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Ravelry, Disability and Accessibility (Part 1)

A little over a week ago I put together a small survey to get a better idea of what kind of issues users of Ravelry faced with the new design but also to get some data on the type of disability and/or other issues people do face when using the web.

Disclaimer : I put together this survey really fast, it’s in no way the most perfect survey there is out there, and the goal of the results is not to use the as an indisputable truth. No survey is perfect and the only way we could achieve some kind of tangible truth would be to have all Ravelry users to answers and for all of us to have zero bias, which is impossible. Keep in mind that I’m only a user experience specialist and that the information provided here is mostly from personal experience in the industry and knowledge I’ve gathered over the years

Also, it is to be noted that not everyone perceive their eventual disability as such, while other are unaware, non-diagnosed or self-diagnosed (which is totally valid in this space) or able to circumvent by themselves common issues that bothers them which leads them to consider they might not be disabled. And, finally, some consider that to be disabled, it has to be legally recognized. I consider all these aspects to be valid, everyone is free to identify their own situation however they want, it’s not my place to decide what’s valid or isn’t in this context.

The results

The survey got a total of 439 respondents, which is way much more than I anticipated, so thank you to everyone who shared it and to anyone who took the time to answer it.

Out of those 439 respondents, 438 are Ravelry users, out of which 4 mentioned having deleted their account following the poor handling and ableism of Ravelry’s staff after issues were brought to their intention following the rollout of the new design.

Of the 438 respondents being Ravelry users, 79.7% have been using Ravelry’s website for more than 5 years.

Ravelry is most commonly used on desktop/laptop computer (~45.2%) and cellphones (38.4%). About 5% of the respondents mentioned they use the website on both their computer and cellphone and/or tablet.

Only 24.2% consider themselves to be disabled, while 69.4 % said no and 6.4% don’t know.

32.4% consider themselves to be neurodivergent, while 53.9% said no and 13.7% don’t know.

Those number are quite interesting because among those who consider themselves as non-disabled and non-neurodivergent, 11.1% (34) checked they are visually impaired or mentioned wearing corrective lenses and 16.4% (50) checked having a mental illness.

Top 5 most common issues selected in the survey are :

  • Photo-sensitivity – 40.4% (177)
  • Mental illness – 32.6% (143)
  • Visually impaired – 17.1% (75)
  • AD(H)D – 16.2%
  • Mobility issues – 15.5% (68)

In the “other” section, 10.9% (48) added suffering from migraines.

Let’s explore how those issues can affect people when they’re going around the web.

Photo-sensitivity

Photo-sensitivity and photo-phobia (which despite it’s name is not a fear of light) are very common issues. They can be linked with migraine, epilepsy, Ménière’s disease (something that affect the inner ear), some auto immune disease like Lupus, and eventually multiple eye conditions. Some medication can also affect our nervous system and make us more sensitive to light.

It’s not uncommon for people to feel some kind of discomfort regarding different types of artificial lighting, especially when it comes to screens, since they generate light at different levels to display the data and not all screens are made equals depending on their quality and material.

The blue-light filter options you can now find more commonly on recent devices can help or worsen the issues (the orange filter can make some colors look more vibrant, the cyan blue used on the new Ravelry design is a great example of that). People sensitive to light can also have tinted/polarized glasses that’ll adjust based on the surrounding light.

People who are photo-sensitive tends to prefer lower contrast settings or dark mode and dim lightning on their device, settings that can affect people who require higher-contrast to be able to read comfortably (common for people with low vision or visual impairments affecting color perceptions like daltonism or glaucoma). In this kind of situation it’s interesting to offer both settings in an easily accessible manner in the interface so the user can switch to a more comfortable settings.

Some user also while tweak the settings of their systems by using a specific color scheme or alter the settings of their browser for something that better suits their needs, however, not all website will end up being navigable as a results, because it can completely break the layout, resulting in content to be unreadable.

Visual impairment

If wearing glasses is not systematically considered a disability (you are considered legally disabled only if it’s not possible to achieve regular vision capacities with corrective lenses). But if you consider the fact that when you don’t have your glasses on your nose or your contacts, navigating the world is a tad more difficult, and in some situation you are prevented of doing some things (like driving for example), it’s a form of disability, that we can consider to be temporary.

However, it’s a very common and acknowledge disability that has a whole business behind it, corrective lenses come with a price that can be difficult to afford in some situation, while it is something you do need to be functional. Plus, think about how valued it is to have fashionable glasses or how you can make a statement with them.

It also important to know that some kind of vision impairment, like double vision or astigmatism can affect how long we can work with screens and increase sensitivity to some visual artifacts.

Common adjustment people make when they have some kind of visual impairment is zooming on the content. A well made website will handle the zooming with no noticeable issues, eventually switching to a simplified navigation (similar to the one for mobile device depending on the level of zooming), but if not made to properly adapt, the layout break and readability and navigability can become tricky.

