Another day, another fight to make sure that the rights of marginalised groups are respected.
Last week Ravelry was given a brand new "surprise" face lift....
I happened to be on the computer when the tweet announcing that something had changed pooped up on my feed so I clicked through.
My first thought was that it was ugly, dated and in a hideous colour scheme. As I browsed the forums as normal I started to feel a bit giddy. Since my Menieres diagnosis I'm no stranger to the world being a bit of a flexible environment. It's rare that I will have a day go by at the moment without a sensation that up is no longer completely up. It's never stopped me from doing anything, and it generally just requires a bit more concentration so that I'm aware of my own feet and where my body is in space. As someone who always used to have excellent balance it's an inconvenience, but one I am used to.
However, I could use the site, though on my big desktop computer it was an incentive to stop messing around on the internet and do some work/spin/knit/weave. On my iPad it was still ugly, but didn't make me feel ill.
As the day went on many people posted that the new design was leading to headaches, migraines, balance issues and seizures. Then it became apparent that the new site no longer functioned with screen readers and assistive software.
This is the point at which my reaction to the site changed from "ugly but I'll live with it", to "why on earth are you sticking with this design".
Old Ravelry wasn't perfect with regards to accessibility. however, for most people it worked ok, and they had work arounds in place that allowed them to access it. All of that disappeared with the new site. Now let's add in the current global situation. Many people who use assistive software to access the internet have had help to get everything set up for them, in many parts of the world there are still laws in place limiting physical interactions. Many of the people who need assistive software also have health issues that mean they need to be particularly careful about contracting Covid-19.
They can't easily access help, and have now been shut out of a site where they had a large support network of friends, and which was a substantial part of their social life.
Several days later, after much pressure from users the option has now been put in place to toggle your interface back to Classic Ravelry, but in order to do this you do still need to access the site in it's new version, and the log-in screen still features an animation.
If you are at risk of seizures, or migraines you may wish to have a friend or family member access Ravelry for you and switch your account to Classic Ravelry. If you don't think you have anyone you can trust to do that for you then I am happy to help. Send me an email and we'll try and get you sorted.
If you use assistive software and cannot currently access the drop down menu in Ravelry then again, I am happy to help.
If you don't wish to go on Ravelry but would like to leave a post in the Feedback threads stating your issues, and are unable/unwilling to post yourself then I am happy to post on your behalf.
This blog post from Louise at WoolWork explains how to check links before you click on them, and contains screen shots on how to switch to the Classic Ravelry view.
I am so cross and upset that Ravelry, a business that supposedly championed inclusivity and highlighted the discrimination faced by marginalised groups, is acting in this way.
If I am to continue to look at myself in a mirror then I cannot continue to support them as a business. I am not alone in this.
As of this morning I have turned off my monthly donation that I made as a "thank you" for providing a space for the Hilltop Cloud community. I have also turned off my advertising budget. I will not give money to a site that believes that it is preferable to enforce a new visual design on users, even when users are reporting that it causes them harm.
The links to Ravelry that are scattered all over this site will remain, because as a single-person business I don't think it's logistically possible for me to manage to go through and edit all of them.
On Saturday we are due to start the Tour de Fleece, and I am tying myself up in knots about this.
I do not have time to set up an alternative space that is accessible to all, not least because I don't even know where to start (if anyone has any suggestions then I'm open to hearing them). Facebook is not an option, for the same reason that companies like Ben & Jerry's , North Face and Patagonia have stopped adverting there. Many people rightly have privacy issue with Facebook, and choose not to have an account, and I respect their choice, I only use Facebook via my business account, and have contemplating removing myself from the site completely on many occasions.
The best option that I can come up with, based on 2 days notice, is this.
- We will continue to use our thread in the Ravelry group.
- If you need help swapping to Classic Rav then I will do that for you.
- I will also post our daily stage highlight tit-bits on this blog.
- If you choose not to access Ravelry then you can also submit your daily progress reports in reply to their posts. There is not currently the option to add images, so this will be on an honesty basis. This will make you eligible for the same prizes that were on offer for posting on Ravelry.
