Helping the visually impaired use Twitter

Visually impaired individuals have the same desire for professional collaboration through social networking resources as their sight-enabled colleagues. Twitter , one of the micro-blogging and networking resources growing in popularity among various professional communities, including educators, has various clients available to enhance the user experience. Unfortunately, the features built into the clients, and the site itself, provide stumbling blocks to many visually impaired individuals. Screen readers may not work properly, text size may not be able to be increased, font colors may not be able to be changed, fields are missing needed labels, and various features may not be accessible with the use of only a keyboard (1), given that some visually impaired individuals are not able to use a mouse..

Dennis Lembree has created a site called Accessible Twitter, which brings accessibility to the power of Twitter. Accessible Twitter , a web based application, has implemented a number of features, using the Twitter API, correcting some of the deficiencies prohibiting visually impaired users from taking full advantage of the power of Twitter. Through Accessible Twitter all links are keyboard accessible, and appropriate headers and labels are included. Screen readers used by visually impaired individuals work best with a layout that is simple, well structured and consistent. Accessible Twitter provides that, making an easy interface for readers such as Jaws, or magnifiers such as ZoomText. Additionally, features like direct message access are easy to find and use (2). A main features of Twitter is the use of messages in 140 characters or less. Visually impaired users are unable to see the character count change as text is added in the traditional website, or in applications such as TweetDeck. Users have no way of knowing when they have reached or exceeded their limit. Accessible Twitter provides a needed auditory warning, letting the user know when the character limit has been reached. Accessible Twitter also works with the major browsers, including the newest, Chrome. The full list of Accessible Twitter features is available on the site at .

To begin using Accessible Twitter one must first sign up for a Twitter account at the Twitter website. For some individuals, assistance may be needed if their screen reader is not fully functional on the Twitter website. Once the user has a Twitter account, s/he only needs to go to the Accessible Twitter website to begin using the application.


REVIEW of Accessible Twitter by Jon Ross-Wiley

As an avid and active Twitter-user or "Tweep," I have to say that Accessible Twitter is an excellent interface option. By design, Accessible Twitter is simpler and less "busy" than other Twitter interfaces. Most noteworthy is that all of the main features of Twitter such as "Retweets" and "Mentions" are listed right at the top in easy-to-find buttons. Furthermore, the fact that the colors and sizes of fonts can be changed is something that should not be overlooked as an important element to accessibility. This, in conjunction with the white background, makes the text pop off the page, and, while this interface is not flashy it is just as functional as the interface. Users who are visually impaired, or who simply prefer a "bare bones" approach will be very happy with Accessible Twitter. Mr. Lembree has done a fine job in bringing Twitter to those who are visually-impaired, but is it for everyone?

In tinkering around with the Accessible Twitter option, one wonders, why do we need anything more than this? More specifically, looking through the lens of an educator, I have grown to know that what is good for those who need more support or accommodations is, more often than not, beneficial for others who don’t technically “need” these accommodations. What does the Twitter-user gain by using a flashier interface? It is curious to explore this a bit. Why isn’t Accessible Twitter the preferred application for all users? So, I am forced to turn the lens on myself. Now that I know about Accessible Twitter, will I use it for my business account? My feeling is that I will more than likely stay with the current application I use because I am comfortable with it, and I have established routines with it that work for me. That said, had Twitter appeared on the scene in this simpler form to begin with, I see no reason why I would need to make a change. Accessible Twitter is an excellent application, and I am pleased to now have it in my mental database of applications that could prove to truly enhance the experience of visually impaired users.