- Audio-only app Clubhouse forbids any kind of recording of its conversations.
- Disabled people tell Insider they feel excluded by the app. One was banned for providing a live transcript for deaf people.
- One accessibility consultant says Spaces, the rival Twitter launched in February, has been more inclusive.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
“Be inclusive,” Clubhouse implores users as they attend talks and Q&As on its platform. “Tolerate, welcome, and consider diverse people and perspectives.”
But while it pleads for inclusivity, the audio-only app, which has gone from 200,000 weekly active users in November to 10 million while still in beta mode, exudes exclusivity.
As the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Kim Kardashian have appeared on it, its community guidelines warn users not to “transcribe, record, or otherwise reproduce and/or share information obtained in Clubhouse without prior permission.”
The ban on any kind of transcription or recording has left some in the disabled community feeling excluded from the app – particularly those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Clubhouse went so far as to ban a blind man, Jurgen Donaldson, in March for providing a live transcript.
Speaking for the first time since his ban, Donaldson, who lives in London and works in recruitment, told Insider that he had never had any explanation beyond a boilerplate notification and was only reinstated when he approached a contact with connections at Clubhouse. Clubhouse did not respond to requests from Insider for comment.
Donaldson had tweeted a link to the Clubhouse room and with it a link to the transcript he was providing through live transcription app Otter.AI.
He woke up the next morning and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t enter any rooms. A message declared he had been suspended “due to violating our rules around recording.” “No email, no other communication,” Donaldson added.
He messaged an editor he knew, Lauren Kane of Food and Beverage Magazine, who contacted a senior employee at Clubhouse. He was reinstated but received no explanation of why the decision had been overturned.
Donaldson told Insider he was upset his tweet about the suspension, which tagged Clubhouse and was liked 486 times and retweeted 152, was ignored.
“There’s no chance that somebody didn’t see it,” he said. “So it does give me some pause … trying to actively contact them through Twitter and give them the context as to what happened did nothing.”
While Donaldson continues to use Clubhouse, Jennifer Brown, a deaf woman who uses her Hearherhands Twitter account to talk about how inaccessible or accessible different platforms are to deaf people, has refused to use it.
“I will not be doing so until it’s more accessible to people in my community who need captions,” she told Insider.
“You must include accessibility in your business plans. If you do not … You are telling us we do not belong and we are not welcome in your space.”
Freelance journalist and accessibility consultant Liam O’Dell, who is mildly deaf, stopped using Clubhouse completely because of the difficulties he had using it.
“I make it a habit not to engage with inaccessible platforms if they are simply not listening to the demands of deaf and hard-of-hearing people,” he said.
“They would much rather penalize those looking to make their rooms more accessible through recordings, than investigate the genuine and legitimate reasons behind people wanting to do this.”
Other audio apps provide captions and transcripts, which Clubhouse does not nor has it committed to.
Clubhouse users cannot change the colors and size of the text which presents problems for those with low vision or who struggle to read certain formats of text.
O’Dell said he had also experienced a psychological strain known as “cognitive load” while hosting a room on Clubhouse, which happens to people who have to mentally work harder to concentrate and decipher sounds while processing multiple visual cues.
One accessibility consultant says Twitter Spaces has been more accommodating
O’Dell said he found Twitter Spaces, the rival to Clubhouse that launched in February, more accommodating.
Twitter Spaces makes captions automatically available to users, he added.
He said these were “far from perfect” as they rely on automatic speech recognition which results in varying accuracy depending on the platform’s software, “it’s certainly a welcome step.”
O’Dell added that Twitter developers had been “incredibly transparent in seeking feedback on potential developments and improvements to Spaces,” involving disabled people such as himself to “ensure that the product is accessible from the very start.”
“If I notice a bug or an error on the feature, I can DM a member of their team to suggest looking into it,” he said.
“I have had many conversations with their product leads and researchers about the quality of their automatic captions software and they have found that feedback helpful.”
O’Dell added Twitter’s team often participated in Spaces to learn more about users’ experiences and ask for feedback.
“We are truly influencing the accessibility of a product as it’s being built, rather than right at the very end of the development process.”
Jurgen Donaldson is optimistic Clubhouse can get better
Despite his ban, Donaldson is optimistic that Clubhouse can change.
He was surprised in February, when the app’s developer for IOS – still the only place it is available – joined a room where visually-impaired people were sharing tips to make the app easier to use.
The developer stayed an hour to hear their concerns. Donaldson thought nothing would happen but a week later, Clubhouse issued an update that addressed some of what came up during their conversation.
“It was really remarkable to see,” he said. He added he hoped Clubhouse would recruit an accessibility officer as it grows, to “really engage with the disability community.”