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Last month, we kicked off an initiative around accessibility. We made the announcement on MSO because originally we had intended for the rollouts to only happen on SO and on the Teams product. Once the work on this began, we realized it made sense for some changes to be deployed network-wide. We were able to be a little more ambitious than we had planned and decided to take advantage of that, since the changes that we could make network-wide will benefit more people.

We started rolling out some color contrast changes. The community noticed some of these changes last week, particularly around accepted answers. We’re sorry that we didn’t announce those pushes would be network-wide prior to them going out. That was an oversight, and we’re trying to get better at making sure we can give you a heads up on changes.

As the team has been working on this project, we’ve run into some issues around color hacks, legacy code, etc. We have decided to put a pause on this initiative and future updates so that we can sort that out.

Some of the color contrast changes that have been deployed network-wide, or will be deployed soon, are:

  • Post Summary:

    • The answer count was updated to a darker green

    • Ignored: the opacity was removed, the text was lightened, and the answer count was updated

    • Deleted: the opacity was removed and the background and text were lightened

    • Watched: the text and title were darkened

    • View counts: three classes were updated: “warm” (orange to yellow), “hot” (medium to dark orange), and “supernova” (orange to red)

      Before and after comparison of Post Summaries. Left side is before, showing the low contrast areas. Right side is after showing the added contrast.

(full image)

  • The accepted answers checkmark was updated to a darker green:

    Before and after comparison of accepted answer check mark. Left side is before, showing the lighter green check mark. Right side is after, showing the darker green check mark.

  • Comments: The number of votes was updated to a darker grey, and the text was darkened on the character limit counter:

    Before and after comparison of comment count. Left side is before, showing the lighter grey vote count and character count. Right side is after, showing the darker grey vote count and character count.

  • Our "cool" class needed increased contrast, so the color was darkened:

    Before and after comparison of "cool" class. Left side is before, showing the lighter color with less contrast. Right side is after, showing the darker color with better contrast.

  • Mod flag: The background color was darkened:

    Before and after comparison of mod flag indicator. Left side is before, showing the lighter background. Right side is after, showing the darker background.

  • Right sidebar: Increased text contrast in the top yellow module and the watched tags module:

    Before and after comparison of blog and featured posts right sidebar module. Left side is before, showing less text contrast. Right side is after, showing the better text contrast.

    Before and after comparison of watched tags right sidebar module. Left side is before, showing less text contrast. Right side is after, showing the better text contrast.

Thank you for reporting concerns about deployments and reporting bugs that you’ve spotted. The team is reviewing that feedback. We’re actively thinking about accessibility and how to resume this work in the near future. Taking this pause will allow us to fine-tune the approach to these important changes based on what we’ve learned so far.

As Rosie mentioned in the original MSO post, a core part of our mission is that our products and tools empower people to find what they need to develop technology. We want the platform to be a space where everyone can easily access the information they are seeking. We will come back to Meta in the near future with the new plan and timeline once it’s been solidified. We’re looking forward to working on these improvements with you.

