Five Reasons Everyone (and I Mean Everyone) Should Care About Accessibility in Knitting and Beyond

19 November 2020

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Accessibility is a topic that’s come up in the crafting world a lot in 2020. Stitching social media destination Ravelry launched a new design for their website in mid-June. Many users immediately reported difficulty with the new site, saying the changes had rendered it unusable to them. The revised site no longer worked with screen-reading tools commonly used by those with visual impairments; some elements of the site were significantly more difficult to read because of changes in colours, fonts and graphics. Some users reported experiencing physical consequences from using the site, including nausea, migraines, and seizures.

Responses to these concerns was mixed. Although some crafters were sympathetic, many users simply didn’t understand the issue, and indeed, some simply didn’t care. If the majority of users had had their experienced improved, was it worthwhile to worry about the small number who were adversely affected by the changes?

It saddened me reading these kinds of comments. They showed a clear lack of understanding of accessibility and why we should all care about it. Even if we’re not disabled ourselves, even if we think we’re never going to be disabled, and even if we don’t have much awareness of the needs of the disabled, we should absolutely care about accessibility because we all benefit when all crafters have access to our online communities and tools.


1. People with accessibility issues do knit and crochet.

I suspect many people think “blind” when they think about accessibility in the context of computers, and I also suspect many people think that blind people don’t craft. So if a knitting website or pattern isn’t accessible, it’s no big deal, right?

But blind people do knit. They knit a lot!

Check out Aspen, who’s been blind all her life.

And accessibility isn’t just about accommodating those with visual impairments. There are physical limitations that you might think make knitting impossible, but humans can do so many things, even with limitations.

YouTuber Elisabeth Ward shows us how to cast on and knit with one hand

People with all types of disabilities knit, crochet, and do lots of other kinds of great crafts, and that means they should be able to access the same crafting resources that the rest of us can. These hobbies are absolutely appropriate for users with accessibility issues, and therefore, fixing those issues is important. This importance grows when the person with accessibility issues makes money from their hobby. For example, those who use Ravelry to run their business but can no longer use the site safely have had their livelihood impacted.

Accessibility refers to anything which impacts one’s ability to:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Move
  • Speak
  • Understand. This last one is about cognitive, learning, and neurological issues, and is probably the most overlooked aspect of ensuring an accessible online experience.

Deeper dive >>

2. Accessibility issues affect everyone.

Online accessibility is not just making websites usable for people with visual impairments or physical disabilities. I bet most non-disabled people think they’ve never experienced web accessibility issues. But they have.

  • Have you ever been carrying something in one arm (like a baby, or a heavy bag), requiring you to use your phone or a computer one-handed?
  • Have you ever been somewhere too noisy to be able to hear your phone, but wanted to watch a video?
  • Have you ever had those drops from the eye doctor that make you really sensitive to light and you can’t read properly for a few hours?
  • Have you ever wanted to use your phone while outside in the winter, but it was too cold to take off your mittens?
  • Has your Internet ever been slow?

Although these are all temporary, they are issues all the same. I bet nobody wants to have to wait until these problems go away; they want to do the thing they want with their technology right now. And there’s a lot of modern life that needs to be conducted online: banking, voting, making appointments, finding out opening hours for a store, getting directions, and so forth. You might not need to check your knitting pattern when carrying your baby outdoors in the winter, but you very well might need to confirm the address of the doctor’s office.

Now imagine what it’s like for those who may have more long-term accessibility issues, like a broken arm. Or permanent accessibility issues, like someone who has only one arm. All of these people should be able to do the things they want to do with their technology right now. This is accessibility. And no one is immune – sooner or later, you’re going to be needing a website’s accessibility features, or wishing it had them!

Deeper dive >>

  • Many people with one particular disability don’t even think of themselves as having a limitation, because it’s completely normalized in our society. Yet, if their assistive devices were taken away, they would suddenly encounter many barriers to navigating their life. I’m talking about… needing glasses.
  • The classic visual used in the industry to illustrate how accessibility can impact anyone is Microsoft’s Persona Spectrum chart, which shows examples of the intersection of permanent, temporary, and situational disabilities with different constraints (touch, see, and so on). This can be viewed in UXcellence’s article on Designing for Accessibility: An Introduction. You can also find it on page forty-two of Microsoft’s Inclusive Toolkit Manual, which is available for download from their Inclusive Design site.
3. Ignoring accessibility means losing money.

Disabilities aren’t rare. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability, which equals almost 1.2 billion people. The Return on Disability Group’s 2020 Annual Report places that number even higher, estimating that the worldwide population of people with disabilities in 2018 was 1.85 billion.

Although disabilities are often associated with poverty, there are people with disabilities in all social and financial tiers, and they have money to spend on necessities and luxuries. A business with an inaccessible website is shutting out all those users, and the revenue that comes from them. The Return on Disability Group reports that people with disabilities have over $1.9 trillion in disposable income, including about $82 billion in Canada, almost $550 billion in Europe, and $1.3 trillion in the United States.

