I was having a conversation with one of my mentors on Friday and was telling them about all sorts of cool articles I had found while using Twitter about vision impairment. I was surprised to learn that they didn't use Twitter, because there are so many awesome resources to be found and great people to meet. Today, I will be sharing resources on using Twitter with vision impairment, with limited technology skills required.
What is Twitter?
According to Wikipedia, "Twitter is an online news and social networking website where users post and interact with messages known as tweets." For almost all languages, these tweets consist of 280 characters and can include text, video, gifs, photos, and website links. Twitter has been around since 2006 and its user base continues to grow every year. Twitter is free to use and can be accessed online at www.twitter.com or through mobile apps- download Twitter for iOS on the App Store here or for Android on Google Play here.
How to make an account
To make a Twitter account, follow these steps:
- Enter your name
- Enter your phone number, or click the link underneath that says "use email instead" and enter your email
- Enter a password
- A new screen will display requesting a verification code. A verification code will be emailed or texted to you- wait for a message with a six digit code
- Enter the six digit code from your email or text message
- Re-enter password
- Congrats, you made a Twitter!
Twitter will assign you a username by default, but if you want to change it, follow these instructions on how to change your Twitter username:
- If on the web browser, click on your profile in the top right corner
- If in mobile, click on your profile in the top left corner
- Go to the settings menu, not to be confused with "edit profile"
- Go to the account menu
- Underneath the "login and security" section, go to "username"
- Type in the new username you want to have
- Click save
Choosing who to follow
Twitter recommends users based on topics that you find interesting, or you can manually search for users in the search bar. I like to look up tags for what I am interested in or see what users are recommended to me based on who I follow. I am most likely to follow accounts that post frequently and have high-quality, relevant tweets to what I am interested in. Read more about some of my favorite accounts to follow for vision impairment here.
Composing a tweet
To compose a tweet, go to the icon that has a feather with a plus sign next to it, which can almost always be found in the top right corner. From there, type whatever you want to share. Hashtags, which are used to identify tweets based on a topic, can be added by using the # and typing a word, phrase, or number with no spaces. For example, I might hashtag a post for my 200th post with #200thPost or show my post talks about music education with #MusicEd. Read more about my 200th post here and one of my music education posts on why students with disabilities should join band here.
You can add other media to the tweet by clicking any of the icons on the bottom of the screen- from left to right, the icons are:
- Attach photo or video
- Attach a gif
- Start a poll- type a question and answer choices, then choose how long to keep it open
- Add your location
Users can also tag other Twitter users in posts by using the @ sign followed by their username. For example, if you wanted to tag me, you would include @veron4ica somewhere in your tweet.
When you are logged in, the Twitter homepage displays a feed of recent tweets from all of the people that you follow called a timeline. The feed consists of tweets that the users wrote or shared from other people- these shared tweets are known as retweets. From the homepage, users can like/heart tweets to store in the liked tweets section of their profile, or they can share retweets by pressing the share button, which consists of arrows that form a square. In addition, users can reply to tweets by opening the tweet and clicking the speech bubble to write a comment.
In case this sounds confusing, here is how each function can be used:
- I saw a tweet about a conference at my university that I want to go to, so I like/heart the tweet so I can easily find it later in the liked tweets section of my profile. My followers will see this tweet on their timeline, but it will not show up on the main feed of my profile. Read more about attending conferences with vision impairment here.
- I came across a really cool news article about how Leonardo da Vinci had strabismus and I want to share it with my followers. I retweet it so that it shows up on the main feed of my profile and all of my followers see it. I also write a blog post about it- read more about artists with vision impairment here.
- I learned that Bookshare is getting a feature update, but I'm not sure how to use the latest feature. I open the tweet and write a comment asking a follow-up question and my tweet shows up underneath the original tweet as a reply. The developer then answers my question, which is super helpful! Read more about Bookshare here.
Accessibility for large print
On the web browser, Twitter can be enlarged by zooming in on the web page using the ctrl-+ keyboard shortcut, which enlarges the text. The Twitter website can also be used with screen magnifiers without any issues.
For Android, the text size is the same as the system font size, which can be enlarged using these accessibility settings here. If further magnification is needed, I recommend using the screen magnifier.
For iOS devices, the Twitter app does not support dynamic text or the default system font size. The font can be increased somewhat by going to the settings menu, but this is still not large enough for me to see:
- Go to the settings menu in the Twitter app
- Go to the general section
- Click the display menu
- Drag the slider at the top of the screen to adjust the font size.
I am able to enlarge the text of Twitter using the Zoom screen magnifier built in to iOS devices- read more about iOS accessibility settings here.
Accessibility for screen readers
Twitter's website can be navigated using many common screen readers with ease, though it's impossible to know how every individual type of screen reader will interact with the website. However, there is no reason to believe that the website will not be compatible with screen readers.
I have had awesome luck using Twitter with Select-to-Speak and it works well with TalkBack too. The Android app does not have any customizations for screen reader users available other than the ability to compose image descriptions- more on that in a minute. Users can have a shortcut for Select-to-Speak or TalkBack on their home screen- read more about enabling this in Android Pie here.
The Twitter iOS app works well with VoiceOver and users have the option to customize their Voiceover experience in the accessibility settings of the app. They can choose whether to have usernames read out loud in timelines, have shortened URLs read to them, or have the symbol # be pronounced as hashtag. Read more about learning to use VoiceOver here.
Adding alt text to images
Before I learned about alt text in images, I would sometimes spend several minutes trying to figure out what is in a picture that someone posted on Twitter- is it a guide dog or just a pile of leaves? I recommend that every Twitter user enable to ability to compose image descriptions or alt text that describes what is in an image for someone who is blind or has low vision. For example, if I posted a photo of my professor's service dog, I would write the description as "Grady the labradoodle is lying down in the grass while wearing a harness and looking up at the camera as if he's about to sneeze." Read more about writing image descriptions here and read more about service dogs here.
How to enable alt text descriptions:
- Go to Twitter settings
- Navigate to the general section
- Select accessibility
- Go to the vision menu, and turn on "compose image descriptions"
- Before publishing a tweet with an image attached, click on the attachment and type a description of what is in the image.
What I use it for
I used to think I would never use Twitter for anything, and now here I am celebrating my second year on the platform. Here are some of the ways I have used Twitter:
- Find articles related to vision impairment and assistive technology
- Follow leaders in my field and politicians
- Learn about contests and scholarships
- See what companies are releasing next
- Promote my blog posts
- Talk about issues that I care about
- Check out conferences to attend or follow conference tags
- Keep in touch with people I meet through my blog and other events
While you're here, follow me on Twitter @veron4ica here
Is Twitter accessible for people with vision impairments?
Twitter is not perfect and there are still some accessibility gaps for users with vision impairments, such as the lack of dynamic text support for iOS and the fact that composing image descriptions is a hidden feature. I'm still able to use Twitter very well though, and consider Twitter to be reasonably accessible for people with blindness or low vision. I personally love using Twitter and highly recommend it to anyone who loves keeping up with assistive technology and vision impairment news as it happens.