Ravelry Accessibility Discussion

There has been a lot of discussion and some pretty angry posts about the new ravelry theme.  People are removing their patterns from there. Digital Accessibility is my job. I am not a web designer but can explain how different users access digital content. If necessary I can also help them find the most comfortable way for them to read or access websites. I will admit I’ve kept away from the Ravelry discussions till now as having in the past added my I like to think, quite knowledgeable comments been shouted down.   

Firstly, the new design had animations.  These are always, always a bad idea. If someone tells you they are a good idea – remind them of this. Automated animations are a bad idea. It demonstrates so well the need for comprehensive user testing. These issues would have been pointed out immediately. The team are now undertaking user testing but it is such a shame to have to go through a lot of bad press and feeling unnecessarily.

The old Ravelry site was looking dated and certainly was in need of rejuvenation.  The new site is much better and has clear pages with black text on a white background There are options on your individual profile to stop any animations or to remove shadows that can also provide visual stress. Many of the users have complained that they have succumbed to migraines due to the new site. The animations most certainly would have contributed to this.  If the white background is causing this then, I would imagine these users would have the relevant colour settings on their monitors changed to a less straining option.  There are many of these – I suggest a cream background would create less visual distress.  Having said all that – there are many users, that I follow on Instagram complaining about the black text on a white background – in captions on their instagram pages with black text on a white background.  Of course I have no idea if their settings preclude this on instagram, but if they do, why are these settings not being transferred to ravelry when they load the pages. 

Visual options in Firefox
Visual options in Firefox

Just to be clear – if you find black text on a white background to be difficult to read, or to induce headaches, – change your settings.  There are many generic options in Firefox, Chrome and Microsoft Edge.

Ravelry yesterday added another post.  This includes details of ‘web accessibility’ and comments about Alt Text for images.  Alt text provides a short description of an image for screen reader users – someone who needs the contents of a screen read out loud to them. It was this post that prompted me to write this.  They mention that their accessibility score with this statement. ” It is also affected by photos that do not have alt text (photos only have alt text if the uploader adds a caption).”  This is all very well but I have never seen an option for Alt text on Ravelry. This is because there isn’t one.  It is true as the statement says that a caption provides alt text for a photo but only on the page where it is uploaded.  So for example – I have just added captions to one of my patterns and then run a test on that page.  Hurrah – success. 

Alt text is missing

Alt text moves with the photo if it is linked on another page and captions in general don’t.  So if I then look at my Counterchange Shawl from another  page – the thumbnails used on my pattern pages show that the Alt Text is missing – see the big red blotch.  This is because, Alt text and captions are different.  This is not a ‘how to’ post but a simple discussion prompted by a comment that I feel was totally out of order. It reads to me like the users are being ‘blamed’ for any poor accessibility scores, when the whole site is very very poor.

The Ravelry front page has no Alt Text on the logo or the images so it is slightly disingenuous to suggest that the users are responsible for their poor accessibility score. I also checked my profile photo and there is no option for a caption or Alt Text. Perhaps they need to look at their underlying code to enable these options for their users. I am sure people will happily add them.

I can provide a document on how to write Alt Text if needed.

6 comments

  1. Very interesting, Lisa. I logged in to Ravelry for the first time the other day and had to boogie out. It was uncomfortable to read. I thought it was just me. I am only now reading the feedback on Twitter.
    You have provided a lot of really good information.

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  2. I agree with nearly everything you said but please be conscious about using the word hysterical, hysteria is and was used as a way to shut down women and to physically violate them. It’s often used to discount illness like seizures and migraines too. Not a reflection on you, it’s such a commonly used word we don’t think about the implications of it.

    I felt the same way about the blog post, Rav has never offered an alt text option and I would absolutely have used it! I already write alt text as part of my job and we could have held a community event like users did for the pattern tagging system.

    Speaking of the tagging system, one user came forward and said that she has been fighting to build low vision accessibility resources for over a decade and is still dealing with Rav staff who are sabotaging her work by removing tags and making patterns harder to find. She writes patterns for knitting looms (a low vision adaptation) and has been told that they will never be treated on the same level as traditional knitting patterns.

    It also rubbed me the wrong way that they were talking about revenue and new signups when so much of the community has been with them for more than a decade, building their site and creating that value.

    It’s amazing how much my perception of Rav has changed over this fortnight, I have always been such a huge fan and proud member but now I feel uneasy.

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  3. Hello Kat, I’ve noted your comment about the use of the word hysteria. So thank you – I’ll edit and change it. I was quite happy to be supportive and understanding of the Ravelry team till they did that blog post. Most websites have some and in some cases significant areas of inaccessible content to them. In fact it is law from the 23 September in the UK for public sector websites to have an accessibility statement that states which parts of a the site are and which are not accessible. This acknowledges the difficulty in both historical development and making some aspects of a site as accessible as others. It was clear that despite all the Ravelry team’s reported hard work and time they had not given accessibility a moment’s consideration – hence the dancing images on their front page. And they certainly hadn’t done any user testing. However, once they had been told about the impact their styles were having I would have expected them to at least try to remedy it as quickly as possible. Their attitude however, is now very questionable. I am disappointed and concerned at the tone of the blog post I mentioned. I had imagined that a complete site makeover, would have included significant increases in accessibility. To give them credit the new posts on their front page are pretty well structured, and it is going to be a huge effort to update the many exisiting pages – which I thought is what they had been doing. There are some pretty basic errors still – currently you have to press the tab key 93 times to get to the search box! These are just basic issues that really should have been addressed during all this development time.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. Ravelry has always had a sort of ‘home made’ look to it – in that it uses the standard wiki codes and isn’t particularly intuitive. It has certainly given me the impetus to investigate other avenues for selling patterns. I think this is a good thing too. They have inadvertently done the fibre community a favour.

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    • Thank you Lisa, you are a gem! I hope I didn’t come across as rude.

      I had so much faith in Rav too—and I still want to believe in them, because it’s been one of the most inclusive, inspiring places on the internet for me. The way they’re glibly ignoring the issues and straight-up shutting down discussion feels really out of character. I don’t know if they have to stay quiet for legal reasons, but surely there’s more they can do right now?

      I had no idea about the search box error (or, well, any of them)! I have to wonder what they’ve been doing in those 18 months when the new layout is missing basic things like alt text on buttons.

      I do think it’s probably good for more competition to come up, because it’s clear that Rav has a monopoly right now. I hope we’ll all come out of this with better options and more awareness of the work that needs to be done for all to be included.

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