Feministe and Accessibility

I’m going to talk about website accessibility, both in general and specifically regarding Feministe. I’m going to talk about the responsibilities of contributors, and also of commenters, to our community.

From time to time, we post videos on this blog. Here’s the dynamic when this happens. (It happens primarily with regard to videos here, though there are also accessibility issues with images and link text and such, of course.) Sometimes transcripts or video descriptions have been posted along with the video, sometimes they have not. When they are not, often a commenter will point this out and ask for one in the interests of accessibility. This commenter, and anyone who adds supporting comments, faces a fair amount of pushback from fellow commenters. They are asked if they’re being serious or whether they’re trolling, have tone arguments thrown at them – or ableist or misogynist slurs – or even why on earth they just don’t watch the video if they want to know what it’s about. They might be told that Feministe is under no obligation to provide transcripts, that asking is selfish, and isn’t it all okay if the majority of users can access the video though some can’t? There is, more often than not, a great deal of ridicule and vitriol aimed at the unfortunate person who just wanted to be able to access the blog along with everyone else, or enable others to do so. This behaviour is intolerable.

These sorts of reactions tell me that this is a community in need of some accessibility 101. Let’s start off with transcripts. Transcripts are for people with all sorts of disabilities, visual, hearing, processing and much more. They are for people who can’t access video or audio due to regional restrictions on content, for people who can’t turn on the sound on their computer, for those who just prefer to read rather than watch/listen. They make it easier to search for particular videos. Essentially, they are useful on a number of fronts. They’re for all sorts of people and needs and reasons. Not providing transcripts on your site or blog or some such means that one is not allowing a large portion of one’s audience to access chunks of site material. This is far from being the only accessibility issue on websites in general, or this blog in particular. Sometimes we include link text (that’s the hyperlink, the bit of text you click on that takes you to other web pages) that isn’t descriptive. This means that someone reading the site with a screenreader (a piece of technology that reads content aloud to you) might be confused as to the nature of the link when they’re tabbing from link to link down the page. Sometimes images are not described for those who cannot see them or not clearly, either alongside the images or in title text. Those are some particular problems I have identified on Feministe; there are lots of things to consider here and in general, look up “web accessibility” to learn more. Now, if you don’t need a particular accessibility measure to access a website, this kind of exclusion is going to be pretty invisible to you. But if you need it, omissions are glaringly obvious and frustrating. Sound a little familiar? This is how privilege functions, no?

So, back to Feministe and contributors’ responsibilities around accessibility, because bad behaviour from commenters would come up a great deal less if we’d been consistently making this blog accessible. I’ll be the first to say that not having transcripts or video descriptions alongside videos – and all the rest – in all our posts is unacceptable, because not only does this render lots of our readers unable to access the blog on an equitable basis with other readers, it’s also a powerful message that we’re only willing to cater to certain sorts of readers. And that is not the sort of message we want to send; that is not the kind of site we want to be. It’s a social justice blog, after all!

We here at Feministe are responsible for making the site accessible to all of our readers on as equitable a basis as we can. Readers ought not need to be responsible for writing out transcripts and such, as some of you have kindly been doing when contributors do not include them with their posts. We’re going to do our best to be uniformly accessible. Sometimes we may well slip up, in which case we welcome you pointing that out, but we’re going to do our best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Here’s what you are responsible for, commenters: you’re responsible to your fellow readers. You are responsible for not making them feel less than by questioning them and ridiculing them when they ask for access to a social justice blog of all spaces. We want the ableism in our comments section to stop. That includes ableist language (no, bigotry and mental illness are not the same thing, for a start – see Cara’s Blogging Against Disablism Day post for this year) as well as doubting of the necessity of accessibility and other ableist rhetoric. We’re going to be getting a lot harsher with this kind of ableism from commenters.

Let’s make this the best site we can, okay? Needless to say, objectionable ableist crap is not going to be tolerated on this post in particular. Neither the necessity of Feministe’s accessibility policy – better transcripts, better link text, better video/image descriptions and so forth – nor the value we place on all of our readers are up for debate. Comments that include the sentiment that some readers of this blog are not quite so deserving of accessing it as more privileged readers are going to get you banned – see the existing comments policy. I can hardly believe I had to write that on a social justice blog, but there we go.

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17 comments for “Feministe and Accessibility

  1. June 15, 2010 at 12:27 am

    By a happy coincidence, after I wrote this but before I put it up, s.e. smith wrote a post that can tell you more about accessibility on the web!

  2. karak
    June 15, 2010 at 1:42 am

    I get bored watching videos–I can read 20x faster than most people can talk. I LOVE transcripts, love them to death.

  3. June 15, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Good for you. After all these years its a shame we still have to do this. You are right. Its not just about disability. Our broadband is so slow that sometimes its quicker to read a transcript than wait for the video to download, And not everyone in the world has broadband. Keep up the great work.

  4. June 15, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Thanks for this. s.e. smith’s post is great too. Really wonderful learning for this long-term perpetrator of accessibility fail – hopefully not so much in the future.

  5. Michael
    June 15, 2010 at 6:22 am

    Thanks for this. As a hearing-impaired person, I hate having to skip articles just because I can’t hear them. I wish more sites followed your example.

    And to those people who think accessibility is a waste of time … I hope you stay able-bodied forever! Good luck with that!

  6. Jadey
    June 15, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Thank you. :)

  7. June 15, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Challyyyyyy! You are great! As are the other Feministe people, as I’m assuming this is a joint decision. Seeing the site moving in this direction makes me super-super happy.

  8. June 15, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Chally! You are made of awesome, and I appreciate this post so, so very much!

