We, the undersigned, respectfully make the following request of organisations engaging with the online blind community. These organisations include, but are not limited to:
• Organisations of and for the blind
• Assistive technology companies
• Mainstream technology companies with accounts focussing on accessibility
• Entities providing essential information that may be vital at times of emergency
• Any product or service that values convenient, accessible engagement with the blind community.
We ask that, as a matter of urgency and to demonstrate a commitment to remaining accessible to as many blind people as possible, you prioritise creating a presence on the social network Mastodon.
Why this is important
Opinions vary regarding changes at Twitter since its acquisition in 2022. But there is no doubt that many blind people who formerly used Twitter as their primary social network have scaled back their use of the platform. An increasing number have abandoned it altogether.
Twitter’s blind community began migrating to Mastodon in significant numbers in November 2022, following the firing of every staff member of Twitter’s accessibility team. It was clear then that Twitter’s commitment to accessibility, which had increased and yielded positive outcomes in recent years, could no longer be relied upon.
With a desire to monetise the platform and find a path to profitability, experienced technology commentators in the blind community warned back in November that Twitter would eventually cut off access to third-party apps. This would ensure more people saw Twitter’s advertisements, and give Twitter full control of the user experience for everyone. This has now happened.
This change has eliminated the most accessible, popular options that made Twitter so attractive to many blind users.
Windows and Mac clients that provided an optimal environment designed by the blind, for the blind are now victims of Twitter’s third-party app ban, and no longer work. With a couple of exceptions that are almost certainly temporary, mainstream third-party Twitter apps that provided a superior accessibility and general user experience no longer work. Twitter’s own mobile offerings have shortcomings and accessibility challenges. Using the web interface is not as efficient or powerful.
The level of migration to Mastodon by the population in general has been remarkable. Since Twitter’s acquisition in October 2022, Mastodon has seen many millions of people join the platform. While specific statistics on adoption of Mastodon within the blind community are not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that the uptake by the formerly Twitter-using blind community is dramatically higher than for the population as a whole.
While Twitter has shown disregard for accessibility, quite the opposite is happening on mastodon. Those blindness-specific clients that were once compatible with Twitter are now serving us well on Mastodon. There’s a thriving ecosystem of third-party apps, supported by an open API no one can take away. Because of the culture of Mastodon, many such apps, including Mastodon’s own official app, offer exemplary screen reader accessibility.
It's long past time to act
The position blind users find themselves in was completely foreseeable five months ago. Organisations have had time to prepare, and we respectfully submit that it is not reasonable for the community to continue to wait patiently for something to happen without drawing the need for action to your attention.
We ask that you consider the following.
Do you care about reaching the blind community?
If so, why would you ignore a platform which an increasing number of us now frequent, while continuing a presence on a social network that has shown open disregard for accessibility?
Many in our community are passionate about the open, decentralised nature of Mastodon and other Fediverse services. We are not just passionate. We are also optimistic and determined. We have learned the hard way how fragile proprietary social networks are when they can be bought and sold, and take away our tools. Social networks based on open standards are the future, it is our insurance against this never happening again. We will support those products and services that recognise our passion and realise that they need to be where we are.
How to get started
Some people are fearful of change, and there are commercial entities with a lot to lose and a vested interest in misrepresenting an open technology they will never control. So, myths persist that Mastodon is complicated. It is no more complicated than choosing an email provider. A quick Internet search will assist you to get up and running, and many in our community would only be too happy to help. There is no time, need or excuse for further delay and inertia.
Thank you for reading this open letter. Many of us miss the products and services we used to follow on Twitter. We want to interact with you again. You have information we want. Please join us, and receive a warm welcome to the Fediverse