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    Are there plans to address long-standing accessibility requests here on Meta as part of this project?
    – Mithical
    Sep 15 at 19:34
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    " a core part of our mission is that our products and tools empower people to find what they need to develop technology." > In that case, I really hope the future will include further work on the appearance of questions with ignored tags. Because if they just look links you already visited, it becomes very hard to filter them out and actually ignore them. And that makes finding what you need to develop technology (or share knowledge for others) a lot harder.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Sep 15 at 19:35
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    I'd also note that I do appreciate the accessibility work, it's a good initiative and long overdue. Some of the pain points mentioned above would be avoided if you involved Meta at an earlier stage, though.
    – Mithical
    Sep 15 at 19:37
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    @41686d6564standsw.Palestine it is "accessible", in terms of avoiding being sued. though it'd be nice if the changes could be tweaked such that it serves both.
    – Kevin B
    Sep 15 at 19:48
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    @KevinB Agreed. I actually raised this back in January when this change was not yet live everywhere but folks decided to close the question for some weird reason. We could've had this discussion back then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Sep 15 at 19:51
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    When will you look at some serious feedback regarding the hideous green colour, and how that hacks away at the bright designs the network is known and loved for? This darker green is absolutely atrocious, and even less accessible to some then the current design.
    – Luuklag
    Sep 15 at 20:25
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    @Mithical Accessibility improvement work is ongoing. As mentioned in the initial SO post, this current initiative's scope is based on a third-party audit that was done earlier in the year. Some of the long-standing requests may be addressed as we move through that work, and some will need to be assessed in a future stage, or as part of other projects. We're taking the long view here, and having the community continue to identify particular issues is extremely helpful.
    – Berthold StaffMod
    Sep 15 at 21:39
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    @Luuklag Please know that the feedback and ideas are heard and are in the mix. Your well-worded (and illustrated!) suggestions are appreciated. This is a long process involving many elements of the site, sometimes involving code that hasn't been touched in years. I can't speak to whether or not that specific green might change again, there are many factors that contribute to these decisions. I do suggest that in the future, you try to avoid words like "hideous" and "atrocious" in feedback. The highly subjective terms can lessen the impact of your otherwise eloquent feedback.
    – Berthold StaffMod
    Sep 15 at 21:45
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    @Berthold you are right, I let myself go, for which I apologise. Unfortunately it sometimes feels like we are shouting in a desert here on MSE, which in some area's is understandable. But I feel like it is a recurring theme these days. Features get pushed without prior announcement and thus without prior feedback from the community, and experience has learned that in such cases our feedback is only used in very few cases. Which is again understandable from a business perspective, seeing that the work was already put in. (1/2)
    – Luuklag
    Sep 15 at 21:49
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    Accessibility features should be opt-in, something a person can click button or icon and get. Instead, you just pushing everything to everyone, resulting in much worse UI to most of your users. The colors are worse, things just look worse, the peak and what made me realize it's just bad is the change to ignored questions. It used to be gray, like really gray and appeared ignored, now I need to look very hard to notice a change, you assign some gray font color to it. In my opinion, this is a big mistake and hope it get reverted and you push those changes as opt-in for those who need it. Sep 16 at 7:16
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    Y'all, if you have in-depth feedback, I'd encourage you to post it as an answer instead of a comment. Comments are good for quick clarifying questions and suggesting improvements to the question post, but more detailed feedback is easier to read and respond to if posted as an answer instead.
    – V2Blast StaffMod
    Sep 16 at 16:34
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    @ShadowTheKidWizard On the contrary, making accessibility features opt-in would pretty much defeat the purpose. In most cases, opt-in theming customizations are account settings. The vast majority of people coming to the site are not logged in, and the accessibility improvements are meant to expand the number of people who can use the site, so they are part of the default appearance.
    – Berthold StaffMod
    Sep 16 at 17:07
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    @Berthold - Why not make them opt-out then? Maybe people can even have their own custom color schemes in their accounts.
    – Adamant
    Sep 18 at 5:49

8 Answers 8

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tldr: I'm not happy the community wasn't consulted in any level at first, and that accessibility design changes need to be more holistic, rather than trying to pass an audit on its own sake.

A couple of points

We’re sorry that we didn’t announce those pushes would be network-wide prior to them going out. That was an oversight, and we’re trying to get better at making sure we can give you a heads up on changes.

This is deeply annoying, considering historically there's been situations where the broader, non-SO community has been ignored. Even inadvertently, this hurts.

Something like this ought to have been on the main meta and featured. I wouldn't call it unforgivable, but it's certainly something that ought to be a learning experience on what not to do and a standard process for making network-wide changes. I am, at the very least rather disappointed.