  9. June 15, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Thank you for this :) And thank you for pointing out that accessibility is not always about different abilities — sometimes it’s a class thing, too. For over a year I was using a computer that didn’t have speakers, because they had broken. It wasn’t covered under my warranty and I simply did NOT have anywhere near the amount of money required to throw away on fixing speakers on a computer, of all things. I was worried about tuition, rent, food. I’m lucky now because my situation is a little better, but my disadvantage was a temporary one. I can hear videos now, if I want to. Not everyone can, and I don’t think that transcripts are an unrealistic thing to ask for OR provide.

  10. Solara
    June 15, 2010 at 8:25 am

    Since I’m forced to either read this blog from work (where audio is a no-no for me, but web browsing is okay as long as the work gets done) or at home, where the internet is incredibly slow, I appreciate transcripts too. Also, awesome post.

  11. Kaz
    June 15, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Thank you! I can’t pin down what exactly about my disabilities makes watching video incredibly stressful and unpleasant for me (and get defensive about it for this reason, because I know a lot of people will not take me seriously) but it’s definitely the case, and solely-audio is similarly difficult. I can usually manage something like one five-minute Youtube video every few months so in general, if there’s no transcript I can’t access the content.

    And I’ve also seen people attacked for asking for transcripts on Feministe before (years ago, so I’m appalled it’s still going on), and I know first-hand how difficult and embarrassing and awkward it can be to ask for a transcript and how easy it can be to just go “well, I guess I’ll just wander off and do my own thing instead”, so. Thank you for this post.

  12. June 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Another transcript lover here!

  13. Alara Rogers
    June 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

    I don’t think my hatred of video stems from disability so much as different ability — as karak above says, I read *much* faster than the human voice can speak, and I feel like watching a video is getting a tiny trickle when I could be drinking from the firehose. when someone posts a video and does not post a transcript with it, they are wasting my time, and time is the one commodity none of us will ever get back.

    So I just don’t watch it.

    It feels wrong to say “I have a superpower you don’t and as a result watching video is painful for me because it bores me”, in a world where other people are saying “I can’t watch video because I cannot hear/cannot see/cannot handle shaky camera”, so I rarely speak out about it. I feel like, I “can” watch video, so I don’t have the right to protest video. of course, this is the same kind of logic that says that gifted children shouldn’t ask for or expect class material that actually challenges them because they *can* get by on the material the other children are learning. I think we should have our different abilities from the high side of the bell curve met, as long as doing so doesn’t prevent meeting other people’s different abilities from the low side, because while it is not as bad to encounter something you are *able* to do but is far enough beneath the level that you can function at that it is mind-numbing to do it as it is to encounter something that you *cannot* do or that is physically painful to try to do… it’s still bad.

    Also, I do all my reading of blogs at work, and the firewall won’t allow streaming video. At home, I have children to attend to and I can’t stand other people being able to see me stream video or watch TV unless I know for a fact that they would appreciate it as much as I do, so I almost never have *time* to watch video or TV at home.

    I’m so glad to see this post, Chally, and also s. e. smith’s. All humans have different modes of learning and different ways in which we take in information, and for many of us, whether it’s because we literally can’t use a particular channel or because a different channel is so much better for us that our brains are optimized to handle it, some channels are way better than others… and those might be channels that the majority of humans actually find harder. (Amanda on Pandagon once argued that it is universally true for all human beings that watching television is easier and requires less effort than reading a book, and I was one of several posters who argued with her that this *isn’t* universally true because even among people who are as sighted and hearing as she is, the intake channel the brain is optimized for is different. I read for relaxation. Watching TV can be incredibly engaging for me, but it is also harder than reading a book.)

    In the ideal world we’d present as many channels for our information as we can; in practice, it’s still much easier to blog than to video-log, so we can’t always provide sound and video to go along with text. But we *can* always provide text to go along with sound and video, and there’s really no excuse not to.

  14. June 15, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    You’re very very welcome, everyone!

    Alara, I’m feeling really uncomfortable with the hierarchy of ability that is coming through some of your statements such as ‘people’s different abilities from the low side’. We’ve all got different abilities; we can’t necessarily slot them into high and low.

  15. June 15, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Transcripts for videos and audio are also awesome for people who are blogging about the clip. The text is already there, so we can copy-and-paste accurately for quotes.

  16. lilacsigil
    June 16, 2010 at 3:33 am

    Even minimally shaky, flashing or spinning video (such as animated GIFs) makes me ill, and, as more and more TV shows and movies and videos and news footage (and phone calls!) take on these aspects, it leaves me feeling more and more left out. Endless thank yous to the transcribers, and to the people who put warnings on videos, and cut their animated GIFs so I can be prepared or skip them.

    As part of equality and fairness, it’s also *my* responsibility to make sure what I post is accessible to other people, whether it be text, pictures or anything else. I can’t transcribe many clips, but I certainly can try to make my posts accessible to screen readers and put descriptions of my pictures.

    As another extremely fast reader, I’d take issue with the idea that it’s a “high” ability – it lets me absorb text quickly, but it also means that I read faster than I process, so I get a lot of spoilers and squicky content, and things that I would ptherwise rather not read. When that ability is countered by my vertigo and I have to read slowly, I think I often have a more enjoyable reading experience. Does it mean I have “lower” ability on those days? Only in the literal “words per minute” sense; certainly not in my experience of text.

  17. June 16, 2010 at 5:09 am

    As part of equality and fairness, it’s also *my* responsibility to make sure what I post is accessible to other people, whether it be text, pictures or anything else. I can’t transcribe many clips, but I certainly can try to make my posts accessible to screen readers and put descriptions of my pictures.

    I just want to jump off from that – I was thinking about how sometimes impairments themselves can make making things accessible for other people difficult. For example, sometimes I have trouble transcribing videos.

    The great thing here at Feministe is that we can ask our fellow contributors for help!! :)

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