#AdvocacyMatters: Virtual barriers, Real-world Implications

November 11, 2022 / #AdvocacyMatters

For much of the disability rights movement’s history, equity in access has focused on eliminating barriers to spaces in the physical world. As our proverbial “town square” environment has shifted from a physical place to a virtual one, the need to protect access to these public spaces is imperative.

Last week, in the wake of billionaire Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, members of the company’s Accessibility Experience and Human Rights teams reported that both had been disbanded and their employees fired. The Accessibility Experience team worked to ensure that Twitter’s website and applications functioned properly with accessibility tools across different browsers and platforms… critical for people who have vision impairments and use screen reader technology. This team had recently completed updates to Alt Text display options, and was reportedly working on programs to improve image descriptions and address accessibility with keyboard shortcuts on mobile.

Twitter’s Human Rights team, also reported to have been let go last week, “worked to protect users facing human rights violations around the globe, including activists, journalists and people affected by conflicts like the war in Ukraine.” Disability rights are human rights and across the globe disabled advocates must be able to fight for their rights including on social media without fear of reprisal. Former Twitter Human Rights Counsel Shannon Raj Singh shared “I am enormously proud of the work we did to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, to protect those at-risk in global conflicts & crises including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, and to defend the needs of those particularly at risk of human rights abuse by virtue of their social media presence.”

With so much of our public conversation taking place on social media platforms, accessibility must be fiercely protected and continuously improved. We cannot allow website and application compatibility to become modern day segregation devices, keeping the voices of disabled folk out of the public square. Taking note of these troubling changes at Twitter, the National Disability Rights Network weighed in on the magnitude of these changes: “If Twitter is going to remain usable to millions of users with disabilities it *must* remain accessible.”

These changes can only last if they’re tolerated. Please join us in advocating for accountability for those entrusted with managing these public spaces, because #AdvocacyMatters.

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