Tech

Twitter Adds Captions for Voice Tweets After Criticism

Twitter Inc.

users now have the option of seeing automated captions for voice tweets, a feature the company rolled out in June 2020 without such text, prompting criticism from accessibility advocates and users who said it excluded people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Voice tweets, which are available on the iOS Twitter app, let users record up to two minutes and 20 seconds of audio and send it as a tweet. As of Thursday, users can turn on captions by tapping a closed-captioning icon at the top right corner of a voice tweet, Twitter said.

Twitter said the automated captions are generated using

Microsoft Corp.

technology and users cannot edit the captions.

“As part of our ongoing work to make Twitter accessible for everyone, we’re rolling out automated captions for Voice Tweets to iOS,”

Gurpreet Kaur,

head of global accessibility at Twitter, said in a statement Thursday. “Though it’s still early and we know it won’t be perfect at first, it’s one of many steps we’re taking to expand and strengthen accessibility across our service.”

A Twitter executive last year defended introducing voice tweets without captions, saying in a tweet that adding transcripts would have delayed the launch of voice tweets until 2021 or 2022. That tweet was later deleted, and the company said it would address the complaints.

The executive, Chief Design Officer

Dantley Davis,

also responded to the controversy, tweeting last June that he appreciated the feedback and adding, “It’s clear we have a lot of work ahead to make Twitter more inclusive for people with disabilities.”

Captions are available for voice tweets in English, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Arabic, Hindi, French, Indonesian, Korean and Italian.

Twitter is the latest social-media company to add automated captions, although they aren’t universally available. TikTok, operated by ByteDance Ltd., introduced a similar feature in April, and

Facebook Inc.’s

Instagram rolled out automated captions to its IGTV video app in September.

While automated captions can make a product usable for more people, they can produce errors. Accents and background noise, for example, can lead to mistaken transcriptions and change the intended meaning of a sentence, said Meryl Evans, a digital marketer who is deaf.

Audio presents a challenge that video doesn’t, because there are no visual cues to help users understand if they encounter a confusing or erroneous caption, she said.

Advocates said the most important step companies can take is thinking about being inclusive from the start of the design process.

“Embedding accessibility into the beginning of the design lifecycle enables you to avoid the extensive effort required to fix a feature that’s already in production,” said Kate Kalcevich, who is hearing-impaired and works as head of services at Fable Tech Labs Inc., an accessibility-testing platform.

More From The Experience Report

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]

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