I’ve been toying with the idea of a blog on and off for maybe 2 years. I bought my domain when I settled on the name “Stitched in the Middle” a while ago, but never got the extra push to properly do it.
Following the debacle of Ravelry’s new design, which is still actively causing harm to a part of their user base, I guess it’s time for me to accept that this is not the community I thought it to be. If I probably will still upload my future design over there (implying I will maybe design again?), I don’t want it to be sole and prime platform to share my passion for all fiber crafts.
So, here I am, typing this blurb to inaugurate this little part of the web that is now mine, and as a starter, I’ll copy here the foreword I wrote as an introduction to a list of resources for accessibility, because I think it’ll also give you a good sense of what to expect from this blog, eventually.
The following content was extracted from my Google Doc titled “Resources on Web Accessibility” made public on my Instagram profile on June 26, 2020.
For a short story : following the rollout of the new design of the platform, users have been complaining about eye strain, headaches, migraines and in some cases, seizures. Despite this situation, Ravelry’s staff, as of June 26, 2020, still hasn’t rolled back to their previous UI, offering only an opt-in possibility to use a theme that resembles their classic previous version and have buried information about their updates into their forum, locking many thread about the requests for changes and adjustment.
The way this situation is being handled by a business who relies heavily on their user base and who has a prominent position in the industry is extremely disappointing, even more so given the context in which this roll out has happened : a worldwide pandemic, a social uprising, and ongoing conversation about race and white supremacy for which they took a public stance on their website from May 31 through June 12.
Rolling out the new design, starting with an announcement on June 16th, without much of a warning if you don’t use their forum or follow them on social media, has been coming out of nowhere for a vast majority of Ravelry’s user base.
This roll out has affected businesses who rely on the affordability of their platform to survive, giving them a pretty big monopoly, and I want to highlight this : BIPOC businesses are already affected by the pandemic and the social and economic crisis it has triggered, this is just piling up more obstacles on them.
Those businesses had to decide if they’d put their customer in harm’s way by risking them going on a website that actively affects them. The same business for which Ravelry is often the one and only platform they rely on for visibility and sales. Finding a new platform for sales and changing plans in the current context is not possible to everyone, and not everyone has the technical knowledge to this as fast as they’d need or without impending their finances to adjust to this sudden and unforeseen situation.
To go further, this platform has been one the many points of contact of some groups and communities during this time of social distancing, isolating and ostracizing people some more. And by deciding to go ahead keeping their new UI, Ravelry is not taking the action we’d expect from them, but that’s not a total surprise given how previous issues have been handled.
If you want to know more about the step taken by Ravelry’s staff in order to enforce and go forward with their new design despite the many issues brought to light, you can checkout @Wipinsanity’s blog article where there’s an excellent summary.
From my point of view, this is definitely a bad move and it has redirected the attention from the very important social movement for #BlackLivesMatter toward something that will be way much more taken into account in white circles, which has also happened before with size inclusivity and affordability. Both subjects had already been brought up by BIPOC extensively until it became something white folks could relate to and it took over the conversation, burying their voices.
To conclude, I’ll add that disabled and neurodivergent BIPOC exist and are even more at risk in this society than their white counterparts, and remind you that ableism is deeply rooted in white supremacy and racism. So, if you truly care about inclusivity and diversity, you have to care about accessibility. If your inclusivity isn’t intersectional, it’s not inclusivity.
A word on the web and accessibility
With this out of the way, I’ve been working as a User Experience Specialist in the web industry for 8 years or so, throughout my career I have worked for companies and organizations who had to implement accessible web solutions and platforms, either because they cared about their users (very rare) or because it was required by law (more common).
From my experience, there are a lot of misconceptions about what accessibility on the web is and who is concerned by it, and also, a lot of the people who are major actors in this process to help changes happen are generally unconcerned, unless there’s money in the game…
Just so we’re clear, I wouldn’t paint myself an expert in accessibility, but accessibility and inclusivity have been at the core of my practices as a UI and UX designer, and despite the market and the industry still being eons late to the party (what else is new?), I do hope at some point, accessibility will become the default setting.
This being said, I don’t have all the answers and also need to improve in some areas. I know we cannot make everything right at the first attempt, accessibility is a team work, and it requires a lot of insights from end users and collaboration throughout the whole project. It has to be included in your requirements from day one and the best way to achieve accessibility, especially on the web, is testing. There’s no one size fits all solution, but there are many options and alternatives we can implement when working on a platform to ease the access to information and functionalities to the wide varieties of people accessing it.
Ideally, when you want to make something accessible, you try to avoid as much as possible, to put the work of making the arrangement in the end user. It’s our responsibility as product maker and builder to ensure that what we make is as safe and usable as possible out of the box. There’s no foolproof methods, there’s no magic answer, it’s hard work and it requires time, patience and most of all : empathy.
The best advice I can give you, if you want to work on an accessible solution, is to test early and often, with as many people as you can, but especially with users who have different needs than you. You are not the user, you don’t have the same context, you don’t have the same baggage, you don’t have the same knowledge. Never assume you know something. All you need to know is that : you don’t know what you don’t know!
I am painfully aware that the tech industry is a very fast paced and fast moving industry where creativity and innovation is placed above all else. However, I also believe that this way of thinking is not sustainable, and that like for the physical world, we don’t need the next new shiny software or social media that’ll change the world if it means a 1/5th of the population is constantly being ignored or worse, harmed.
I want to see more platforms putting their users’s safety and usability first and foremost. I want to see more platforms that do their job and do it well, that are accessible, inclusive and sustainable. I want to see leaders from this industry do better. I firmly believe it’s our collective responsibility to do our part and that we have to change our ways of doing things.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and also, for being there,