Jun 07, 2009 ()

What’s the deal with Twitter?

I’m sure if you are reading this you are familiar with Twitter, but Twitter is a brilliant place.

A place to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick answers to the question; “What are you doing?”

screenshot of twitter user account

The ease and speed of communication, along with the informal feel and openness of users information is attracting personal users as well as companies looking for a new way to communicate with their customers.

I’ve been posting the occasional comment about my adoption of BT Vision’s On-Demand alternative to traditional cable and satellite TV on my Twitter account (@mattevans) recently.

Today I saw a reply from BT’s customer services on my Twitter account, effectively saying that they were happy, because I was happy.

It was when I saw the account’s Twitter profile that something dawned on me.

The Problem.

Some Twitter users have started a trend of creating “inaccessible” content by putting valuable information as text stored in their twitter backgrounds.

Even websites like mytweetspace.com encourage this by making it easy for the average twitter user to create a background with included text, without the need for a graphics editing package.

However It would seem that even large companies such as BT are copying this practice and it creates a few problems.

What Is Inaccessible?

“Web accessibility means that people with disabilities can use the Web.” – W3C

Therefore, Inaccessible content means content that people with disabilities cannot use.

The Twitter Account In Question: @BTcare

Screenshot of BTcare's twitter profile

BTcare on Twitter appears to be a Twitter section of BT’s customer services department.

To the left hand side is a box containing a brief description of what they are doing on Twitter, where else to go for help, and 2 related Twitter accounts.

The 2 related Twitter accounts are not mentioned on the BT.com website. The means knowledge of them is exclusive to the 3 BT Twitter account profiles that are part of their Twitter BT Care Team.

Why are BT and other users doing this?

Twitter provides it’s users with 160 characters to describe themselves to the public.

It is clear the some Twitter users find it difficult to fit everything they want to say to a potential follower into this space and resort to putting further information such as URLs, email addresses and other twitter accounts into a picture file.

There is no obvious reason for BT solely relying on it, a large amount of the information can be put into Twitter’s user description

Why is this a bad thing for some Twitter users?

  • Visitors who require a Text-To-Speech or Screen Reading service cannot read this content.
  • Visitors with poor sight cannot clearly scale the size of the content and therefore cannot read it.
  • Visitors with custom CSS styles cannot see the background, and therefore the text.
  • Users with images disabled cannot see the background, and therefore the text.
  • Mobile-web users cannot see the text.
  • Visitors with low-resolution screens are unable to see the text due to it being hidden by the Twitter users posts and Twitter’s user interface.

How This Applies to the example of BT.

In BT’s case, the text cannot be read by a text-to speech service, or scaled, and the content is hidden on all computer screens smaller than 1280 pixels wide.

Users who cannot read the text are unable to visit the 2 other Twitter accounts.

Legal Issues

In Twitter’s Terms Of Service it states:

“You are solely responsible for your conduct and any data, text, information, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and video clips, links (“Content”) that you submit, post, and display on the Twitter.com service.”

This means that the user of the Twitter account is legally responsible for their content, even though it is being hosted by Twitter.

The UK’s Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 says the following:

“It is unlawful for a provider of services to discriminate against a disabled person […] in refusing to provide, or deliberately not providing, to the disabled person any service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to members of the public. […] Where a provider of services has a practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of a service which he provides, or is prepared to provide, to other members of the public, it is his duty to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, for him to have to take in order to change that practice, policy or procedure so that it no longer has that effect.”

This means that under UK law, companies cannot make anything available that isn’t accessible by people with disabilities. Text in Twitter backgrounds is not accessible.

The Solution

For while Twitter continues to limit free form text to 160 characters and provide no room for further information, I suggest the following:

  • The Obvious First. Get Rid Of The Text In The Background All Together.
  • Be as descriptive as possible with Twitter’s given 160 characters. In BT’s case it is being put to waste.
  • Place anything that there isn’t space to write on Twitter, on on a well designed webpage linked through your twitter website URL. Make this accessible.

Summary

To answer the question I posed at the begining of this article; Yes, very much so.

The Disability Discrimination act of 1995 means that content must be accessible by people with disabilities.

Putting text into a background image is not accessible, and therefore discriminates against users with disabilities.

The Twitter Terms Of Service makes it clear that the user, and therefore the company, is responsible for the content, and therefore also responsible for discriminating.

Accessible Twitter: A Service Well Worth A Mention

This article delves into the web accessibility issues of Twitter background images with text specifically, However, Twitter is not entirely innocent in making itself easily accessible to the widest number of people possible.

Accessible Twitter is a service with the key goal of making Twitter more accessible, with features such as a keyboard accessible layout and a greatly improved page structure; it sure is a great improvement if accessibility is a requirement in your web use.

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