Sunday, July 11, 2021

Fallacy vs. reality

There's been a wee flurry of activity lately on social media, from a handful of people defending Ravelry against complaints about the accessibility problems on that site. All saying, in some way, that the problems aren't real, or don't matter, or those harmed are just being mean, etc.

These posts all seem to employ one or more of seven easily disprovable fallacies. So I'm going to go through all of those and show why they're fallacies, in the hope that it will help. Either because it makes people experiencing problems feel that they're not alone, or because it will raise awareness that the problem exists, or - ideally - because it will change hearts and minds. (Hey, hope springs eternal.)

Fallacy #1: People are only complaining because they hate Ravelry

This is laughably untrue. Seriously, it doesn't take a lot of effort to discover that the people upset about the problems loved Ravelry, loved using it, and were happily promoting it as a fantastic website before the redesign dropped.

Tweets like this are legion, they're not hard to find. The people complaining did not start with a hate-on for Ravelry. In fact, when the redesign was first launched, the prevailing mood among those negatively impacted was that although things were very bad, they were absolutely confident that Ravelry would listen to them and fix the problems just as soon as possible. (And that was my feeling, too!)

One common theme I've also seen among those defending Ravelry is to conflate those concerned about accessibility with another group with possibly malicious motivations. But this is also demonstrably untrue. I wrote a thread on Twitter to debunk it:

None of this stems from hatred, or some bizarre desire to 'bring Ravelry down'. Those who are complaining are doing so because there is a legitimate problem. Which dovetails very nicely into...

Fallacy #2: Websites can't really cause these problems

I've provided resources to debunk this notion previously, but here we go again.

Note that throughout these pieces, it's not just a case of people's responses to animations, it's also about certain visual patterns, e.g. stripes, high contrast, etc.

From my reading so far, it sounds like scientists aren't sure yet exactly why certain visuals can trigger these physical impacts, and it certainly doesn't sound like it's a widespread problem affecting the majority of the population. But it very clearly is a problem, and does genuinely impact people. 

If you're interested in reading about some of the specific problems with the new design, this thread is long but has a lot of detail:


Fallacy #3: Websites are websites; if you can use one site, there's no reason you can't use Ravelry

Different websites have entirely different designs, features, coding, etc. To think that they must have the same accessibility because they're both websites displays a fundamental lack of understanding of what accessibility even is.

This is akin to saying that a library with stairs everywhere has the same level of accessibility as a post office with elevators and wheelchair ramps, just because they're both buildings. It doesn't work like that.

As an example, let's examine just a single aspect of website accessibility: keyboard navigation. Comparing keyboard navigation on two different websites produces a vastly different experience for someone with accessibility issues which prevent them from using a mouse.

Fallacy #4: I don't have a problem with Ravelry, so anyone who says they do must be lying

As we've seen, these problems do not affect every single person. But there have been loads of first-hand accounts saying that yes, it genuinely is a problem. Such as:

I could do this all day. This is just a sampling.

Bottom line, people are different from one another. They have different health issues, their bodies work in different ways, etc. Your lack of a problematic experience does not negate someone else's problematic experience.

Fallacy #5: It's just a few whiners who don't like change

If you've read this far, you'll have seen many individual examples of people who are being hurt by the new design (and hold on to your hat, there are plenty more to come!) - we are clearly not talking about just a few outliers.

But just to slam that point home, here are some stats from a survey which was done to try and gauge how many people were affected by the NuRav problems. Almost 2,000 impacted people reported their issues.

And of course there's no way to know how many additional people have been negatively impacted who didn't fill out the survey. That number of 1,858 affected people is just the starting point.

Now, of course the number of affected people represents a small percentage of the total size of Ravelry's audience. (In fact, I would hazard a guess that it aligns with the percentage of the general population who gets affected by bad contrast and striping patterns and whathaveyou.) But - and here is the crucial point - a small percentage of a massive number of people still represents a very large number of people! Thousands of people being harmed is NOT OKAY. 

I would also point out that when a recent system bug messed with the group membership settings of a small percentage of Ravelry users, the Ravelry team immediately investigated and had it completely fixed within a matter of days. As I recall, the number of affected users in that instance was only 812. So, just in case anyone was thinking of presenting the argument that 1,858 people is not a big enough group to warrant Ravelry putting a priority on fixing their experience - clearly, it actually does meet that criteria; in fact, it exceeds it by at least a factor of about 2.3.

But not only is the number of people affected clearly not "a few", but it is absolutely not okay to frame them as "whiners". This problem is not trivial. This is not about the fact that something changed, as I explained in this thread:

And further to this incorrect notion that 'not liking change' is to blame, you may also be interested in this thread, which posits that when users react negatively to a website changing, it's not actually change which is the culprit. 


