Accessibility Issues - A Call to Action for YNAB
I begin this post by acknowledging that I am an in a position of privilege. I am a non-disabled, fully sighted individual who has access to her own technology - I've purchased both the laptop I'm writing on and fairly up-to-date smartphone using funds from jobs I have been able to find and hold down, and am lucky to be staying with my parents while I am finishing an unpaid internship. I feel that as a person in a place of privilege, I have some responsibility to speak up to other privileged folks on the behalf of those who are not in that position, to lessen the burden of constant education and advocacy. I also acknowledge that despite trying my best, I know I still have a lot to learn - kind reader, if you see a way that I could improve, please let me know and I will make it right and do better. This is the attitude that I am hoping the YNAB team will take when reading and considering this post.
More information to provide context - I was introduced to YNAB4 about 5 years ago and have been consistently using either it or nYNAB for about 3 years now (I'm one of the weirdos who has listened to every single episode of the podcast, soaking in all that good Jesse wisdom and laughing along with the budgeting cover songs). I'm also a former website developer who went back to school and made a career change to music therapy, and am currently completing my internship in a children's rehabilitation hospital. While I'm spoiled in that physical disability did not enter my radar until going back to school, the combination of my education and work experience has made me more aware of how "it doesn't affect me so it's not important" really is not an excuse to refrain from addressing engrained inaccessibility (read: inequality).
This morning while browsing Facebook, I read a post in the group "YNAB (You Need A Budget) Fans", link below:
The original post is from a visually impaired user who uses a screen reader to navigate on the computer and iPad. The writer loves using YNAB but acknowledges that "most of it is indeed accessible for the most part." In particular, the arguably critical feature of reordering categories is inaccessible, as the only way to do this is to Drag and Drop. While intuitive for non-disabled individuals, the function is inaccessible as it requires that the user is sighted and able to physically move a category from one position to another, and users who use a screen reader are unable to use this functionality.
This is only one part of why I am writing this forum post. The other part is that this user has occasionally written in to YNAB over the past 4 years asking to make the product more accessible, and recently received the following stock response:
“So far as reordering category groups is concerned, our Design Team is aware that you'd still like to have an accessible way to do this, so please know that your voice has been heard on that. We do track each and every feature request, and we consider them as we plan the next great feature that'll improve YNAB. As we make these decisions, we consider how many users would benefit from this, what impact it might have on other features we have in development, and most importantly how it lines up with the YNAB method. So I can’t guarantee if or when this feature will make it to the app but, because of you, we’re one step closer.”
In my opinion, this response and the attitude behind it are disappointing, unjust, and falls short of what YNAB has previously shown itself to be. Inaccessible functions affect not just the perceived minorities of people with disabilities, but in fact affect all users. Accessibility must not be an afterthought or a "nice to have" feature, but instead needs to be considered at the foundational level of any widely available product or service. This is especially true for YNAB, which has created the YNAB for Good initiative to give subscriptions to marginalized communities. Ironically, the first blurb on https://www.youneedabudget.com/good/ states:
"We know how to teach people to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, get out of debt, and build wealth. We’re really good at it—but YNAB isn’t always accessible to the people who could most benefit from it. Help us change that." (emphasis mine).
This blurb is beside a visual aid that depicts a person using a wheelchair - a well-known and I'm assuming intentional visual signal that says to the user, "we care about accessibility".
YNAB, some of your users are giving you valuable information on how to make it more accessible. We can only help you change if you ware willing to listen and take actions on what we suggest.
The crux of the issue is the problematic view that everything under the accessibility umbrella - considering how a building / product / service / website / web app / phone app / etc. does not meet the needs of its intended userbase because of barriers others have that prevent them from accessing what is being offered - is perceived to be extra work that does not give an adequate ROI considering how "few people it helps." Yes, going back to the drawing board and figuring out how to fix inaccessible functions IS extra work that is often frustrating and challenging. And, it is absolutely necessary work to do. Hard does not have to equal impossible, and in cases like this barriers can be turned into obstacles. In both the YNAB and new Beginning Balance podcasts, Jesse speaks to how he embraced the financial constraints that led him to creating that fateful original spreadsheet, and how constraints set the stage for creative solutions to emerge. Julie going back to work was not an option - Julie staying at home with the kids was a necessity. Making inaccessible products simply should not be an option for YNAB, but instead accessible products should be a necessity. And frankly, if accessibility was considered from the drawing board, there wouldn't be a need to go back and create an addendum to address the inequalities that have been created here.
And that's truly what is happening - inequality.
And this inequality is being perpetuated with a response that boils down to "we hear that you want this 'nice-to-have feature', but we have to weigh it against the other things we have to work on, and we can't guarantee that this will be implemented."
