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.