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Ravelry, Disability and Accessibility (Part 2)

In the first part of this post, I mainly addressed accessibility from the disability point of view, and I hope you found it useful and it gave you some perspective on the matter.

Now, accessibility is not just a matter of being able to physically access something, it can also encompass other aspects like knowledge and financial means.

In the second part of my survey which was addressed to designers and/or people selling things through Ravelry, I was trying to get some insight on the impact that sudden change of interface and the issues it created might have affected their business.

However, I wrongly set up my survey in Google forms and the results aren’t really exploitable as is, so I’ll probably do another more extensive survey to get more data on this particular aspect of the situation.

But, I don’t need much data to be sure of one thing, this situation is going to have an impact on business and here’s why : it’ll shift the extra workload onto the shoulders of the designers and yarn dyers who will want to allow their customer base to shop their product without exposing them to a website that can actively cause them harm.

The same way it has shifted the responsibility of finding solution on the user’s end to be able to keep accessing the website if they want/need to, it makes me feel like we’re once again saying that if you want to visit their home, you’ve got to bring your own stairs, which is silly, in my personal opinion, doesn’t really match a “we’re inclusive” discourse.

The workload of a personal website

For those businesses, what it means is that they’ll have to make choices :

  • Remain on Ravelry, which mean they’ll still be financially supporting the platform, something they may have a hard time with if their values are not reflected by the platform;
  • Become available on other platforms, by creating a website on their own, or rely on third-party like SquareSpace, Wix, Etsy, WordPress, etc.
  • Other platforms will emerge, if they want to be available there, they’ll have to do the job of publishing for each platforms. Already existing is Create2Thrive and LoveCrafts, and you may have heard about Fiber.Club or Threadfolio who are under development. Each platform will come with a different process to submit contents, and different setup and potentially payment methods….

Some who already had a selling platform outside Ravelry made the move to quit it entirely, which is a bold and brave statement in an industry where Ravelry, a least in North America and most English speaking countries, is the main social platform to advertise on to be seen and discovered outside more mainstream social media like Facebook and Instagram.

For those who don’t already have a website, they suddenly have to consider making one, which means they need to have some knowledge of what to do and how or seek help to do it.

It also has a cost : either because they need an expert to assist them in the process, and because self hosting and managing an e-commerce platform take time and work. Multiply this by the amount of platforms they want to be available on for visibility and accessibility and this can put a serious strain on the people behind the scene, who may or may not be disabled and for whom the extra workload may not be manageable.

Reminder that we’re also in a less than ideal context, there’s a pandemic going on, which triggered a worldwide social crisis. Many folks have limited access to some resources or even to free time, because they work from home, have to take care of their kids and/or sick relatives, may have to teach kids at home, etc.

The people who are currently the most affected by this situation are also those who were most likely struggling in the “normal” context in the first place.

This extra workload is going to put business under pressure, a pressure that might have already been present before the pandemic because we live in a world where we, customer, want things to be done fast and cheap, but with quality, which is probably a subject for another essay later on.

To some of us, knitting or crocheting or weaving is more than a hobby or a passion, to some of us it’s a full-time job and we need to not forget that. Which is an excellent moment to transition to the second part of this post : financial accessibility.

The financial impacts

I know many people don’t value or understand the amount of work behind one design or one skein and the amount of time it takes. Some associate it to a hobby and so of course, you only do it because of passion, not because it’s a job. There’s a lot to unpack here as well I digress.

Let me ask you : have you ever written a knitting pattern? Got it graded (properly), photographed, tested, translated, tech edited? Do you have any kind of idea of the amount of work and time goes into one pattern? Into making a skein of hand-dyed yarn? Self-stripping?

Nowadays the average price for a garment pattern, is around 10$ US in average. A tonal hand dyed 100g/400m fingering skein from an indie dyer, is around 28-32$US.

I’ll go on a limb here, but I’m pretty sure that currently, if :

  • You are not a very highly visible designer or yarn brand with a big following which means you are also very active on social media, which take times and the know how to play the algorithm to have a good reach or the means to afford to paid advertising;
  • You never get your patterns, or patterns featuring your yarn, reach Ravelry’s “Hot Right Now” list where we are used to frequently see the same big names;
  • You can’t afford paid advertising on social media to gain visibility (see my first point of this list)

Then making the product costed you more in terms of labor and time worked than you’ll make out of it and that will most likely not be enough to make a decent living out of it, or allow you to make it your one and only job and main source of income. And I’m not even covering the amount of work also required to pack and ship orders. We’re probably very far from a 40h/week job right here.

If you don’t understand where I am going with this, let’s just say that by adding more platforms to manage and publish on in the near future for those businesses, it’ll also generate an extra workload, or the tough decision to have a smaller market because you can’t afford the time to be visible on all platforms.