Fallacy #6: Even if you are having problems with Ravelry, you can easily solve them just by changing your settings on the site

This is extremely untrue.

Now, Ravelry has indeed, since the redesign launch, introduced the ability for users to fiddle around with a number of different display settings, to try to improve their experience. But - and this is key - they don't always work. And to boot, one of them doesn't even exist anymore.

The one that's now gone is the "Classic Rav toggle", also referred to as "Classic mode" or just simply "Classic". This was implemented by Ravelry fairly shortly after the new look was discovered to be problematic (and honestly, was an admission in and of itself that the new design had serious issues). But it was temporary.

And ever since its introduction, it has been used to dismiss people who say they have problems with the new design. I've lost count of the number of people reporting - even recently! - that in reaction to saying 'NuRav hurts me,' they hear 'Just revert to the old look, what's the big deal.'  Despite the fact that Ravelry discontinued this option THREE MONTHS AGO.

And even if they hadn't, this option never worked for everyone. No one understands why, but the Classic toggle was widely reported to not be the same experience as the original, pre-NuRav design. While the Classic toggle did allow many people to keep using Ravelry, it still caused harm for others:

Again, this is just a sample, I could keep going. But let's get back to the other settings on the site that do still exist. Why can't people use those?

The good news is that there absolutely are people who are harmed by regular NuRav, but can use the site with certain settings changed - and that's fantastic! But just as absolutely, that's not true for everyone. Whether you're talking about Herdwick mode...

...Or whether you're talking about dark mode:

These examples are not hard to find.

The corollary to this fallacy, of course, is that if you can't be bothered to change your settings on Ravelry and are still complaining, you're either lazy or a whiner. Or both! But clearly we can see that this isn't true. It's marvellous that the display options which haven't been discontinued do help some people. But there are still many people who simply aren't helped by them.

Fallacy #7: Worst-case scenario, you can always simply use another site

It's true that there are other fibre-related sites and alternatives to some of Ravelry's functionality, many of which actually sprang up in response to all these problems. But bottom line, there is no site out there with the incredible database and search functionality like Ravelry has. There just isn't. Even Ravelry's founders acknowledge this, when they talk about the need for decentralization:

Moreover, this centralization and monopoly extends beyond database functionality and into the fibre-related community features. Test knits, design support, and craft events of varying sizes - including small, large, and seriously major - are either exclusively or primarily hosted on Ravelry.

And even if none of this were true, businesses have a moral obligation to be usable for those who want to use them. Especially a business with the monopoly and massive reach of Ravelry. 

There may even be a legal obligation. Admittedly, the related legislation right now is new, thin, and largely untested, but that's changing. Although not every legal decision goes this way, more and more, websites are being seen in the eyes of courts in the United States (where Ravelry operates) as places of public accommodation. As well, legal issues of digital accessibility are becoming increasingly prevalent:

Even setting aside Ravelry's monopoly on what their site can do, the other thing to remember is that it isn't just a simple case of 'Well, don't go there if it bothers you so much.' Ravelry has now become so prevalent in the fibre world that it is extremely difficult to avoid it, even when you're trying to.

Even screenshots of the new design have been reported to negatively impact people. (In fact, there were a lot of really illustrative tweets I didn't feel I could quote in this post because they included NuRav screenshots.)



The unspoken implication in all of these fallacies is that there is actually nothing to complain about. But even a cursory examination of the facts demonstrates that this is not the case. The site still puts people at risk for physical harm. And that's why people are still talking about it. The site needs to be fixed so that it can stop hurting people.

Yes, there's anger and frustration coming out in some of the accounts I've included here. And there are a lot of people who at this point are so angry and upset with how badly Ravelry has screwed the pooch on this whole issue, that they wouldn't go back even if it was fully fixed tomorrow. Why? Because when businesses discriminate against segments of their audience and treat them badly, that kills brand loyalty and trust.

To be clear: Ravelry did this. Ravelry's own actions harmed their brand. Many of those affected have tried - constructively, patiently, and supportively - to explain the problems and to assist with solutions, and in return, Ravelry ignored them, dismissed them, attempted to discredit them, and suppressed their voices.

The onus is not on the audience to keep sticking around for that kind of treatment. The people being hurt should not be blamed. It is unreasonable to expect them to give lenience and understanding and compassion for a business which harmed them, and then made a conscious decision to keep harming them.

If pointing out that Ravelry did something wrong is impacting their reputation, that's not cruelty towards Ravelry. That's Ravelry experiencing consequences.

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