Calling out ableism in organising an online show
A huge part of the BSc Digital Arts Computing degree is the end of year show, this is generally organised by students with third years taking a lead on how it is run. Usually this would be based in the St James' Hatcham Building at Goldsmiths University of London, however due to the ongoing pandemic, it is being hosted online this year. As a result we have had to adapt and learn how to organise an online show for the first time. Although there were many features in the physical show that were inaccessible, in this blog post I will be writing about the ableist environment I've experienced in putting together this years show "Third ___".
In curating an online show, although we want the site to look impressive and feel unique especially with the growing online fatigue, its important to acknowledge when this moves past the point of unique to excluding a variety of marginalised groups. As shown above, I point out some flaws in earlier designs of the website on an accessibility level, not to discredit the web development team but to constructively feedback and create an accessible space.
To begin with I will cover the positioning statement, this is the long piece of text to the right of the Homepage. There were a variety of issues with this including the stylization and rotation of the text. As seen in the image above is a stylization version of the text content, which replaces letters with special characters, and although this could be seen as a "unique touch" to the website - it excludes those with disabilities and blocks auto translation for non-English speakers.
It is concerning that our website will not be accessible to non-English speakers, especially as the show will be accessible globally. I also know that some of my peers are international students, and so their families may not be able to read the positioning statement consequently due to the fact that browser auto-translation systems will not be able to read this information.
Furthermore for those who are neurodivergent and those with Dyslexia especially, this stylized version is extremely difficult to process, particularly with the sheer amount of text on the website as well as the contrast of white text on black backgrounds. Many online style guides encourage the "Use [of] dark coloured text on a light (not white) background." (British Dyslexia Association, 2018) for ease of readability. As seen the website design does not reflect this and so its even more important that we keep the text as readable as possible, through removing the stylization.
When the stylized text is then combined with the rotating words in the "___" spot, this becomes extremely overwhelming to take in and it becomes very busy. For those who are neurodivergent this becomes overstimulating, especially when combined with the moving gif too. The overstimulation can be extremely stressful, to avoid this its important that the website has a "clear design and layout that avoids distractions" (National Autistic Society, n.d). To implement this, it would mean that the rotation of the words would need to be removed, the text would need to be reformatted so that it is not so pushed together, with the stylized version removed.
Moreover when these features are combined with the moving gif, this page becomes completely inaccessible to a neurodiverse audience due to too much happening on this page.
An unsafe organising environment:
In raising these issues, the environment was extremely hostile towards the above noted issues. Despite highlighting that I am disabled and neurodiverse, members of the website team undermined me and my concerns - creating an attitude in the space that disabilities were an inconvenience towards the online show rather than considering ways to change and adjust inaccessible features.
With patronising comments becoming directed at myself, people who'd disagreed with my comments for improvement begun to throw ideas out saying "Is this ok, Georgie?". Creating an environment which locked other people out of the conversation whilst putting me in a position where I became a scapegoat for accessibility. Rather than considering how they could improve their understanding of what is or is not accessible to a disabled or digitally excluded audience, they displaced their responsibility to educate their selves onto me.
What has changed to make the site more accessible:
As mentioned many people became reluctant to remove the stylised version, they insisted that there was an alt-text version at the bottom of the page and that should be enough. However to find this, you had to scroll to the bottom of the page to find it and even then, the font size was far too small. This felt like an accessibility add-on rather than building accessibility into the design to begin with.
Although I argued that the positioning statement should have its own page, with a removed stylisation, so that viewers can consume it in their own time. People insisted that this should remain on the homepage - where it is too much to take in at once. Due to being outnumbered this did not change. I also argued that we should remove the stylization or have an option where you can scroll over the text to reveal the stylized option. Once again people insisted on the stylization being there over the accessible version, and so to compromise they made it so that when you scroll on the stylized version it reveals the readable text.
To conclude, accessibility needs to be implemented into design so that it is a part of it rather than seeing it as an add on. Through focusing on ensuring that exhibition spaces are accessible to begin with, this avoids the isolation, ableist comments and confrontation that comes with raising the issues of inaccessibility. The overall organising environment for the "Third___" exhibition has been one that has put pressure, extra responsibility and stress on few key organisers, creating a toxic space.