From the comments - there's one that is of interest here

From here

Accessibility improvement work is ongoing. As mentioned in the initial SO post, this current initiative's scope is based on a third-party audit that was done earlier in the year. Some of the long-standing requests may be addressed as we move through that work, and some will need to be assessed in a future stage, or as part of other projects. We're taking the long view here, and having the community continue to identify particular issues is extremely helpful

Historically SE's done great work, even though the 'dark ages', of testing changes like these through community members. I'm not a developer but I do recall from school that user acceptance testing ought to be part of the development process. Auditors don't use the site day to day—they're checking against a set of rules I'd guess (and while you're probably lucky enough not to get this one), occasionally not to be trusted. While accessibility redesigns are welcome, it's worth remembering the folks who spend many hours here have their own design needs, and are trying to find a balance.

Considering it’s already possible to roll out design changes to meta first and feature a post, you already have a way to do user acceptance testing and feedback without needing to do a massive amount of additional work.

There are a few cases where the design might be more accessible in terms of 'the rules' - but the design goal, to make things less obvious might be forgotten.

With the darker green - while it might fit the guideline, the 'old' green wasn't meant to stand out hugely, just be a state differentiator. It was subtle on purpose, and consistent with the green we use elsewhere including the top bar.

Changes are controversial - and I do realise a good chunk of 'why' stuff was changed might be lost and forgotten over time, and sometimes critique seems harsh (I've been guilty of that myself, though I ended up getting what I wanted)—it's a reflection of the fact that we care deeply and are passionate about the network.

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    "non SO community has been ignored" You didn't really miss much 😅. The MSO post was, more or less, a "Hi! We're going to be doing some accessibility changes. Bye!". Not a single illustration. Nothing that users can provide feedback on. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Sep 16 at 0:01
  • True, but that's a different answer for someone more aware of the situation there.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 16 at 0:11
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    What about the other < 182 communities? Why shouldn't at least half of them be consulted over the redesigned, removed, retouched, and refaked improvements? Why? Because they (SE) don't care about this community nor any of the 179 communities. Every time new features, colours, bells and whistles are trumpeted, the small vocal core of MSE users complain. Each and every time. It's a broken record. Sep 16 at 19:50
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    The users who complain are falling into the trap. They will be the reason why MSE will be shut down. "The community was toxic" staff will declare. "It was impossible to please them." Sep 16 at 19:53
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    I feel like you're telling us to shut up cause there's no point. In which case we might as well shut down MSE anyway. I'm not expecting an immediate response on anything, and heaven knows some 'obvious' things I want are deep in the back burner. On the other hand I personally and formally speak for 3 sites. I speak for a few other informally. I work closely with members of the moderator community, the too many communities to count I have a presence in of some sort as well as some members of the moderator communities. Posting it here and featuring it is how you reach the other 182.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 16 at 23:26
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    Few of us have meta as our main site, and many of us are here representing the interests of our own sites. I don't appreciate the scaremongering of "critique is what gets MSE shut down". Fear makes MSE irrelevant. I've not worked with, and fought for this community to.... have people afraid to speak up.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 16 at 23:28
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    Not so long ago when users spoke out, defended, and passionately argued in favour of and against a CoC reform there were plenty of users who were suspended by MSE mods and by CMs. I was suspended possibly twice during that period. Several posts were deleted during that period. Two of mine were branded as being rude, or abusive or spam. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sep 19 at 12:24
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    If I am wary of speaking out it is precisely due to the actions of more than one MSE mod, not just the so called "powers that be". Sep 19 at 12:25
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    In the grand scheme of things, these minor cosmetic changes are trivial. Sep 19 at 12:29
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    Well - you said 'there was a risk of MSE being shut down' which is currently untrue, and something that I'd oppose. Now you're equating disagreements over the COC to critiques on design changes - which I'm reading as something they realise needs more thinking. These are not the same, nor is the culture of the company then and now, hopefully. These design changes may be trivial, but they are the topic of this post
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 19 at 12:34
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    I said "They [the moaning over minor matters]will be the reason why MSE will be shut down." I'm saying if this negativity continues, and it will because trust (not only mine) has been irretrievably broken, that will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. This announcement has so far attracted 18 downvotes. The majority of changes announced have been greeted with criticisms and in some cases picked on in details so minute it's staggering. Sep 19 at 12:41
  • (What do you mean by "...who spend many hours here their design needs"? E.g., is a word missing? - "...who spend many hours here have their design needs"? Or something else?) Sep 29 at 15:30
  • fixed... I think
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Sep 29 at 15:51
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What happened with ignored tags?

