TwitterAble and the man who founded it
“Making the web inherently accessible was the aim of Tim Berners-Lee when he created it, so I’ve tried to take that into the world,” said Andrew Hayward, software engineer at Twitter.
As a software engineer for more than 15 years, accessibility has always been at the forefront of his mind. This desire to focus on accessibility while serving the public conversation is at the heart of Andrew’s commitment to disability inclusion as co-chair and founder of @TwitterAble.
As an employee and avid Twitter user from its inception, Andrew started the conversation around what it means to be a disabled member of Twitter’s platform, and what it means to be a disabled employee with his colleagues. He was then asked to be co-chair of Twitter’s new disability Business Resource Group. When launching TwitterAble in September of 2019, Andrew had one main goal in mind: to normalise discussions for everyone with a disability so that people felt more comfortable not only talking about their own experience, but disability in general.
Living with ADHD, Andrew knows how important it is to have these conversations, especially because people don’t always know or consider themselves as disabled. But with more people talking about their disabilities he realized how dialogue helps others understand how multifaceted the experience is.
“My goal was to make that conversation happen, to make disability a larger part of who Twitter is, because we exist. We have to be quite understanding of how different people approach what it means to be disabled - you can have the same label of ‘disability’, but not the same experience of impairment. So we have to be aware of how we include everyone in the community.”
And on a global platform with millions of daily users, Andrew knows that having those important conversations enables Twitter to build better features and in turn helps developers to understand the community they’re serving. Twitter is doing this by encouraging conversations on the platform around disability inclusion to find out how they can best serve everyone’s needs. “You cannot have a truly global conversation if people are being excluded. That’s why accessibility goes beyond Twitter being a website or mobile app. Iit’s not only about screen readers, but the language that we use. For example, people with learning disabilities getting the information they need to understand Twitter’s processes.”
@TwitterAble’s first year also focused on leadership. By working with executive sponsors, Andrew has seen the impact that leaders can have. All of Twitter’s Business Resource Groups have an executive sponsor who doesn’t necessarily represent or isn’t a part of that community – they then spread key messages to the rest of the leadership team who in turn recognize the significant role they can play in building disability confidence from the inside out. Leadership goes the other way too though, says Andrew. “There’s no way this year would have been successful without the support of my other chairs. The really hard work isn’t done by me as a co-chair at all!”
As @TwitterAble enters its second year, the BRG will focus more on specific areas of inclusion, such as the hiring process. With support and a helpful Diversity and Inclusion Team, Andrew feels enabled to “push for the platform that we want to see. There’s a whole system in place to support our community.”
The past year as we work through a global pandemic, it has been a hard year for many. For Andrew there has never been a more opportune time to notice the power of a global disabled community with the PurpleSpace community playing a strong role in that. “There’s hundreds of disability leaders across the world, there're people who you can engage with on Twitter but PurpleSpace is the only space I can unequivocally say is there to support me in my specific role as co-chair of a disability BRG. The information available in our first year has been invaluable.”
Andrew also acknowledges Twitter’s power to enable a truly global community, with more people using Twitter during a year where more people have used the online space to connect with others. “By its very nature, disability is distributed in a virtual world; there’s no “disabled” part of town. In addition, Twitter helps conversations to happen in a way that was never possible before. I have found so much support on the platform when it comes to neurodiversity that I wouldn’t necessarily have known how to find. You can share stories, express sympathy, get direction and help wherever you are. In a ‘physical’ community there are limitations that don’t apply to Twitter, like wanting to speak to someone about disability at 2am. It’s amazing to come together as a worldwide online community and allow voices to be heard all over the planet and share what it means to be part of this community.” Connecting with the global disabled community, and knowing that the community is there, has helped Andrew to maintain optimism during this period.
At PurpleSpace, we know the importance and power of harnessing the worldwide community of ERG leaders, senior sponsors and allies to share experiences, which is why we’re excited about our #PurpleLightUp 24-Hour Global Broadcast on 3rd December. Andrew expresses excitement, both on a personal level, and for @TwitterAble, about the opportunities it brings. “This will be the first year we have celebrated “#PurpleLightUp – what a great way to round off a difficult year by celebrating the economic contribution of disabled people around the world and to have virtual conversations internally and externally about disability inclusion.”
We’re hoping the bird will turn purple this year, but we’ll just have to wait and see…
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