Ravelry and accessibility: Ravelry's problematic behaviour

(Last update was June 6 2021 5:37pm ET.)

When the rebranded site was launched, the immediate problem was that the project had obviously not included any real accessibility consideration. However, Ravelry's response to the physically harmful aspects of the new site was itself a new, and very serious, problem. Increasingly, it has become apparent that Ravelry:
  • Doesn't care about accessibility
  • Doesn't want to educate themselves about accessibility
  • Is willing to damage the health of a subset of their users in order to forge ahead with their new look-and-feel
  • Is willing to suppress, gaslight, and abuse those who do speak up about the accessibility problems in order to promote a narrative that they are doing great on accessibility
I realize this is an incredible thing to say about a site that in the past has been so great about fighting for the advancement of other marginalized groups. They banned discussion of support for Trump in order to make their site a white supremacy-free space. They have been incredibly supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. And these moves came at the cost of a part of their customer base. However, for whatever reason, they have not applied these supportive principles to people with disabilities (despite the fact that there is a ton of overlap among the PWD, LGBTQ+, and POC groups).

This page documents the issues with Ravelry's response.

Not wanting to educate themselves about accessibility or see things from a perspective of disability

  • Ravelry has demonstrated a lack of accessibility expertise - I wrote a Twitter thread about it - and for 40 days, showed no signs of being willing to bring any in. To date, they still haven't.
  • Despite some mention of interest in bringing on accessibility experts, to date, no movement had been made in this area at all; it appears that previous indications of interest were just lip service.
  • I've sent numerous emails to the staff with helpful resources about accessibility (free seminars, informational links) and have received no response.
  • The now-closed feedback form was potentially problematic:
    • Since you must be logged in to see the form, your answers were not anonymous. 
    • As per one of the comments on this post (thank you Elsa), one of the questions was whether or not you have a disability that affects how you use the Internet, and if yes, further details are asked for. There is apparently now a disclaimer saying that the information will not be shared outside Ravelry and will eventually be destroyed, no timeframe given.
    • Twitter user @sdeutsh wrote a thread on the problematic aspects of the feedback form.
  • The now-closed wide-audience readability survey was problematic:
    • It seemed to focus on small variations to do with readability and preference rather than accessibility and physical needs.
    • It was designed by the staff, who have already demonstrated a lack of understanding of the principles of accessibility and a bias towards their own design.
    • Following complaints about the survey, Ravelry staff refused to modify or pull-and-revise it.
    • At 35 pages long, it took a while to fill out (thus presumably discouraging a number of user who might otherwise want to give their input)
    • It contained numerous screenshots and visual features from the new design, thus giving it many of the same accessibility problems as the new website itself (thus discouraging or outright preventing feedback from the very user who need most to communicate their issues)
    • I saw reports from a number of users who found the questions leading and highly biased, e.g. a number of visual choices are given which a responder must choose their favourite from, and none of them are "none of the above", even though all may be problematic.
    • This blog post articulates a lot of the issues.
    • Ravelry's July 24 update indicated that any changes the staff would be making as a result of the readability survey would only be used to drive Ravelry customizations; there is no indication that the survey will result in changes to the default experience.
  • On August 28, Ravelry announced a new beta testing feature that will allow them to test new additions to the site; however, it is only available for the redesigned version of Ravelry. So, even though the stated purpose of the feature is "to invite broader groups of Ravelers to participate in testing...so that we can make sure each new feature works well and is polished before we release it sitewide", they are effectively eliminating feedback about accessibility because the redesigned site excludes many people with disabilities. In case there is any misunderstanding about Ravelry's motivations here, this tweet contains a screen capture of Ravelry's response to this concern, which includes the quote, "We've already finished gathering feedback related to that. People won't be missing anything."
  • Twitter user @mrdowden has offered Ravelry a free website audit by his team at Andromeda Galactic Solutions: "No strings attached, we just want to help support your community." As of July 29, there has been no public response.
  • Users are being encouraged by Ravelry staff to submit feedback about Ravelry via the 'submit feedback' link in your profile menu dropdown, however, this option does not show up if you are in Classic view; meaning that effectively, they are only willing to entertain feedback from people who can use NuRav.

