Thousands of communities on Reddit have gone dark in protest against the tech giant’s plans to implement API pricing that users deem too high and too fast. While the protest has disrupted various aspects of the platform, it has also shed light on the issue of accessibility, which often remains overlooked.
Subreddits dedicated to disabled communities, such as r/blind, r/HardofHearing, and r/deaf, have expressed concerns that the API changes will hinder their ability to access Reddit. Due to the limitations of Reddit’s website and official app, users with disability rely on third-party applications to navigate the platform. However, these third-party apps are unable to afford the high API fees, resulting in some apps, like Apollo, announcing their closure.
The moderators of r/blind, one of the subreddits participating in the blackout, likened Reddit to a restaurant, while third-party apps are its franchises. They emphasized that people with disability cannot access the official Reddit location due to barriers, and the high franchise fees imposed by Reddit make it unaffordable for others to offer accessible alternatives.
Norbert Rum, the founder of r/blind, highlighted several areas where Reddit’s official app falls short of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of standards for developing accessible apps and websites. Key issues include the app’s lack of compatibility with keyboard-only navigation, which is crucial for individuals relying on voice control, as well as its incompatibility with screen readers used who are blind or with low vision.
In response to accessibility concerns, Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, acknowledged the need for improvement and stated that the company would strive to do better. However, the company did not provide a specific timeline for implementing features like alt text for media and interactive controls. Meanwhile, many third-party apps offer explicit accessibility features or seamlessly integrate with built-in accessibility options on iOS and Android devices, benefiting users with disability who cannot access Reddit through desktop or prefer mobile platforms.
The reliance on unpaid community moderators, who often rely on third-party apps with accessibility features lacking in Reddit’s official app, adds further complexity to the issue. Moderators from communities like r/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns have expressed their concerns about the inability to continue their moderation duties without these third-party apps.
Following user outcry, Reddit introduced exemptions for developers of “non-commercial apps that address accessibility needs.” Two apps, Dystopia and RedReader, have received exemptions, and the company is engaged in discussions with other developers focused on accessibility. However, Reddit seems to differentiate between accessibility apps and apps with access features, potentially leading to inconsistent exemption decisions.
Users with disability argue that the most straightforward solution to their accessibility challenges is a comprehensive overhaul of Reddit’s official app. This would involve addressing existing accessibility issues, such as providing alternate text and clearly labelled buttons that can be properly interacted with by screen readers. Furthermore, integration options for people with conditions like Parkinson’s or tremors, should be considered to accommodate diverse user needs.
In the short term, users with disability hope their preferred third-party apps can continue operating, which would necessitate a re-evaluation of API pricing and implementation timelines.
For more information about the Reddit blackout, please read the MSN article.