The design change summary here lists

Ignored: the opacity was removed, the text was lightened, and the answer count was updated

This change was reported as a problem, as questions with ignored tags now mostly blended into the list of other questions:

Ignored tags no longer gray out the questions

The answer then says that an additional change was shipped on 2022-09-13 that made everything in the post greyscale. Most notably, the tags themselves would have a grey background. This change is not mentioned in the text I quoted, yet it is demonstrated in the screenshot slightly further down:

Before and after comparison of Post Summaries. Left side is before, showing the low contrast areas. Right side is after showing the added contrast. The right side shows an ignored question which has greyscale tags

I can confirm the change was live that at least made an attempt to make questions with ignored tags easier to ignore (yet maybe not easy enough)

Screenshot from the question list on the Role-playing Games site where ignored tags have a grey background, different from the regular tags.

As of writing this (2022-09-16) it seems the fix talked about in the answer has been reverted.

Screenshot of a question list from Stack Overflow. Ignored tags have the same background colour as any other tag.

The announcement here only talks about the initial change. What happened with the fix? Are there any plans of fixing ignored tags even more, so they are easier to visually distinguish? Is that not a direction that is going to be considered?


Follow up: High contrast dark mode tags now blend into the background

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    The tag fix was accidentally reverted in a most recently deployed version of our design system. We’ve reintroduced the fix in a next version that will be deployed by early next week. Thanks for catching this!
    – Dan Cormier Staff
    Sep 16 at 18:15
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In dark mode, visited links are lighter than nonvisited links, and this throws me off every time after visiting a couple of questions. Can this be inverted?

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I would like to address Berthold's comment:

I can't speak to whether or not that specific green might change again, there are many factors that contribute to these decisions.

I hope opinions of the community members too is one of those "factors". I would like to give a few good examples of discussions with the community before implementing new features:

  • Unpinning the accepted answer from the top of the list of answers

    Accepted answer was unpinned on Stack Overflow based on a test. The company could have done the same to all communities, but that didn't happen. Instead of imposing an SO-specific change on all SE communities, the company left it for the individual communities to decide if they want to change the answer-pinning based on community consensus through discussion in per-site metas. This is laudable!

    The recent accessibility related updates takes a completely different approach compared to the answer-pinning.

    We made the announcement on MSO because originally we had intended for the rollouts to only happen on SO and on the Teams product. Once the work on this began, we realized it made sense for some changes to be deployed network-wide.

    I understand that making the site more accessible is an important thing to do, but deploying changes network-wide should only be done after taking input from at least few users. Instead of rolling out the accessibility related changes network-wide, this could have been MSO specific or MSE specific such that the users could share feedback. After receiving feedback from MSE/MSO users, comprehending the feedback, implementing necessary feature-requests requested by the users, fixing bugs, only then the changes should be rolled out network-wide. Beta-testing is always needed when features which play a crucial role for normal users are updated/modified.

    I understand that you can't take feedback from per-site metas for making accessibility-related changes like you did for the answer-pinning, but please do the beta testing at least in one site before deploying changes network-wide.

  • When the community members gave feedback about Changes to answer sorting menu: moving menu, "Newest" sort option, renaming sort options, the company went back to the drawing board and came up with this Revisiting changes to answer sorting menu: better use of space, moving menu into a dropdown, ascending/descending sort options, clearer descriptions. That's nice, right?
    Source


I understand that your intentions are good, accessibility is important! But, SE is functioning because of the community and community consensus; please respect them.

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What happened with ignored tags?

Part 2: High contrast boogaloo

I already reported that the tag change that was fixed apparently got reverted. Confirmed by Dan Cormie in a comment to my post. The comment also said:

We’ve reintroduced the fix in a next version that will be deployed by early next week.

It seems some fix is already live:

Screeshot of a question with ignored tags when the site is in light mode. The background of the question is white, the background of the tags is grey.

