Six days ago, Ravelry rolled out its new branding and redesign and at Countess Ablaze we have made the decision to strip our Ravelry profile, although we will update with new yarn bases so our beloved customers are not impacted on their project pages, and I’ve gone through our website today to remove all URLs to Ravelry. No URLs will be made here.
I’m not going to talk about the aesthetics of the new design but I want to discuss accessibility.
Day six and there are numerous references to increased anxiety, agitation and fatigue as well as eyestrain, migraine, dizziness, seizures, visual disturbances, RSI from scrolling through much more space.
There’s something missing; a response.
I’ve gone from disappointed and mildly pissed off to absolutely incredulous with rage.
Ravelry is a community that prides itself on inclusive and progressive values as we do, like so many of us do and I want to take a moment to lay out the issues I have and why we made the decision to no longer support Ravelry.
- There was a lack of extensive testing and as far as I am aware, accessibility was not at its core.
It’s important to make the distinction here that the brief stance that Ravelry made on their feedback thread (For The Love of Ravelry forum, Sunday 21st June), hidden in a wall of text was a brief apology of sorts towards people with pre-existing conditions finding the website unusable. It was possibly at that point that I lost my absolute shit.
The onus should NOT be on people with accessibility problems, like me, but on the website being designed to be accessible at its very core. There’s a distinction. The half-arsed apology, complete with a self-congratulatory medal - now changed to a heart because sure “we hurt you but here’s some love”, excludes the many, many people who have never experienced any of the reported health problems before who have found themselves to be experiencing them for the first time.
ETA - I was reading the forums when I fell ill so had gotten through the login animation which has apparently now been slowed down. This guide from Mozilla talks about many ways that website design can trigger seizures. I suspect for me it was the glaring white, sensory overload of a lot of colours, flickering and high contrast black lines. I can't speculate anymore than this and now I've had one seizure (I've been seizure free since Nov 2018) I'm at higher risk for another.
- By day six, with known and very numerous health risks, one of two things needed to happen followed by a third.
- Pull the new design down, get experts to look at it, get it extensively tested beyond the small crowd they invited, clear up the health triggering effects and relaunch.
- A health warning. A seizure warning. SOMETHING. This is why I will no longer put a URL to Ravelry and have stripped our website of them because I do not wish to put you in harm’s way. If you spot one we’ve missed, do let us know.
- An apology. A proper one. Without a fucking medal.
By day three, they had put a toggle to the previous Classic version of the website but when you log in, complete with dizzying animations, it is not the default. It is opt-in.
To everyone who messages us with “they’re very good, they’re listening to people experiencing problems” - DON’T. You might not realise it but that’s kinda ableist when people are suffering.
When you have a seizure, if you have a driving licence, it needs to be surrendered. Fortunately, mine is a provisional licence however I was booked to sit my motorcycle test as a priority very soon so I can get to work without using public transport. Why? There’s a pandemic outside and I’m immunosuppressed and sitting on a bus puts me at risk. So cheers, Rav yeah?
- I have very serious concerns about how Ravelry handles change.
It is sudden and out of nowhere. There are many people who don’t like change or just need some time to get used to it and then there’s those of us who are neurodiverse who need time to process. This new design was spat out of nowhere, it is causing designers who are experiencing difficulties with it, sheer panic about their livelihoods.
This is not the first time that Ravelry has failed on change-management. In June 2019, they announced that the website would no longer host support for Trump. We supported that, we still support that.
It came out of nowhere. I remember the moment, I was on holiday alone (I have Aspergers and need to get away alone to Amsterdam to rest from time to time) and a message comes in from one of my staff. “Hey boss, you might need to look at Instagram and the news.” Instantly, Ravelers and small businesses were quick to show support, it took me days. We had emails “where’s your support, Countess?” further putting the pressure on.
Ravelry is the most influential business (let’s drop the word community for a moment - this is a for-profit business that has monopolised the industry) in the yarn, knitting and crochet world. It is iconic. So whilst I’m alone in another country having panic attacks at how swift this is and how unprepared I was, I was asking myself “where was the consultation with others in the industry?” and “why has a Diversity Advisory Council like Vogue Knitting not been set up?” I forget if this council was set up before or after the Ravelry announcement but I remember wondering why there weren’t more diverse voices making this decision. A community makes a decision together, a for-profit business makes a decision to suit them.
I gave our support to Ravelry and as I had just been to see Rammstein in concert, drawing on their story about how they were forced to become political following a school shooting in the US.
When I returned, our bricks and mortar shop was targetted by a political group as Ravelry’s announcement hit international news. We were advised by the police how to react and I ultimately mentally broke down, came off social media for several weeks and tried to recover. I remember sitting in the pub with industry colleagues shaking and crying because of the fear. I am autistic, as are most of my employees and that was a frightening time that took a good long while to recover from.
But you know what would have helped? Some warning. Some consultation.
Accessibility also is about HOW you implement change.
Ravelry has lost my trust. I will no longer refer our customers to them and I feel dreadful for the designers who are caught in the crossfire of this. Their lack of response has endangered the livelihoods of so many, at a time when society and public health is so precarious.
I want to take a moment to thank every ally who has stepped up to advocate on our behalf. Having health problems is exhausting and whilst I cannot speak for everyone affected, only myself - Thank you, truly.
As for inclusivity and progressive values? Not if you're disabled, have chronic health conditions or neurodiverse.