Why Twitter Still Needs to Care about Accessibility

In January I wrote an article detailing why Twitter needs to care about accessibility. Unlike other apps, the Twitter app has become tightly integrated into iOS. This means that it should follow the same strict accessibility requirements as Apple’s core apps. Fortunately, they have made their iOS app mostly accessible. Unfortunately, their Mac OS X app has zero accessibility, and Mountain Lion has begun integrating it.

Since its beginning, the blind have enjoyed Twitter because of its accessible format. Twitter just has text – no images, no stupid like buttons, just pure text, just the way we like it. A number of wonderful clients for iOS, Mac OS, and even Windows have sprung up. This ideal situation may not last forever. Disturbing rumors have surfaced that Twitter may stop allowing third party clients. I really hope this doesn’t happen. Twitter would feel the backlash. I might even stop using it. I might not have a choice.

Apple just released their latest update to Mac OS X, named Mountain Lion. People have generally received this update much more positively than Lion. Among other things, it has Twitter integration. This allows you to associate Twitter identities with your contacts. You can also tweet from notification center. Just go to twitter.com in Safari and sign in. It will ask you if you want to use this user name on this Mac. Say yes and you will receive notifications about mentions and direct messages.

To update your contacts, go to System Preferences then the Mail Contacts and Calendars pane. In the table of account types, go down to Twitter. A button will appear which says Update Contacts. This will associate the emails in your contacts with Twitter identities. It works very well, and integrates Twitter in a rather amazing way. Interestingly, I missed how many contacts it had updated. I typed “twitter” in the contact’s search field, and it pulled up every contact with an associated Twitter identity. I guess it must also search on attribute keys.

Now we come to the bad news. If you go to the contact, you can bring up their tweets. Or so you’d think. Sighted users should right-click on Twitter. Blind users should route the mouse with VO-Command-F5, then click with VO-Shift-Space, not that it will matter. You will see a menu with a option to tweet, and an option to show tweets. This opens the official Twitter app.

And now we come to the point of this article. The official Twitter app for the Mac has zero accessibility. I don’t mean a little, or enough to get by, I mean nothing. VoiceOver shows a close button, a minimize button, and a zoom button. And nothing else.

To reiterate what I said in my other article, if Apple wants to use the official Twitter app, then it must meet the same accessibility standards. This needs to happen now. Dark clouds have begun gathering on the relatively perfect Twitter horizon. Perhaps it has become a little too perfect. Will Twitter remain the cool social network? Or will it descend into becoming another monolith? Only time will tell. Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.