And of course, people with disabilities don’t represent an isolated market. A user who has a bad experience with a company or website is likely to talk about it. And through social media, these messages can travel widely. It’s not just about damage to a company’s reputation, but also to their bottom line. If you cast the net wider, to include friends and families of people with disabilities, the global spending power balloons to over $10.7 trillion in disposable income, including almost $540 billion in Canada, over $3 trillion in Europe, and over $7 trillion in the U.S.

It’s not just the money people possess which can enrich companies who engage them. People with disabilities, their friends, and their family members, all have intelligence, experience, knowledge, and skills. Smart businesses learn from their customers; many companies, like social media platforms, depend on participation and contributions from their customer base as part of their core business model. Businesses who pass up on the “soft” assets that prospective customers can bring to the table are once again throwing away money.

Of course, another very effective way a business can throw away money is to lose it in legal battles. Failing to comply with accessibility standards exposes a company to potential lawsuits. Many countries, and even smaller regions within countries, have some form of disability protection legislation in place which requires many companies to have a minimum level of accessibility on their websites.

Some of these laws and guidelines are stronger than others. For example, in some places, only government websites have to be in compliance. But in many parts of the world, legislation applies further. And the trend is clear: more and more businesses in the future are likely going to have to comply with these kinds of accessibility laws. Accessibility issues are not going away – quite the opposite – and companies are going to be less and less able to avoid accommodating them on their websites without exposing themselves in for a world of financial consequences.

Deeper dive >>

  • In Canada, there are numerous regulations which establish rules for website accessibility:
    • In 2019, The Accessible Canada Act became law. It includes digital content, and the technologies used to access it, in the areas where barriers to accessibility must be prevented. This law applies to many areas of government, as well as to private sectors which are federally regulated.
    • A number of provinces have their own regulations. For example, in the province of Ontario, where I live, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has been law since 2005. It enforces WCAG 2.0 standards. Any private or non-profit organization with fifty or more employees, or any public sector organization, must comply. The Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Quebec also have legislation designed to prevent barriers to accessibility of digital content. And advocates in other areas of the country are also working on creating similar legislation.
    • Other applicable regulations are the Employment Equity Act, federal and provincial Human Rights Acts, and the Seniors Code.
  • In the United Kingdom, the Equality Act 2010 covers accessibility of websites
  • The United States also has regulations:
    • As of January 2019, courts within the First, Second, and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals have interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as including websites as “places of public accommodation.” In 2018 and 2019, there were over 2,000 web accessibility lawsuit filings in federal courts.
    • Many individual states have their own legislation covering website accessibility.
  • Numerous other countries around the world have laws or guidelines on website accessibility.
4. Making a site accessible makes a site just plain better overall.

The changes that need to be made to a website to turn it from inaccessible to accessible aren’t just good because they might prevent accessibility issues; they’re simply good, period. Such as:

  • Clear, readable fonts? Yes, please!
  • Better layout and spacing on webpages? What a relief!
  • Effective keyboard navigation? Bring it on! (Sometimes it’s just faster and easier, no matter how good you are with a mouse, amirite?)
  • Transcripts for videos? How helpful!
  • Haptic feedback? What fun!

Businesses that ensure their websites are accessible will be pleasing many more of their customers and potential customers than just those who experience accessibility issues. This principle of making an environment usable and understandable by as many people as possible is known as Universal Design.

A prime example of the power of Universal Design can be seen in the story of the OXO company, which makes kitchen products. The founder, Sam Farber, observed his wife’s difficulty using her apple peeler due to her arthritis, and set out to create kitchen utensils which were easier to use. The company took off because the products, intended for those with accessibility issues, were so much better for everyone.

These days, in the design industry, if something doesn’t incorporate the principles of Universal Design, it’s bad design.

5. It’s important to be a good human being.

It’s odd that this has to be said, but here we are. At the end of the day, even if you don’t care about money or having a whizz-bang website that everyone loves, doing the right thing and making sure our fellow human beings are okay is what we should all strive for. I think virtually all of us grew up with the understanding that being a good person is… well… a good thing. Being a person who doesn’t care that a significant proportion of the population can’t do what they need to do on the Internet is… y’know… the opposite of that.

Deeper dive >>

In fact, there are videos all over the internet of disabled people trying to use technology such as websites. Accessibility company axess lab put together a whole collection that you can watch.

All of this adds up to one thing: Accessibility isn’t optional. Ensuring accessibility on a website isn’t catering to a minuscule subsection of the population; rather, it is now an industry standard, and for excellent reasons! It’s about making a website the best it can be for everyone, and pulling in a larger audience. How many times have we wished that even more people practiced our wonderful craft? Wouldn’t the stitching world benefit from having more and more clever and creative people able to join it? We all win when we make the switch to a Universal Design mindset.

Copyright © Kathleen Sperling except as indicated.
Avatar of Kathleen Sperling

About Kathleen Sperling

Kathleen learned to knit over forty years ago, and has been designing knitting patterns for over a decade, appearing in a variety of both physical and virtual publications. Consequently, there are a fair few techniques, tips, ideas, and opinions swirling around in her brain about knitting, and she loves sharing these with others, to enable them to expand their own knitting repertoires. By day, she's a business analyst for her employer's website content management system, where she's spent the past several years increasing her knowledge about accessibility on the web.

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