces no longer allows users to turn on automatic closed captions, preventing users who are deaf or hard of hearing from engaging with Spaces. Additionally, the decision to no longer allow third-party app functionality with Twitter has eliminated necessary accessibility tools for disabled users. For example, many people who are blind and low vision preferred using third-party apps that were more compatible with screen readers than Twitter itself, but those apps are no longer available. Your most recent decision to charge a fee for access to Twitter’s application programming interface (API) has sparked concerns that automated accounts that help users write alt-text for images, will cease to exist. All of these changes under your leadership signal a disregard for the needs of disabled people. Consequently, Twitter users with disabilities are questioning their ability to continue to use the platform and many have already left it entirely.
In light of these concerning developments, I ask you to respond in writing to the following questions by March 17, 2023:
Please explain why you eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team.
Will you commit to immediately restoring Twitter’s Accessibility Team? If not, why not?
In November, before you eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team, it announced several
upcoming projects, including improving both image description education and the closed
caption button for users. What is the status of each of those projects?
What resources is Twitter devoting to the creation and maintenance of accessibility
features for disabled individuals on the platform?
Is Twitter compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the
accessibility regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the
Communications and Video Accessibility Act and other relevant laws?
Please explain why Twitter Spaces no longer includes automatic closed captioning
features. Will Twitter commit to reinstating automatic closed captioning for Twitter Spaces? If not, why not?
Will Twitter allow third-party apps to provide accessibility services for users with disabilities? If not, why not?
Will Twitter commit to allowing automated accounts that increase accessibility on the platform without the need for providers to pay fees? If not, why not?
Will Twitter commit to changing its default settings to remind all users to include alt-text on all photos and images? If not, why not?
Will Twitter commit to creating user-friendly closed captioning tools for users when they upload videos? If not, why not?
Will Twitter commit to creating user-friendly audio description tools for users when they upload videos? If not, why not?
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. Sincerely,
Edward J. Markey United States Senator
No matter your personal politics, if you're blind or otherwise disabled, you should send Senator Marky a thank you for trying to fight for us.