What is Twitter?
Twitter is a popular social networking tool that allows users to send a short, mostly text-based message up to 140 characters long known as a ‘tweet’. These tweets are then published online and can be publicly viewed. Twitter users can post their own tweets, follow the tweets of other users or contribute to a wider online discussion based on a particular topic or event.
Twitter is also commonly referred to as a ‘microblogging’ tool, a term that indicates Twitter is a short web log (blog). As of early-2016, Twitter remains Australia’s most popular social media microblogging tool with approximately 2.8 million unique visitors in Australia as reported by Social Media News Australia and over 300 million users worldwide.
Why try Twitter?
Twitter is all about fast personal communication. People who tweet generally want to share their thoughts on something with others. Sometimes this can be small personal insights shared with people who follow your tweets, while at other times you may want to share your thoughts on a larger event. Examples of Twitter use include following a celebrity, giving feedback on a real-time event such as a live television show or presentation, passing on information about something of interest such as a party to your followers or sharing your experience of a major event such as a natural disaster. Another popular use for Twitter is as an information resource – you can ask questions online about particular issues and be answered quickly.
For people with disabilities, Twitter can be a great way to seek disability-specific information on how to overcome potential issues or to provide support through shared experience. Twitter can also be used to unite with others in the form of a protest or as a mechanism to receive quick answers to particular issues. Given its relative anonymity, many people with disabilities feel comfortable asking questions through the medium knowing that the user can control how much of their identity is revealed to others.
Here’s a quick tour of the most common Twitter features:
- Tweet: a message sent on Twitter that is up to 140 characters in length.
- Followers: people who have requested to have your tweets sent to them.
- Hashtag (#): this allows you to tweet on a popular Twitter topic by including a particular word preceded by the ‘#’ symbol, such as ‘#weather’.
- Retweet (RT): forwarding another user’s tweet to your followers.
Twitter accessibility issues
Given that Twitter is mostly text-based, it should be a very accessible medium. However, in the early years, the website of www.twitter.com was widely criticised for its inaccessible interface.
Today the accessibility of Twitter has been greatly improved. There is now a dedicated accessibility team responding to accessibility issue at @a11yteam. The official iOS and Android apps have also been improved for their accessibility, and there are several accessible alternatives available.
However, some accessibility issues remain. Research conducted by Media Access Australia and Twitter users have provided ways in which the accessibility challenges can be overcome.
Overcoming Twitter accessibility issues: tips and tricks
Easy Chirp – an accessible website for using Twitter
If you are unable to use the main Twitter website due to accessibility issues, you may want to try using the Easy Chirp website www.easychirp.com. This website operates in a similar way to the main Twitter website but provides a more consistent layout, good keyboard navigation and better support for assistive technologies such as screen readers. Easy Chirp also has the added benefit of making it easier to add alternative text to images.
Mobile Twitter website
In addition to Easy Chirp, many blind and vision impaired Twitter users have recommended using the mobile website. The web address for the mobile site is m.twitter.com. This allows you to perform a limited number of Twitter-related tasks through a simplified interface.
Twitter apps for iOS and Android
Media Access Australia has tested a number of Twitter apps and based on our testing, user feedback and reviews from AppleVis, there are many accessible Twitter apps available. The default official Twitter app on both iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad is generally considered to work well, as is the official Android app. Popular alternatives considered accessible include Twitterific on iOS and Metal on Android which supports both Twitter and Facebook.
Adding alternative text to Twitter images
Users of the iOS or Android Twitter app can also add alternative text to images. To enable this feature, users of the app need to go to the ‘compose image descriptions’ option in the Twitter app’s accessibility settings. Once enabled, users will have an ‘add description’ button which will allow the addition of alternative text.
Windows-based Twitter clients
People who like to keep track of a large amount of Twitter information often use Windows applications. Two accessible recommendations include Chicken Nugget: Twitter client and TheQube designed specifically for blind users.
You can join in popular accessibility discussions by using the #a11y and #axs hashtags and participate in broader disability discussion using #disability.
Twitter support and contacting Twitter directly
For accessibility-specific issues you can contact the Twitter accessibility team @a11yteam. The Twitter Help Center at support.twitter.com may also be useful as it contains a large amount of tutorials and information on how to make the most of Twitter. It is also possible to contact Twitter directly.
Community support for people with disabilities on Twitter
Twitter can also be a useful tool for quickly sending a short message to organisations that support people with disabilities. For example, Media Access Australia can be contacted through its Twitter feed @mediaaccessaus and ACCAN can be contacted through its Twitter feed @accan_au.
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