    Not caring about accessibility; prioritizing their new design above the health of their users

    • Ravelry went ahead with multiple site changes despite having been told that there were accessibility problems:
      • Some Ravelry users reported, both on Ravelry and on Twitter, that they were beta testers and did actually discover accessibility problems and reported them. However, the site was rolled out anyway without fixing the issues.
      • One user who tested the new Herdwick skin reported vertigo and eye strain but was ignored.
    • Many users (e.g. Twitter users @Americanwitch@shovelingferret, and @bioniclaura) have found that Ravelry never responds to direct communication about the accessibility issues. 
    • Ravelry has stated they will not roll back the new look which is harming people, nor offer it as opt-in with the original UX as the default. According to founder Jessica's letter of July 30, "we came to the conclusion that switching back to Classic Ravelry would not serve the greatest number of Ravelers." Meaning that they feel it's okay to physically harm a subset of their users if a larger subset likes the changes.
    • Via their communication pieces, it's clear that Ravelry has taken the hard position that 1) the new design is actually more accessible than any previous version of Ravelry (despite reports that the site now works even worse with screenreaders than previously, and apparently it wasn't that great previously); and 2) the new design does not cause seizures or migraines. Therefore it is clear that Ravelry does not plan to fix the site so it stops physically harming those experiencing seizures, headaches, auras, nausea, etc.
    • Ravelry eliminated the Classic Rav display option on March 31, 2021, even though there were many users that could only access Ravelry using Classic Ravelry because NuRav still causes them nausea/pain/etc.

    Seeks to control the narrative, regardless of the impact to users

    • The post-rebrand message on Ravelry's blog and social media posts was that the rebranding went really well, there were no major problems, they were working really hard on fixing bugs and improving the available features, and were seeking user feedback about readability. There was been zero acknowledgement about the physically harmful accessibility problems - neither that they exist, nor that Ravelry took responsibility or apologized for them. In fact, the staff have at various points claimed not only that many of the reported accessibility issues don't exist, but that the new version of the site is "the most accessible version of Ravelry ever".
    • Whenever accessibility was mentioned by Ravelry messaging, the problems were downplayed and implications were made that it is impossible to make a site perfectly accessible.
    • Ravelry staff and moderators have shut down all discussion of the accessibility problems in the main 6 Ravelry forums (i.e. where a large percentage of the Ravelry population is likely to see it), citing the main forum rules which forbid users from discussing locked/archived threads or referring to moderator decisions. Staff have said that they "aren't able or willing to host these discussions". Users will be banned if they talk about accessibility in the main 6, even once. Specifically, main 6 mods have banned users from not just the main 6, but across the whole site for a period of ten days, for discussing accessibility on the main 6, according to Twitter user @kayostheory101.
    • A discussion thread in For the Love of Ravelry, which is specifically about the new dark mode, is being actively culled by a mod so that positive feedback about dark mode remains, but any posts which point out flaws with the dark mode are being removed. A mod post about this reads: "Just a reminder: the OP started this thread to express gratitude for Dark Mode. We don’t want to have to shut it down because it turned into a feedback thread."
    • Ravelry staff have shut off comments on many of their social media channels.
    • Ravelry is now also suppressing accessibility-related complaints on Facebook. On March 31, it was discovered that the automated comments-screening that Ravelry had put in place on their Facebook account could be gotten around by posting .gifs instead. This lasted for a few hours before moderators discovered what was going on and (apparently) started manually suppressing the .gif comments.
    • Feedback is only accepted via private communication on the Contact Us page on Ravelry or (if applicable) the bug reporting feature, where only Ravelry staff will be able to see it. Note that these channels cannot even be accessed by users who are being physically harmed by the new site. 
    • Ravelry staff have been misrepresenting and weaponizing statistics on user signups and pattern sales in the context of talking about how great the rebranding has been for Ravelry (even as they continue to ignore or dismiss the serious accessibility issues).

