Twitter’s new audio tweet feature screws over deaf people – here’s why | Liam O’Dell

It’s one thing trying to get Twitter users to caption their videos, asking them to caption audio tweets just makes the social media platform even more inaccessible to deaf people like me.

Soon, everyone with Twitter’s iOS app will be able to record and tweet audio clips and share it with their followers. Besides worrying about what this means for certain world leaders (as noted by social media commentator Matt Navarra), there is another concern with the app’s latest feature – what will this mean for deaf users?

The current setup, shown below in a tweet from Navarra, shows that audio clips display as a video with a user’s profile picture in the centre. There are, alas, no captions displayed underneath it.

When this feature is rolled out to everyone who has the iOS app – something Twitter says will happen “in the coming weeks”. I dread to think how inaccessible the platform will become as the feature rises in prominence.

Twitter had recently taken some very positive steps around accessibility, including increasing its character count for image descriptions, and making the ALT text button visible for everyone on Twitter by default. So while not everyone currently shares images with image descriptions (even though they should), then at least the feature is there.

However, I suppose I find some comfort in the fact that the feature will likely cause some issues for journalists and anyone considering this feature as a way to expand their content. Granted, they may well rely on the fact that most of their audience is likely to be hearing (in a way which doesn’t consider deaf viewers, or those who depend on captions), but there still remains the ‘tap for sound’ issue with these audiovisual formats on Twitter – users still have to enter into the video to hear the audio.

It’s something I’ve actually praised social media platforms for in the past, as it’s made captioning content necessary. Captions are required to generate interest in those first three seconds which are counted as a ‘view’. Let’s not forget that alongside deaf and hard of hearing people like me, subtitles also benefit autistic people, those for whom English is a second language, and those with Auditory Processing Disorder.

Therefore, I find it baffling that when this feature was rolled out, Twitter not only forgot to include a feature to boost engagement, but one which makes it accessible.

Fellow disability activist Erin Ekins makes an excellent point in response to my thread on Twitter, in mentioning that there’s no reason why the platform couldn’t just add an auto-captions feature alongside this tool, with the option to amend them if they’re inaccurate.

Sure, I should stress that auto-captions based on voice recognition certainly aren’t the best (definitely not in YouTube’s case), but if there’s an option to edit them, then I think it could go some way in increasing captioning awareness, much like the aforementioned ALT text change likely increasing awareness of the needs of blind and partially sighted people. If anything, the current set-up with just the profile picture looks rather… bland.

It’s also worth mentioning that as much as this poses an issue for deaf viewers, it also creates barriers for deaf tweeters, as well. Prior to ALT texts being made available for GIFs, tweets contained a description of the moving images for screen readers. When this feature expands, if I wanted to use it, I would have to transcribe within the tweet – something which might prove difficult with the whole 280 character limit.

As I’ve likely stressed several times in this post, Twitter has made some strong steps in recent months to improve its offer for disabled users. It’s disappointing that accessibility wasn’t considered from the outset, and is likely an afterthought. However, now it is essential that deaf people are considered when moving this feature forward, to ensure that Twitter’s previous work around access isn’t unnecessarily undermined.

Featured Image: Twitter.


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