However, it is not the same fix as before. Here is how it looks in high contrast dark mode:

Screeshot of a question with ignored tags when the site is in light mode. The background of the question is black, the background of the tags is also black and thus not visible.

Now, the background is almost entirely black*.

Which definitely was not the case last time a fix was applied that changed how tags were shown. I do not have a screenshot to show it but the background there was grey.


* Fun fact, the background of the question is rgb(0, 0, 0). The background of the almost entirely black tags is rgb(12, 13, 14). This makes them stand out more than watched tags in high contrast dark mode where the background is set to rgb(6, 6, 7).

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If this change was about improving accessibility then there is a long way to go. The Wave tool has been available for years and although not everything that is flagged can or should be addressed it is a good place to start.

This page shows 22 errors and 255 contrast errors. This includes 3 missing form labels which should be easy to fix, 9 broken ARIA references and 7 broken ARIA menu items. Most of the icons seem to be classed as low contrast which may not be easy to fix.

I would expect that the missing form labels and broken ARIA references should be at least as important to fix as the color of checkmarks

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  • I think the changes were about improving accessibility exclusively through network-wide Stacks theming changes. Changing the color was enough to fix some problems, but not others, and arguably wasn't the best option in more than one place.
    – Laurel
    Sep 19 at 18:56
  • @Laurel maybe so, however multiple SE sites have hundreds of errors on each home page of which the majority are broken ARIA references. These are not omissions, these are errors where an accessibility feature was added and is now broken.
    – kevinskio
    Sep 19 at 23:36
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    @kevinskio just as a further example: high contrast mode was added to help people who have any visual troubles distinguish things better. That's the reason I'm using it, as well - to help me see the site better. Yet there have been almost no changes to high contrast since its release. Some things are harder to see in high contrast or some times in high contrast dark mode. The theme specifically released for accessibility doesn't seem to get any attention. Almost a year later now, there is this accessibility initiative and I feel like no attention is paid to high contrast.
    – VLAZ
    Sep 20 at 6:40
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I am satisfied with the darker green as it allows me to read without straining my eyes. Maybe it is a tad too strong, comparing to the one we had previously before it was changed to lighter one back in 2019, but I am not going to nitpick. See Bring back the deeper-green rep change color

However, that new darker green color has been applied only in some places, while other still have lighter, unreadable green color. For instance, reputation on profile pages. Please replace that light green in all other places, too.

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View counts: three classes were updated: “warm” (orange to yellow), “hot” (medium to dark orange), and “supernova” (orange to red)

Two things:

  1. Shouldn't the progression be yellow > orange > red? The way it's phrased yellow precedes orange in the "warm" category.

  2. If "heat" is the overarching theme of the view counts I think the new saturated colors are just shades of dark, most view count colors aren't warm anymore.

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    I think you misunderstand the phrasing. As I understand "warm" (orange to yellow) means that in the old design the "warm" category was orange but in the new design the "warm" category is yellow. So in the new design the progression is indeed yellow - orange - red. On meta.stackexchange.com/questions?tab=frequent&page=4 you can see examples of the three classes - the yellow looks a bit green to me but it does support my reading of the announcement.
    – Marijn
    Sep 16 at 6:22
  • Regarding heat as a theme: I think warm/hot/supernova are intended to decribe the post, not the color. So a question with, e.g., 20k views is "hot" and a question with, e.g., 600k views is "supernova".
    – Marijn
    Sep 16 at 6:31
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    @Marijn it still doesn't make any sense to me. So yellow changed places?
    – bad_coder
    Sep 16 at 6:56
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    In my reading of the announcement it is indeed a bit confusing that the old progression was "orange - medium - orange". Maybe that is a mistake in the announcement or maybe I'm reading it wrong. However, in the screenshot provided here (i.stack.imgur.com/WcmcL.png) you can see that a supernova question (104k views) used to be yellow but is now red, while the 10k question below it used to be medium-orangy and is now yellow-greenish. So I think it is correct to say that yellow changed places.
    – Marijn
    Sep 16 at 8:58

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