For people with low vision, partial blindness of total blindness, assistive technologies like screen reader and braille keyboard/screens will also require careful attention to the way you code your website as these tool rely heavily on the code semantics and alternative text to return content to the users. That’s why you’ll see image description and captions on some content. It also means that the navigation has to be optimized for keyboards in order for people to easily go from a content to an other on your website.

Mental health

Depending on the type of mental illness, and also if you use medication or not, it can affect our perception of things. It can also make our brain more prone to fatigue which have a direct impact on our ability to interpret what we read and/or watch. It also makes us occasionally less comfortable with changes, because it requires energy to adapt to new situations.

A change in the Ravelry layout (though things seems to be at the same place, they’re not really) as drastic as the one they’ve made can lead to some side effect like headaches and fatigue, because our brains have to deal with it and we’re not always in a mental space where we can do so. And, as mentioned earlier, most respondents have been using the website for more than 5 years, some many of us have really strong habits to overthrow in order to adapt to those changes of colors, spacing, icons, etc. It’s a whole new visual language the user have to learn and they were not prepared for it, because it happened very suddenly.

Some of us also have trouble considering our mental illness as a direct cause of potentially being neurodivergent (all brains don’t process things the same way) or as a potential disability while it can severely impair our executive functions and adaptation patterns. Nobody’s equal when it comes to mental health and the same illness will affect people in different ways.

Potential adaptation people will make when they are more easily tired is spending less time on a computer or go for solution that are quicker to use and avoid complex navigation pattern, since their concentration capacity can be affected. Heavily worded content like this blog post might not be their jam!

AD(H)D

Very similar to the way mental health can affect the way someone interacts with the web, people with AD(H)D can either end up in full focus mode in which case they’ll eventually feel the effect afterward or have issue concentrate in the moment, and having a visually noisy environment can be very distracting when they try to accomplish something.

Visual noise include unnecessary illustrations, animated content (like animated ads, video, music, GIFs that can’t be stopped). Some visual elements can be distracting due to the visual weight they occupy on the screen, like the very contrasted drop shadows in the new UI of Ravelry and the appearance of more icons here and there that are very small and yet very detailed, making them distracting because the user have to decipher them.

Some user with AD(H)D will also occasionally rely on screen readers if it’s easier for them to processes sounds over written elements, or as an assistant to help them while they read.

Accessibility guideline usually recommend to avoid using too much decorative items or using images only to procure a message, mainly because if not properly coded the meaning is lost when relying on screen readers, but also because it can increase the difficulty to get a message across, for example, when the images are sending a different signal than the wording.

Mobility issues

So, there’s this kinda common bias that mobility issues while occur more within an older population, which isn’t a false assumption, but mobility issues can occur for many reasons, they can also be temporary (you broke your arm and have to endure a cast for a little while, for example) or chronic and more permanent, like repetitive stress injuries (RSI), Elher Danlos Syndrome (EDS) that’ll eventually require the person to wear compressive clothes and orthotics, Lyme disease and chronic fatigue which can induce with joint pain and swelling, and illnesses that’ll affect your nervous system that can trigger tremors for example.

Someone in the survey was apparently surprised to see RSI mentioned as a mobility issue, thinking that it’s something all knitters/crocheters will experience. Occupational RSI are also very common in offices and manufacture workers, like hands, shoulder, neck and back pain, so this is something that couldn’t be left aside. For people suffering for such RSI, spending time on a chair in front of a computer can be very uncomfortable, they may tend to use a portable device like a tablet or cellphone more often. In some cases, using a mouse is hard, and navigating around with a small track pad isn’t always easy either. For those who feel comfortable doing so, when the website is well made, they’ll use their keyboard because small movement are reduced.

I also have bad news for all of us, but getting older will generally affect our fine motor functions which can make moving a mouse around to click on tiny button a bit more harder.

And if you’re curious, among those who checked mobility issues, here is the repartitions by age. On the 68 respondents :

  • 18-25: 10.29% (7)
  • 26-35: 29.41% (20)
  • 36-45: 44.11% (30)
  • 46-55: 8.8% (6)
  • 56-65: 7.35% (5)

Conclusion of part 1

After I wrote this huge wall of text, I thought I d gave you a break (as well as to myself!) before I can eventually dive into some more number regarding how it may affect businesses relying on Ravelry at the moment.

However, I know that this part of the survey suffered a glitch of conception so the numbers are skewed, and not reliable, so we’ll take them with a bug pinch of salt!

I hope this first part gave you some more clues as to what accessibility can do for all us and why it’s important to have in mind every time we build something : we are all concerned by it. We may not be right now, but we might be, at some point in our lives, in need of those adaptation, whether it’s temporary, contextual, or permanent, building product with accessibility and inclusivity from the starts benefits everyone.

If you have any questions, you can always reach out via my DM’s on Instagram!

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3 Comments

  1. Gerry Gerry

    Your info is helping me understand the issues others are having. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this post, I found it very informative and accurate!

  3. Thank you for this post, I found it very informative and comprehensive!

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