Accessibility Issues

August 29, 2019
The Economics of Making the Web More Accessible

A UX designer named Alex Chen recently published an article which lists some (but not all) the online marketing and advertising gimmicks that make the Internet less accessible to users with difficulties than it should be. Here it is:

  • Moving content
  • Pop-ups
  • Up-next auto-play videos
  • Manipulative visuals

Since Videocide is all about video, let's talk about the third item on the list: the up-next feature that can be found on sharing networks such as YouTube. What the author is referring to under that name is the automatic queuing of videos. On YouTube and similar networks, the player will wait for five seconds before firing a new video in auto-play mode at the end current clip. Unless the user is already inside a playlist, the chained clip gets selected by the system, as the algorithm deems it semantically related. As the author of the article puts it:

This [5  seconds] time limit is inaccessible to pretty much everyone — it might be difficult for a visually impaired or intellectually disabled person to find the pause button, or for a physically disabled person to actually hit the pause button, especially if it’s not keyboard accessible. (source)

The auto-queue feature is triggered by the platform and is not controlled by the publisher. It is the result of YouTube playing the addiction card. Like an infinite DJ that wants nothing but to keep you, the users, consuming more videos. It would make perfect sense for the platforms that use this gimmick to include, at the very least, an easy opt-out, a longer pause or some accessible interaction to enable users to cut the chain at any point. As with most barriers to accessibility, such mechanisms would also help with general usability, as it would make the platform less intrusive. 

Yet YouTube cares a lot more for its immediate profits than it does for its users. In the cold, calculated mechanical mind of the system: views = profit. In this day and age, that observation should come as a surprise to no one.

The author's underlying argument -- which poses that this sort of behavior on the part of the media provider is the result of its adherence to the rules of capitalism -- if not completely wrong, should be at the very least open for debate. According to the author, it is capitalism that is somehow responsible for the often profoundly stupid visuals and auditory gimmicks in our network streams. Let's discuss: 

If you start with the assumption that capitalism is responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world; and if you do so while willfully ignoring what goes, conversely, right, then you will indeed conclude that the economic system is bad, if not pure evil. But who or what you blame for the issues that you encounter in your life (on- and off-line) is a matter of point of view, namely your particular point of view. Depending on that particular angle, you could just as well conclude that the fundamental evil behind problem X (whatever X stands for)  is religion. Or education. Or human nature. Or philosophy. Or marketing. Or race divisions. Or Western democracy. Or U.S. cultural imperialism... The truth is that it's probably a bit of all that, with a dash of everything else. 

Don't get me wrong: I do not intend to defend capitalism. I personally consider the economic system to be deeply flawed and doomed to promote and provoke both irresponsible inequalities and destructive social behaviors. However, capitalism is nothing but an economic system; it is not an ideology nor a philosophy. Contrary to what the author of the article seems to assume,  capitalism is no more "a drive for maximizing profit at the detriment of people’s well-being" than socialism is. A perfectly valid argument could actually be made to the contrary: within a well-balanced capitalist system, the only real way to maximize long-term profits and real growth is through the promotion of the people's well-being. It could be argued that ultimately, businesses, social behaviors and organized activities that do not adhere to this principle are but shooting themselves in the foot. 


Yannick is a service provided by Codecide, a company located in Chicago, IL USA.
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