Accessibility of WhatsApp

Published December 4, 2023

WhatsApp is one of the world's most widely known instant messaging apps. Millions of people use it daily, with 100 billion messages sent each day, making the question of accessibility a very important one. With an average of 19 hours a month spent on the app, how accessible is WhatsApp?

Let’s explore the accessibility of WhatsApp via its website, mobile app, and subscriber emails. 

Website

WhatsApp is, first and foremost, a mobile app. Though there is a website, getting to it takes time and effort. WhatsApp has a video linked to explain further the process of setting up WhatsApp on the web. However, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) require captions on all videos; this video does not have captions. Hence, the instructions for setting up WhatsApp on the web are inaccessible.

Setting up WhatsApp on the web also involves a QR code. A smartphone can scan QR (Quick Response) codes to access links to websites, login pages, payment information, and more. There’s been a push to make QR codes more accessible, and the QR code for WhatsApp on the web seems fairly accessible. It’s large enough to be seen clearly and has contrasting colors. It also reloads on its own, which is helpful for people who don’t use a mouse. 

However, WhatsApp on the web requires installing the app, which doesn’t work for people who can’t or don’t want to use mobile apps. Many disabilities make using mobile apps difficult, and many people prefer websites where they can use assistive technologies. Requiring the installation and use of an app to use WhatsApp on the web is very inaccessible. There should be an option to use WhatsApp on the web independent of the app. 

Mobile app

WhatsApp as an app, however, seems to be incredibly accessible. It was the only app to rank “highly accessible” for persons with disabilities in India based on WCAG guidelines. Because it is a messaging app, the accessibility focus is communication, and WhatsApp passes the test. Whether it’s text or audio, WhatsApp is accessible for communication. 

WhatsApp works with assistive technology like screen readers and voice-to-text services like Dragon Anywhere. The app is even compatible with AI assistants in smartphones like Siri, and a user can have their messages read aloud by their smartphone or dictate a message to their smartphone AI assistant. 

The app also is constantly adding more accessibility features. The latest is transcripts of voice messages. Those with hearing disabilities can read transcripts of voice messages, making them accessible. With constant innovation and new ways to achieve accessibility, it’s no wonder WhatsApp is considered WCAG-compliant, even as an app. 

Emails

WhatsApp does not routinely send subscriber emails. The only email I could get was from a help request. The resulting email from the help request was, unfortunately, not as accessible as the app itself is. A lot of work is needed to make it a truly accessible email. 

The text has no contrast. It is a light gray on a white background, which is hard to read even without vision disabilities. The header is even lighter gray, so light that it’s washed out and almost missed at the top of the email. The color of the text wouldn’t be as bad if the background of the email was darker, but it is not a good choice on a white background. 

Additionally, the text itself isn’t accessible. The font is narrow and hard to read, and the spacing is too small, which isn’t WCAG compliant. A good choice would have been bigger font with wider spacing, but this small font and tight spacing, combined with the light color, make the email extremely hard to read. 

There are no images, so I can’t speak to the accessibility of those, but on the whole, WhatsApp has a long way to go to call their emails as accessible as their app is. 

Conclusion

WhatsApp, a globally popular messaging app, is considered extremely accessible. Their app does have many accessible features and adds more with every update, and it works well with assistive technologies. Their website needs some work to be truly accessible, and the emails they send are not accessible at all. With a little more focus on their problem areas, however, they could be a very accessible company. 

 

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