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Clubhouse is cool but it has a real accessibility issue

The audio-only app misses the mark for those hard of hearing and deaf.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Apr 24, 2021

Clubhouse, the latest social media network craze, is an audio-only app that allows users to connect with people from all over the world. The app is surely exclusive, as to become a user you must be invited by someone already on the app, but once you are on the app you get an insiders view into any and every industry. The app has “clubs” you can follow and listen to talks based on fashion, grooming, marketing, science, automobiles, finance, and so much more.

 

After using the app for eight weeks now, I’ve been quite impressed with how much free information users have access to. Anyone can host a club or participate in one by asking questions or weighing in on a subject, making it very inclusive to industry and non-industry types. Of course, the only caveat about free information and ability to host is the lack of fact checking. In my opinion, this was the only con of the social platform until a friend pointed out to me the disregard for an entire user group, the hard of hearing (HoH) and deaf people.

 

It’s a tricky world we’re navigating in, one where diversity and inclusion are at the forefront. Although I don’t think Clubhouse intentionally missed the mark here, they definitely didn’t consider this group of people enough to make accommodations for them. Essentially since 1 in 20 Americans are deaf or hard of hearing. This is quite a large percentage and something that you think all social networks, created to be a bridge of communication, would think about.

 

Because the app is audio-only, with minimal text, it makes it impossible for less accessible people to participate and thrive. Clubhouse could implement audio-captioning text or at least make a statement in their plan. I do believe that designing for accessibility should be in their DNA, in other words, there from the start. Because Clubhouse is still in beta testing, with a wider and more detailed launch set for later this year, it’s hard to tell if they ever cared about accessibility. People need to be seen, people need to feel accepted and I’m not sure if all users or potential users feel that way.

 

Photo via DPA/Picture Alliance via Getty Images