Markey’s letter to Musk: “All of these changes under your leadership signal a disregard for the needs of disabled people.”

Read full story in the Boston Globe: “Ed Markey helped make Elon Musk. Now, Markey is working to slow him down”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (February 27, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is calling on Chief Executive Officer of Twitter Elon Musk to reinstate Twitter’s Accessibility Team and support the development and implementation of critical online features so that users with disabilities can fully access and utilize the social media platform. In his letter to the company, Senator Markey highlighted a variety of devastating changes under Musk’s leadership for disabled Twitter users, including Twitter Spaces no longer offering automatic closed captions, which prevents users who are deaf or hard of hearing from engaging with Spaces.

“Twitter has a responsibility to ensure that its platform is open and accessible to disabled users,” wrote Senator Markey. “Yet, you recently eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team, which played a crucial role in developing and implementing essential features for Twitter users with disabilities. Not surprisingly, since you shut down Twitter’s Accessibility Team, disabled users have reported increased difficulty and frustration using Twitter. I urge you to immediately reinstate Twitter’s Accessibility Team and take all necessary steps to promote accessibility for disabled Twitter users.”

The Senator continued, “All of these changes under your leadership signal a disregard for the needs of disabled people. Consequently, Twitter users with disabilities are questioning their ability to continue to use the platform, and many have already left it entirely.”

In the letter, Senator Markey requested Twitter provide answers to the following questions by March 17, 2023:

  1. Please explain why you eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team. 
  2. Will you commit to immediately restoring Twitter’s Accessibility Team? If not, why not? 
  3. In November, before you eliminated Twitter’s Accessibility Team, it announced several upcoming projects, including improving both image description education and the closed caption button for users.13 What is the status of each of those projects? 
  4. What resources is Twitter devoting to the creation and maintenance of accessibility features for disabled individuals on the platform? 
  5. Is Twitter compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the accessibility regulations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under the Communications and Video Accessibility Act and other relevant laws? 
  6. Please explain why Twitter Spaces no longer includes automatic closed captioning features. Will Twitter commit to reinstating automatic closed captioning for Twitter Spaces? If not, why not? 
  7. Will Twitter allow third-party apps to provide accessibility services for users with disabilities? If not, why not?
  8. Will Twitter commit to allowing automated accounts that increase accessibility on the platform without the need for providers to pay fees? If not, why not?
  9. Will Twitter commit to changing its default settings to remind all users to include alt-text on all photos and images? If not, why not?
  10. Will Twitter commit to creating user-friendly closed captioning tools for users when they upload videos? If not, why not?
  11. Will Twitter commit to creating user-friendly audio description tools for users when they upload videos? If not, why not?

Senator Markey is the author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which mandates accessibility of devices and services for the millions of Americans with disabilities and enables the use of a wide range of devices and services needed in the digital era. In November 2022, Senator Markey introduced the Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility (CVTA) Act, which updates and amends the CVAA to keep pace with the proliferation of emerging technologies that have come online since Senator Markey’s 2010 bill was passed with bipartisan support. The new legislation would: 1) strengthen standards for television programming and emergency communication; 2) expand accessibility requirements, including closed captions and audio descriptions, to online platforms and video conferencing services; and 3) equip the federal government with the ability to improve accessibility of emerging technologies.

Last November, following Musk taking control of Twitter, Senator Markey called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and enforce Twitter’s privacy consent decree and to investigate the company’s violation of any consumer protection laws. In the same month, after a Washington Post reporter obtained the Twitter handle “@realedmarkey” with a purchased blue verification check, Senator Markey demanded accountability and highlighted that the company’s lax verification practices undermine the ability for users to be critical consumers of news and information on the platform.