How Meta’s Threads Fell into ‘Accessibility Debt’

By: Sarah Roberts
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Meta recently grabbed headlines with the launch of its Twitter alternative, Threads. Although many welcomed Threads in the wake of Twitter-related controversy, some users pointed out that the platform launched without many accessibility features in place. Meta’s new platform appears to have fallen into a high-profile case of accessibility debt.  
 
The issue offers a lesson for businesses worldwide – accessibility must be incorporated into your new products, offerings and content from the start. Learn more below on the term ‘accessibility debt,’ on the case of Meta and tips to promote greater access at your company.  

What is accessibility debt? 

Accessibility debt results from the flawed logic of “I’ll get to it later.” In physical spaces, accessibility debt could occur because an architect failed to include ramps, space for accessible bathrooms or elevators. The need to retrofit a building later is often more costly. Doing so after-the-fact typically happens after complaints are filed or worse, bad press.  

Today, accessibility debt often happens more online. When building out new websites, platforms or content, people often overlook the need to make those resources available for all users. It’s often not intentional, but many simply don’t know what’s needed to make an experience accessible. It’s important to understand that accessibility debt isn’t just about inconveniencing some users. The reality is that it’s discrimination against people with disabilities. The results of falling into accessibility debt can, therefore, be costly and damaging. 

Exploring the accessibility of Meta’s Threads

Users who tested Meta’s new platform found that they were unable to add alt text to their images. Alt text provides a textual description of images so that people who are blind or have low vision can understand what’s being displayed. Many people who are blind use screen readers to navigate online and read this alt text aloud to them. Threads is therefore preventing many people from being able to access posts with equity.  

Threads also doesn’t offer the option to add automated captions, unlike other sites, which have features that allow you to add and edit captions on videos. Millions of people, including those who are Deaf or hard of hearing, rely on captions to consume videos.  

Finally, Threads lacks in terms of color contrasting. Whether viewing the platform in light or dark mode, the contrast of some text failed to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) requirements for contrast. As a result, people with low vision or colorblindness won’t be able to read text on their screens.  

These missing features are an oversight on Meta’s part. As a result, many individuals with disabilities and their advocates may avoid the platform until the company makes meaningful updates. 

The consequences of accessibility debt online 

The process of revising your digital environments to include accessibility is almost always more expensive than building them with accessibility in mind initially. Businesses are likely to face additional consequences too. 

Loss of sales or income 

If your business’s site isn’t accessible, you’re going to miss out on sales. If a person can’t access your site to make a purchase, they’ll leave or turn to your competitors to make their purchase. According to Forbes, 71% of people with disabilities will abandon a website if it’s not accessible. In the UK alone, this issue causes an estimated loss of £11.75 billion or $14.4 billion a year. 

Damage to brand reputation 

Getting called out for being inaccessible can harm your business’s brand image. Consumers care about whether you’re running a responsible company. In fact, 64% of consumers report that a company’s ethics are important to them when they choose where to make their purchases. Also, while 90% of consumers won’t report inaccessibility to the company, thanks to social media and “call out culture,” someone is bound to post about their negative experiences and how your company fell short.  

Legal repercussions 

The number of accessibility lawsuits being filed in the US are rising each year. In 2022, people filed 12% more lawsuits than the previous year. It rose 14% the year before that. Facing a lawsuit over an inaccessible website is not only expensive, but it can also be hard to come back from due to the negative press.  

Tips for avoiding accessibility debt at your business 

Start infusing accessibility into your company’s culture. Rather than viewing accessibility as an add-on, view it as an integral part of your site or platform. If your content isn’t accessible, it’s not ready to launch. Offer your team and users tools like captions and audio description are small fixes you can make now to make your site and interactions more accessible.  

Here are a few other solutions and tips to lead with accessibility in mind: 

  • Perform an accessibility audit on existing content. Do it before implementing major changes. Proactively checking for barriers can help you prevent inequitable experiences.  
  • Set a formal accessibility standard, such as WCAG 2.1 AA, which provides detailed technical guidelines for accessibility for your team. Make sure your team members are prepped to understand it. 
  • Train employees about fixes for everyday accessibility, such as how to make their Word or Google Docs accessible.  
  • Create a channel where your team can report accessibility flaws. If you use Slack or Teams, have a designated place where people can report issues to be fixed. 
  • Appoint an accessibility leader or hire a consultant whose role includes promoting accessibility and holding the company’s leadership accountable.  

Incorporating accessibility from the start is critical for businesses worldwide. Contact Verbit for more information about how our solutions, like captioning and audio description, can help you minimize and prevent accessibility debt at your company.