Clubhouse is essentially a place where users can create chat rooms and talk to one another in real time. Think virtual topical and community events audio only style.
It has quickly become popular amongst Silicon Valley execs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerburg. Oh, and it’s ultra exclusive in that it’s currently only available on iOS and you must receive an invite to join.
I was excited when I received an invite to join Clubhouse, but was quickly discouraged and disappointed when I noticed the lack of accessibility.
It was another app that doesn’t provide accessibility for Deaf/HoH users.
On Clubhouse, there is absolutely no support for live captioning. In fact, the app outlines in its community guidelines that it does not allow transcriptions of chatrooms so content does not leave the app and remains exclusive.
“In a broad scope, these user interface problems speak volumes of not only product design, it also speaks volumes of the systemic ableism that pervades society—yet confronted far less,” says Steven Aquino in a recent Forbes article,
“… it also speaks volumes of the systemic ableism that pervades society.”
In theory, the exclusivity sounds cool, but in turn, the app is excluding those of us who benefit from from having some sort of captioning, not just the 1 in 8 Americans who have hearing loss but those who may have ADHD and prefer to follow along in written form, those who may have speech impediments, or for those who speak English as a second language.
In a time where diversity and inclusion is at the forefront, it almost feels as if the creators of Clubhouse have completely disregarded those who may not function like them or not even taken into consideration the backlash other social platforms have received with regards to accessibility (I mean Instagram and TikTok JUST recently included a captioning functionality). Nevertheless, the company says, “be inclusive. Tolerate, welcome, and consider diverse people and perspectives”, so I can only hope that accessibility is somewhere on their product evolutionary roadmap.
Read more: TikTok, Instagram now have auto-captions
If I’m being honest though, it feels a bit exhausting that we have to continue to ask for accessibility features from all of these different apps and platforms when companies could mitigate this by bringing on a diverse group of people who know and understand accessibility rights into the product development.
For instance, Liam O’Dell, a writer and activist told the Daily Dot that “he prefers Twitter Spaces because the company included deaf people in the beta testing of the new feature to ensure it provided sufficient accessibility.”
Roughly 61 million adults in the US live with a disability, that’s roughly 19% of the population. You can’t tell me there aren’t people out there who can help companies avoid PR issues by helping them create accessible and inclusive products BEFORE they’re released.
While I have my reservations and frustrations about Clubhouse and have been reluctant to use it, I appreciate this perspective from Catarina Rivera (@blindishlatina) who shares her reasoning for using Clubhouse despite its lack of accessibility.
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Rivera talks about how Clubhouse allows her to have conversations with other people with disabilities that she might not have met otherwise and that it is a powerful cross-disability space. She has even outlined some of disability-related clubs to join on Clubhouse like The 15%, Specially Centered, Product Inclusion (Clubhouse team should join this one!), and more!
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I will say that since seeing her list of clubs, I have joined all of them and the descriptions alone make me feel hopeful and optimistic. I’ve had a listen in a couple of them and one of them even provided an otter.ai link for live transcriptions, so it appears there are some acceptable workarounds on the whole “no transcriptions” thing.
To companies, developers, inventors, whoever, learn from Clubhouse’s mistakes. Please, please take accessibility and inclusivity into strong consideration before creating or releasing a product. Accessibility should no longer be an after thought.