I am so sad and angry because I had built a community of people and database of knowledge on Ravelry. But if all of my customers can’t access that then I am being no better than Ravelry by continuing to plan to use their site as the basis of that community.
As of today I am actively looking for a new space for Hilltop Cloud to use to host our discussions.
I have posted this in a different form in the feedback threads on Ravelry, and have suggested the following as a response that will lead to me re-evaluating my decision.
I don't think there's anything in that list that is particularly unachievable.
I am not saying that Ravelry shouldn't have a new site design, I simply feel that it needs to have accessibility and usability for all at the heart of the rebuild, and that it shouldn't have accessibility applied as a series of patches once the site is live as the default for all users.
I use basic plug and play website builders for the business. This site is based on Weebly, and the shop is based on Shopify. That leaves me with limited options for altering the underlying structure of the site. However, if anyone every finds that a function of the site doesn't work with assistive software please tell me and I will try to get it fixed.
Going forward I am going to try to be better about adding alt image descriptions to images used on this part of the website. The repeatable stock of Tussah Silk, Merino & Silk, Ramie & Cotton and other fibres that are professionally dyed already contains a description of the colour. Describing the hand dyed fibre is trickier because they often contain complex mixtures of many, many shades, so realistically those will remain without a colour description.
This appeared on my twitter feed and is a reminder about why speaking up against discrimination is important.
Equal rights for others does not, in any way, diminish your own. The only way such a proposition can be logical is if you derive your worth from an unfair advantage over others. That's not victimhood. That's the noise your selfishness makes when exposed to a better light.
Someone on a Ravelry thread who is an expert at implementing accessible websites made the following point. Websites that are designed with accessibility at their core usually provide a better experience for all users. The same is true in real life. For example, if we campaign for better wheelchair accessibility then parents with pushchairs benefit.
Design with accessibility as your core value and everybody's life becomes better.
Too often people with disabilities are just viewed as being awkward, or there's an attitude of "they just need to try a bit harder, and put up with more inconvenience". People who have been vocal about discrimination towards many other marginalised groups have being expressing opinions that are ableist. Fighting to end discrimination towards one marginalised group does not give you a free pass on this issue.
Edit- Thursday June 25th.
Ravelry have now suspended the daily feedback threads and put a poorly designed feedback form in its place. Again, if you don't feel safe accessing Ravelry at present then send me a message and I am happy to pass on your feedback.
I have set up an alternative Tour de Fleece thread on Groups.io and will share all the details on the blogpost that will be published later today.
This Twitter thread highlights the issue already raised in the comments below. This is not the first time that ableism has been an issue on Ravelry.
On a personal note, I apologise for this. I thought that by putting content on Ravelry I was putting it in a place where everyone could access it and interact with it. That was my mistake and I apologise. I think this issue has highlighted that I would like to have better control over the resources that I create and share, so finding an alternative home for it is a priority in the coming weeks.
This site details many of the ongoing issues, and contains resources that you may find helpful including information on how to download all of your patterns in one go.
Again, if you need help with this then let me know.
Raverly has a tiny staff number for the size of their site. They underinvested in staff for many years, instead relying on the good will and emotional labour of others.
The entire handling of this new site has placed a huge burden on the very people who support them financially. Designers, dyers and other industry professionals are doing the work to alert users to issues, whilst trying to find ways to keep their business afloat, and allow people to still access their content.
Add in the pressures of Covid-19, the lingering threat of Brexit, and the fact that we had no notice about this means that for many of us we are feeling increasingly frazzled.
It didn't have to be this way, and that lack of care and consideration for the people who have paid their wages for the past few years is not acceptable.
Classic Ravelry still works, and if they’re to be believed in yesterday’s announcement thread, will work for the next 6 months. Revert everyone back to the ravelry of 10 days ago. Work on the new site in private beta with an accessibility consultant. It’s not rocket science, and goes a long way towards relieving the pressure from the Ravelry staff and all of those currently doing the unpaid labour for them.
Instagram, as ever is a nightmare when it comes to finding content again and interacting with it in a nuanced way, but this post makes some very valid points around the unpaid labour that is currently being done to help out Ravelry as a business.