Clubhouse took off last year, prompting competitors to add their own voice chat rooms that can hold hundreds, if not thousands, of people. But the successful application has had a serious problem from the beginning, constantly singled out by accessibility advocates– Exclude disabled people, and the most obvious problem is that the audio-based app doesn’t have subtitles built in. This makes it unusable for people who are deaf and difficult to use for people who are hard of hearing or have audio processing problems.
Companies often mention that their products are still in development or beta testing when looking at accessibility options, but the ideal development process involves working with people with disabilities from the earliest design stages. Accessibility to technology has improved dramatically over the years, but is still frequently incorporated long after product launches. The reality is that people with disabilities often have to use products and services that do not even have the minimum of functions that suit their needs.
Clubhouse “excludes millions of people around the world who are deaf and hard of hearing,” says Adam Pottle, a deaf author. “We cannot access these conversations, and it is especially discouraging because many of the conversations that take place on this platform are fascinating, cultural and timely, but we cannot participate in them.” Pottle notes that a January Clubhouse blog was titled “Welcome more voices, “But he did not mention transcription, sign language interpretation or subtitles.
Now, with several competitors working on social audio features that are similar to Clubhouse, it’s an excellent opportunity to take a step back and see how each approaches accessibility. Some companies, like Twitter Spaces, have more detailed accessibility strategies than others. But others, like Discord, already have voice or video features that are at least partially inaccessible and don’t have a lot of details to share. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Clubhouse’s current and future competitors and how they stack up.
Availability: Available on iOS and Android, by invitation only
Background: In addition to the lack of subtitles, Clubhouse also does not support text resizing, which is essential for many people with low vision. Although it was exclusive to iOS until last month, it wasn’t compatible with VoiceOver, Apple’s screen-reading software, until February.
Accessibility details: “Our goal has always been to build a Clubhouse for everyone,” says a Clubhouse spokesperson. Clubhouse says it is “grateful” for feedback from disability-related clubs that have formed within the app, and says it has been working closely with The 15%, a club for people with disabilities, and allies. Clubhouse says it plans to introduce subtitles “in the near future.”
Availability: Can host accounts with more than 600 followers, anyone can listen
Background: Twitter faced criticism last year after introducing voice tweets without captions, prompting the company to create accessibility teams and be more transparent in its accessibility efforts.
Accessibility details: Spaces has an option to enable automatic subtitles, although not consistently accurate or easy to read. The buttons within Spaces are labeled so that screen readers can identify the function of each. Twitter says is working on improvements, including making captions more accurate, allowing backspace and pause, making captions color and size customizable, and possibly adding a text input option in addition to speech.
Discord Stage Channels
Availability: Only in Community Servers
Background: Discord already had voice channels, which do not have subtitles built in. An accessibility section with options for reduced motion, autoplay, and text-to-speech has been added to the user settings menu. at the end of April. It already supports third-party screen readers, keyboard navigation, and subtitles and transcriptions.
Accessibility details: Like voice channels, stage channels currently do not have a built-in option for captions. A spokesperson said Discord is working on more ways to make stage channels accessible.
Availability: Currently in initial testing with subreddit moderators, tentative plans for a larger launch in the coming months
Background: Some blind people favor Reddit over other social platforms because much of it is text-based. But the images still do not have alt text, which has caused a full subreddit of volunteer transcriptionists who write image descriptions and video captions for as many posts as they can. Reddit has had live streams since 2019, but so far it hasn’t had any subtitles built in.
Accessibility details: The version being tested does not have subtitles. Reddit says that accessibility, possibly including subtitle support, is a priority for the official release, but did not provide additional details.
Facebook Live Audio Rooms
Availability: Expected on Facebook, including Messenger, this summer
Background: Facebook-enabled subtitle support for Facebook Live in 2017 other automatic captions added last year. So that made improvements to their screen reader support, they added scalable font sizes last year, and updated your automatic alt text in January.
Accessibility details: A Facebook blog post says subtitles will be offered for live audio rooms and other future audio features. Facebook did not respond to a request for more information on accessibility plans.
Weak audio meetings
Availability: At the moment in test
Background: Slack accessibility settings They include screen reader support, keyboard navigation, adjustable zoom levels, and switches for emoji movement.
Accessibility details: Slack confirmed that its audio feature will have closed captioning, live broadcast transcription, and screen reader support.
There are even more platforms with clubhouse-like audio rooms in the works. LinkedIn didn’t share any details about its audio plans, but it did. add automatic captions to LinkedIn Live earlier this year. Fireside, a combined podcast and live audio app launching this year, says in a statement that providing accessibility options is “very important” and will have multiple functions, including audio transcription. Spotify did not respond to a request for information on accessibility plans for its upcoming live audio conversations.
So far, none of these platforms offer perfect accessibility templates, and it’s hard to find popular sites that meet all the requirements. web accessibility standard. There are always many elements to consider because disabilities are very diverse. Screen reader compatibility does not mean that sites and applications are easy to use without looking at the screen. Automatic captions are never completely accurate, especially for speakers with accents and differences in speech. There are other considerations like color contrast, notification sounds, and overall design. A mobile application can be accessible in ways that a desktop application or a web version is not, and vice versa.
People with disabilities have said time and again that accessibility must be considered from multiple angles at every step of development. A real commitment to accessibility seems to be hiring people with disabilities, continually seeking feedback, and being transparent about what works and what doesn’t. It’s easy for companies to post vague statements saying they value accessibility, but they have to prove it by working to make their products usable for everyone.