    Abusive tactics against those talking about the accessibility issues

    • One of the founders posted a short-lived tweet from her personal account, accusing a user, who had reported the results of a survey (about the effect of the rebrand on designer sales), of "spreading straight up lies about Ravelry non-stop since we updated the design".
    • On July 29, multiple reports started coming in, with screenshots, that Ravelry was sending out form letters to people who had emailed them with concerns about the accessibility problems, signed as being from Cassidy, chief coder and co-founder of Ravelry. Here, to date, are the texts of the emails:
      • Twitter user @kingdomofwench reports this text: "Ravelry's updated design is the most accessible version of Ravelry ever and it does not cause seizures, migraines or other medical issues. I would like people to consider their sources before spreading false information."
      • Twitter user @ktb38 reports this text: "Ravelry's updated design does not cause seizures, migraines or other medical issues. The Epilepsy Foundation did not "call out" Ravelry. Angry users stared [sic] a letter writing campaign and the foundation published their warning based on these letters without any verification or research, as appears to be their policy. A medical doctor who specializes in migraines and seizures has said that he does not believe that Ravelry is causing seizures or migraines. We have found zero evidence that there is anything about the new design that causes migraines or seizures. I would like people to consider their sources before spreading false information."
      • IG user lindsey_silveredgriffin reports this text: "Ravelry's updated design does not cause seizures, migraines, or other medical issues. The Epilepsy Foundation did not find any problems with Ravelry. Angry users stared [sic] a letter writing campaign and the foundation published their warning without any verification or research, as appears to be their policy. We have not found any experts, including medical doctors who specialize in this area, who have identified any problems with Ravelry. We have found zero evidence that there is anything about the new design that causes migraines or seizures. I would like people to consider their sources before spreading false information."
    • Co-founder Jessica's July 30 letter to the community, while it included some concessions/contrition, deliberately minimized the problems.
      • The apology was for stress, uncertainty, and any feelings of being unheard; not for the physical harms, ableism, and abusive targeting of specific people displayed by staff.
      • Many months on, real change has not transpired, meaning that the commitments within the letter were only for PR purposes.
    • The tweets have now been deleted, but screenshots remain, of co-founder Cassidy's sister continuing Cassidy's campaign of claiming that there is nothing wrong with the rebranded Ravelry site and that people who are complaining about accessibility issues are doing so to cause trouble and not because the issues are real.

    Ignoring or dismissing the problems outright:

    Important points to note:

    • The reports of seizures/migraines/etc. are coming from actual people who are saying, independently of each other, that they are experiencing these problems. 
    • Many reports of seizures/migraines/etc. have been coming from people who (previously) were documentably big fans of Ravelry. These are clearly people with no malicious intent, who are speaking up because they are experiencing legitimate problems.
    • We can expect any further changes to Ravelry to potentially worsen accessibility, since they are convinced that they've done a great job with accessibility so far.
    • We can expect them to dismiss any new problems with accessibility which people may report in the future.
    • The July 30 letter clearly implies, through statements like "Cassidy was not in a state to be talking with people", that something is going on with co-founder Cassidy. It is completely unknown whether this will impact the staff's ability to continue restricting her to technical duties, or to make improvements to the site at all, or whether this will impact the very future of Ravelry. Bottom line: There are many unknowns.

    NEW: Not accessibility related but still deeply problematic:

    The moderators of the Demon Trolls group on Ravelry (a consumer advocacy group for fibre artists) have decided they cannot recommend Ravelry as a sales platform for designers without reservation. Reasons given for this decision:
    • There have been many issues with Ravelry's handling of payments and VAT.
    • Sooper editors have been merging entries or breaking up collections such that already-paid-for patterns have disappeared from customers' libraries.

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