And because more work? It would justify a higher price point on the final products and it would be fair to do so from the makers working behind the scenes.

Affordability

And that leads me to that conversation we had (and still have currently) about the affordability of knitting? Well, affordability, either financial or even in a matter of time you can dedicate to it, is also part of accessibility and a matter of privilege :

  • Not everyone can afford a pattern at full price on a regular basis;
  • Not everyone can afford the indie dyed yarn recommended for the pattern;
  • Not everyone can afford having enough free time to be available to test a pattern (which can be a way to have the patterns for “free”) especially when they’re on the higher end of the size spectrum and the time frame is too short.

Pricing

Based on what I wrote a bit earlier, I think we can all agree that the pricing we are familiar with is actually pretty low compared to the amount of work and labor involved.

Some people consider indie dye yarn to be the only acceptable yarn to knit with, along with only natural fibers, but let’s be honest : not everyone can afford it and it’s okay to use more affordable option or synthetic yarns. I think there are options out there for everyone and it’s not our place to put any kind of judgement on how people source their materials so they can afford their hobbies. The world we live in is making it so that there’s not perfect options available for everyone. We all do the best we can with what we have and that’s totally fine!

Over the last year there’s been improvement worth mentioning regarding the affordability of knitting :

Some designers are offering a “pay it forward” system, where people can send money to a fund the designer can use to offer financially accessible copies to people asking for it often with no questions asks. I do hope you people who can afford to pay the designer aren’t asking for those free copies (but maybe I just don’t have much faith in humanity!).

Some designers offer a “pay what you can” system with various price points, allowing them to also have a higher price point that’s more accurate regarding the real value of their work. But it’s something that might not always be possible on other platform and is really time consuming to do on Ravelry. Also, I am curious how many people do really pay that real full price, which is what designer deserve.

Some designers list affordable alternative to the yarn they’ve used for their pattern, which helps a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with finding a substitute, not knowing what can work or not for the pattern, or have more limited options they can access to where they live. However, the offered alternative aren’t always including different price point.

However, it’s not the standard, and the amount of designers and makers who do so is very limited!

As I said a bit earlier, there’s lot of elitism surrounding yarn in the community, but not everyone can afford indie dyed yarn at 30$+ a skein, and that price can be tough to swallow when you need 5-6 skeins for a larger size garments.

At the moment, Ravelry has the biggest ever database of yarn and pattern available and is a huge help to some of us to view project we’re interested in knitted in alternative yarn options that may be more affordable or what we have in stash.

Not having access to Ravelry removes this ability to access this information for many folks as well, and if designers don’t or can’t do it, well… I guess we’ve got a problem, right? Once again, we’re shifting the responsibility of doing the extra work on the makers.

Conclusion

So, ultimately, Ravelry’s move has been seriously rubbing a lot of us the wrong way, from the lack of inclusion of their user base in the process, to their reaction when problems occurs. Right now, they’re locking thread in their forums, they closed comments on their instagram and aren’t responding (or just disappearing) from Twitter…

Alright, let’s admit that realizing you fucked up big time and having thousand of people telling you so can be hard on your mental health and being held accountable is something, in our white culture, we are not comfortable with. So of course, we (white people) react negatively when it happens.

But we have to face the fact that this is going to close up the community a bit more, by making it less inclusive, by cutting off people from their support community that they found through this platform, in a time where this “virtual” community is more needed than ever. And by adding more work on the shoulders of the makers because Ravelry didn’t do their part, they’ll most likely impact the affordability of the craft.

And you know what? They’ll keep on making money anyway. And, as someone who’s been working this industry for 10 years now, this is something I’ve noticed recently in the tech world : many people working on building product are not here for the people. It’s more often about the money that can be made out of it.

And somehow, when Ravelry made their statement/non-apology on June 26 regarding the “positive” impact of the new design on usability from their point of view when so many folks on social media told them about the issues and concluded with how they’re been an increase in signups and sale, they kinda made me feel like it was their main takeaway of the situation.

Because in the meantime, their social media presence is very silent and they have no qualms in locking threads on their forum bringing up accessibility issues.

They are a business, they are making the decision to go ahead FULLY AWARE of the issues, and they’ve got the biggest slice of the market cake right now, so they’ll keep on going, they may not even notice any proper change in activity on their website, because we are locked in and dependent of it.

The choice is on us to either build something else, keep on using their platform, or cutting ties with it because that’s the only thing we can really do to make them feel our disagreement. But this decision is on us, and impact us, not them.

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One Comment

  1. Kat Kat

    It’s time to support another platform. I don’t know which one, but while Rav takes the stance that they own the platform, they do not own the community and they cannot make the community behave as they dictate. The community is itself, and as community is want to do, it will find a way forward.
    Sad really. They helped us find our community through our love of the craft and our inclusivity. Then they exclude and separate themselves from the same community.

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