The Reddit blackout has entered its second day as over 8,000 communities have gone dark to protest the proposed API pricing by the tech giant. Users have expressed that the pricing is too high and too fast. The blackout has caused inconvenience to people who are unable to access subreddits like r/relationships to academics missing r/AskHistorians. While the protest has highlighted an issue of accessibility, subreddits such as r/blind, r/HardofHearing, and r/deaf are relatively small, but their concerns loom large in the protest. Some disabled users fear the API changes will threaten their ability to access the site. Due to this, they have to rely on third-party applications to navigate Reddit, which can’t afford the API fees. In response, some apps such as Apollo are already announcing that they’re shutting down.
Accessibility, in general, includes creating features that enable disabled people to access a built environment, either physical or digital. One in four Americans are disabled and have varying access needs, such as ramps, ASL interpreters, captions for videos, plain language information, and the ability to modify how text is displayed. Greater accessibility benefits people in ways they don’t even notice, such as enlarged text or changed contrast. The moderators of r/blind have explained that for disabled people, third-party apps are franchises, and the official Reddit location is at the top of a cliff that they can’t reach since Reddit is charging franchise fees so high that nobody else can afford to offer burgers.
In a conversation with The Verge, Norbert Rum, who founded r/blind in 2008, pointed out several shortcomings of Reddit’s official app in terms of accessibility. People relying on keyboard-only navigation can’t use the app, which is a critical issue for people who rely on voice control. The app is also not compatible with screen readers, which read content to blind and low-vision users and provide navigational information. Reddit’s official app falls short of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the set of standards used to guide developers in creating accessible apps and websites. CEO Steve Huffman responded to a user query about accessibility, providing assurance that there is no excuse for their official apps, and that they will do better.
Apple is famous for its accessible iPhone features, such as VoiceOver, enabling accessibility shortcuts, and working seamlessly with Bluetooth hearing aids, and many third-party apps integrate smoothly with iOS or Android’s built-in accessibility options. Reddit’s culture relies on unpaid community moderators but the moderation relies on third-party apps with accessibility features that Reddit’s official app lacks. Reddit has introduced exemptions for developers of “non-commercial apps that address accessibility needs” in response to the user outcry. Meanwhile, disabled users say the most obvious fix to their accessibility woes is an overhaul of Reddit’s official app. This could include fixes to address outstanding access issues, such as alternate text and clearly labeled buttons, and options to address cognitive disabilities and physical impairments such as Parkinson’s or tremors, which can make it challenging to use apps without making mistakes.