An Open Letter To Twitter Regarding Nonvisual Twitter Applications
Doug Lee
August 18, 2012

This is the text of a letter I sent around 7:15 PM (Eastern time) to Twitter. I have reformatted it for better viewing but did not change the text content. The letter in its original email format appears at
From: Doug Lee <>
Subject: Exceptions for nonvisual Twitter apps , such as those purposed for blind users

My name is Doug Lee. I am a developer and assistive technology specialist, helping to make applications and environments accessible and efficient for use by people who are blind. See my signature block for links to my personal and professional web sites. I am doug_lee42 on Twitter, and I use dlee_code as a place to announce developments in some of my public development projects. I am also blind.

I am writing to request assistance for those who develop Twitter applications with an inherently nonvisual focus, in light of the very visually-oriented new API use requirements. This is an open letter, the text of which also appears at

My method of interacting with Twitter is through an application called Qwitter. The development of Qwitter itself was discontinued, but not before it spawned a few replacements, notable among which is The Qube ( These Twitter access applications use the Twitter API to present tweets and actions in a format tailored for use by blind users. Many interactions are accomplished with no visual displaying of tweets at all. For example, I am able to move through timelines, mentions, DM's, etc., using only spoken output and no on-screen text. I can reply to a tweet without ever actually bringing it to screen by typing a keystroke that pops up an edit control where I type my response. (In some cases when I use desktop computers, I don't even attach a monitor to the computer.)

I am concerned, on reading the general API requirements and, specifically, the new Display Guidelines (now requirements) imposed on API users (see My basic concern is that the new rules will make would-be app developers feel forced out when their focus is nonvisual in the first place.

Specific problems with applying the Twitter Display Guidelines to nonvisual apps include, but are not limited to the following:

I request exemption of applications with a naturally nonvisual focus from the new strict visually-oriented requirements, and that this exemption be made clear for current and would-be app developers so they will not come to believe that continued non-visually-oriented support of Twitter is a hopeless endeavor. (This sense of hopelessness already exists among developers of nonvisually-oriented Twitter applications.)

I believe that, as a fair tradeoff, such nonvisual applications may be required to provide all actions required of other apps, though perhaps not by the same normally required means. For example, though a nonvisual app may not make a profile link out of a person's Twitter id, the app may fairly be required to provide an easy means of pulling that person's profile. To use Qwitter and The Qube as examples, I can type a keystroke after hearing a (non-displayed but spoken) tweet and pop up a list of the Twitter ids in that tweet, selecting one of which with arrow keys will bring up that user's profile on screen for examination.

I am aware that Twitter has allowed the console (text-only) app Ttytter ( to survive without being forced to adhere to the new visual rules - which of course are not practical in the text environment where Ttytter runs. I hope this is evidence that my request makes sense to Twitter and may receive similar attention, though my request is broader in scope.

I appreciate your consideration of my request. I may be reached at this email address ( or in Twitter at doug_lee42, or in Skype at dlee42.

Doug Lee
"No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow." --unknown source