On Thursday, Jeremy Browning, locProduct Manager, gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look at a new feature the company created for live audio chats. However, not everyone could understand what he was saying.
Conveniently, Browning arranged the conversation in live subtitles, a function aimed at helping the hearing impaired. Twitter users who tried to follow the conversation solely through captions probably had a hard time deciphering Browning’s words., Twitter’s live audio product. The audio chat tool has
“In a way, because I had a job and Twitter could see the prewar spaces, the water audience was a small percentage of the pop quiz,” read a live caption of Browning’s comments on the Twitter space. Browning told the audience that, as a Twitter employee, he could see new spaces before a small percentage of the public.
In the middle of the conversation, he endured, other problems arose. Listeners could no longer hear what Browning was saying, giving hundreds of Twitter users a taste of what it’s like to stay completely out of a conversation.
Social media companies, including Facebook, are embracing live audio after watchingburst onto the scene. High profile celebrities like , TV personality Oprah and actor Kevin Hart have joined the app by invitation only. Both Clubhouse and Twitter are working on ways to make their products more accessible. But Twitter’s flawed audio chat provides a stark reminder that these features still exclude hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people from online conversations.
Approximately 430 million people, or more than 5% of the world’s population, require rehabilitation for disabling hearing loss, and the majority of people live in low- and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. By 2050, approximately one in 10 people is projected to have a disabling hearing loss.
Meanwhile, the use of audio products has increased during the pandemic. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is working on a product to compete with Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces. And with the rise of short-form video and experimentation in virtual reality, the future of social media will likely include more sound.
Facebook did not answer questions about how it is approaching accessibility for social audio. Reddit has been testing an audio chat feature and a spokesperson said live captions are a “priority.”
Unlike Twitter, Clubhouse does not have live captions. A Clubhouse spokesperson said their goal is to create one app for “everyone” and “continue to work closely with the deaf community to implement closed captioning features in the near future.” Discord released a live audio product called Stage Channels and it doesn’t include subtitles either. A Discord spokesperson said the company is exploring a “number of ways” to make Stage Channels “more useful and accessible.”
Gurpreet Kaur, who oversees global accessibility on Twitter, said the company is working to improve the accessibility of all its products, including captions on Twitter Spaces. Speakers currently have to turn on automatic captions and Twitter knows that transcripts can be inaccurate. Sometimes, he said, it takes a lot of focus groups and discussions with advocates to make sure the company isn’t creating a “band-aid solution.” Because technology is constantly evolving, Kaur said she doesn’t think a product will ever be perfect.
“We are trying very, very hard,” he said.
Accessibility as an ‘afterthought’
Making social media more accessible is an ongoing problem that has long frustrated people with disabilities and discouraged some people from trying new products. Even if there are improvements, the quality of the accessibility features is often poor or hard to find.
Sheena McFeely, a 36-year-old deaf creator and advocate in Texas, says she knows about Twitter Spaces and the Clubhouse, but has been hesitant to give them a try. She is concerned that they are probably not accessible or are not properly captioned.
McFeely says she has often had to “search high and low” for a viral video that has been properly captioned or has a text description. One of his daughters, deaf YouTuber-turned-actress Shaylee Mansfield, expressed her frustration in a video about the lack of captions on Facebook-owned Instagram.
At the time, Instagram Stories, which allow people to post content, including videos that disappear in 24 hours, did not have automatic captions. The feature didn’t come until May, when Instagram released a sticker that automatically transcribes the speech in Stories. Instagram first introduced Stories almost five years ago. Short-form video app TikTok launched automatic captions a month earlier.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling because all the accessibility features that were made possible didn’t come without reaction, rejection and criticism” from the hearing-impaired community, McFeely said in a text message. Social media companies, he said, must do a better job of marketing their accessibility features and hiring more people with disabilities to work on their products.
Jet fuels push for greater accessibility
Last year, Twitter apologized after a backlash of complaints about an audio sharing feature in tweets that was not accessible to the hearing impaired. In September, Twitter announced that it would introduce two new teams that will focus on accessibility.
Liam O’Dell, a 24-year-old independent journalist and activist from the UK who describes himself as slightly deaf, has noted on his website that Twitter voice tweets other Club house They are not accessible to the deaf due to the lack of subtitles. You have also tested subtitles in Twitter spaces and they also discovered that they were “far from perfect.”
O’Dell, who uses most of the major social media apps, including Snapchat and Clubhouse, said he considers Twitter, which still has a lot of text on its website, to be the most accessible. Still, he noted, the company has “a way to go in making content accessible” to him “as a deaf person.” Involving more people with disabilities in the new product development process, O’Dell says, could lead to improvements that benefit both people with disabilities and people who simply prefer to read better captions.
“A product or feature without access is not a finished product,” he said in a direct message from Twitter. “It will take time and probably money as well, but access equals participation, and in the world of social media, participation often generates income.”
Howard Rosenblum, executive director of the National Association of the Deaf, said in an email that companies introducing closed captioning must also take into account different factors that can affect transcription, such as background noise, the number of speakers, and the quality of the audio. sound. Not only should captions be easy to use, they should be turned on from the start rather than requiring users to sign up. They should also be easy to edit and offer ways for people to customize the subtitles to suit their needs, especially if they are deaf and blind.
“Automated subtitles are getting better, but they can range from pretty good to atrocious,” he said.