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Some Disabled People Say Twitter's New Design Is Inaccessible

the Twitter logo is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a computer screen displaying a Twitter logo

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Key Takeaways

  • Twitter has launched a new design for its app and website, including its own font, higher contrast, and less gray space.
  • The update was intended to increase accessibility, but many disabled users and accessibility experts disagree, pointing out that some of the changes have made the site less accessible.
  • Twitter has responded to the concerns with promises to fix some of the key issues.

Last week, Twitter rolled out a redesign that the site claimed would make the website and app more accessible and user-focused. However, many disabled users and accessibility experts disagree and have pointed out flaws in the new design that make it less accessible.

What Did Twitter Change?

With the goal of making the site more user-friendly to more users, Twitter released several updates to the platform, including:

  • All text is now in Twitter’s own typeface (called Chirp)
  • The display has a higher contrast between text and background
  • The site reduced "visual clutter" with fewer gray backgrounds and divider lines
  • All Western languages (such as English and French) will now align to the left to fill the screen, which will make the text flow easier and increase its readability.

Feedback From Disabled Users

While having high contrast between font and text can make it easier for people with low vision to read, some users with photosensitivity (including those who get migraines or tension headaches) have said that Twitter has made the contrast on the site so high that it's triggering their symptoms.

“They’ve effectively just transferred the issues with color contrast to a new group of users, rather than resolving them,” Jessica James, an accessibility consultant at Erudite Agency, tells Verywell.

Migraines and Headaches

Many users with migraines have said that the contrast between the button's black background (which was previously blue) and the stark white of the text is too high. They’ve also said that by cutting out what Twitter considered “visual clutter,” the white background of tweets is now too bright to read.

Other users say that Chirp—the site's new font—is squashed together and hard to focus on. The squinting required to read it can trigger a migraine.

Rami Burstein, a professor of Anesthesia and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, vice-chair of Neuroscience at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the president of the International Headache Society, tells Verywell Health that the contrast on websites can cause migraines.

"Color and non-color contrast (e.g., between black and white or red and green) can commonly trigger visual aura - an abnormal wave of cortical activity associated with [the] appearance of flashes of light, zigzag lines, and partial loss of vision for a period of 20-30 minutes," says Burstein. "While all these symptoms recover fully, the cellular and molecular events that occur during visual aura are capable of initiating the classical migraine headache."

Dyslexic Users

The high contrast is also causing accessibility problems for users with dyslexia, many of whom have reported that the high contrast is making the text difficult to read.

Studies have shown that dyslexic people prefer low brightness and color differences between text and background compared to readers without dyslexia.

People with dyslexia also find it harder to read certain fonts. Some dyslexic users have said that Chirp is making the text on Twitter blur together. Chirp is a serif font, which is harder for people with dyslexia to read. Many dyslexic people prefer sans serif plain text fonts (such as Arial, Calibri, or Open Sans), which make the text appear less crowded.

What Can Twitter Do?

UX and Product Designer Aisling Brock tells Verywell that to address the accessibility issues, Twitter should go back to basics.

"My number one tip for accessibility is always consistency," says Brock. "The more things that are similar to each other, the fewer things that they need to “figure out” before they can continue their task. This is why a lot of apps simply use the system fonts of their operating system."

Brock says that when apps start to move away from this, you start to see the inconsistency, and "your brain needs time to adjust when it switches between apps."

James says that they do not understand "why the font was the thing Twitter chose to invest so heavily in" considering the prominent accessibility issues with the platform, such as "alt text is fiddly and laborious to add to image-based posts" and "voice tweets can only have automatically generated closed captions (no ability to correct errors)."

Handing control over to users might be one way that Twitter can remedy the redesign misstep. For example, James suggests letting users "select their preferred color palette, fonts, text size" and giving them the ability "to turn [the] contrast up or down within their settings."

Twitter's Response

Twitter's Accessibility account stated that the team is "listening and iterating" to the concerns and critiques of disabled users. For its first next steps, the platform will be changing the contrast on all buttons as well as work on fixing the issues with the Chirp font.

In a statement to Verywell, a Twitter spokesperson says that "feedback was sought from people with disabilities throughout the process, from the beginning. People have different preferences and needs, and we will continue to track feedback and refine the experience. We realize we could get more feedback in the future and we'll work to do that."

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Article Sources
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  1. Rello L, Baeza-Yates R. Optimal Colors to Improve Readability for People with Dyslexia. Text Customization for Readability Online Symposium. Updated November 19, 2012.

  2. British Dyslexia Association. Dyslexia Style Guide 2018: Creating Dyslexia Friendly Content. 2018