People with disabilities need a budget (and a case could be made especially so to help them acquire tools and services to navigate the world that wouldn't occur to others). Their disabilities should not be a barrier for them using YNAB. And yet, by not making it a priority to make the web app and phone app accessible, YNAB is saying that it's not important to help them to "stop living paycheque to paycheque, get out of debt, and save more money".
That's pretty sucky, YNAB. I love you folks. I know you can do better.
I also want to draw attention to the myth that focusing time and resources to making a thing more accessible does not have a favourable impact on ROI. "Why should I bother putting in the effort for something that only affects a small percentage of people?" Well, because it actually affects your entire userbase. A picture says a thousand words, so I'll put in an image first, and provide a description below for those would benefit from it:
This one-panel comic was inspired by a public school student with disabilities. The setting is a building with a ramp and stairs covered with snow, and a door to enter the building is at the top of the ramp/stairs. Children in winter clothing, including one using a wheelchair, are waiting for a man to shovel the snow off both the stairs and the ramp to be able to go inside. The child using the wheelchair asks, "Could you please shovel the ramp?" The man replies, "All these other kids are waiting to use the stairs. When I get through shoveling them off, then I will clear the ramp for you." The child using the wheelchair responds, "But if you shovel the ramp, we can all get in!" Under the comic is the caption in all caps "Clearing a path for people with special needs clears the path for everyone!" © 2002 Michael F. Giangreco, Illustration by Kevin Ruelle Peytral Publications, Inc. 951-949-8707 www.peytral.com (Note that the website domain no longer seems to be active)
I recently watched the documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution on Netflix, and firmly believe that everybody who can should watch it (content warning for strong language, sexuality, physical and emotional abuse including done to minors). And I don't make the "everyone should watch this" claim lightly. I say this because the documentary successfully invokes the viewer's empathy while educating about the formation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that despite the large protests that were happening to correct some of the injustices against folks with disabilities, and despite the fact that closed captions and elevators and ramps seem so common-place in certain areas, not many people know about this part of history, and there is still a LOT of work left to be done.
One of the things that stuck out to me for Crip Camp, of course, is seeing an individual with a wheelchair struggling to use the busy subway system. He was climbing the concrete stairs, pulling himself up with his arms, which itself would be a difficult task, but he was also pulling his wheelchair up behind him. And despite it being crowded with non-disabled people, nobody stopped to help.
I think about how transit systems and many of the buildings I've been in have elevators even to maneuver just one story. And I think about how they are useful for not only people using wheelchairs, but everyone with mobility issues. The elderly who can't quite make the stairs anymore. The mom with a stroller. People transporting large equipment. Myself when I sprained my ankle and still needed to get to classes. It's weird to me that I see the need to mostly point to non-disabled people going through temporary inconveniences to draw empathy in hopes of inviting the reader to relate to people with disabilities that they will likely live with for their lifetime, but here we are.
And I want to say that accessibility doesn't just stop at wheelchairs - obviously not, because otherwise I wouldn't be spurred to write this post. I've worked with many individuals with cerebral palsy, and I picture some of my clients using YNAB attempting to reorder their categories. They may be perfectly cognitively capable of the app, the four rules, and their priorities and intentions, but some may lack not only the fine motor coordination needed to tap on a spot accurately, but to drag a category from one location to another. As the referenced post suggests, those with visual impairments are not able to see where they can move one category from another to. And looping back to the image posted above, even fully sighted and non-disabled people can find it challenging to use the drag-and-drop feature. A fully sighted user wrote a comment in the post describing troubles that drag and drop causes for them:
"I am a fully sighted user and the drag and drop functionality frustrates me to no end. It NEVER works as easily as I want; categories, groups, and accounts ending up above or below where I want them to be or not moving at all even though I painstakingly dragged something from the bottom of my budget all [the way] to the top.... I wonder if an accessible solution would make the functionality better all around - because I feel the same way about not being able to spend the time reorganizing my budget to better suit me without a LOT of frustration and wasted time."
I commented my response:
"This is an example of how creating a more accessible version of this function benefits not just folks with visual impairments (a perceived minority), but actually benefits the ENTIRE userbase. Because if something is inaccessible, there are likely many folks that struggle with it and therefore need a better option. Even an arrow that brings the category down 1 step, or better yet add something to dictate of it should go above / below "select the category" so moving a category would take only 1 step rather than an unknown many steps."
Web app accessibility matters. Just as individuals have different ways of learning, we have different preferred ways of interacting with and using our tools. Perhaps I take my background in computer science for granted, but I prefer to Tab and Shift+Tab my way around websites and forms whenever possible. It's so much quicker and more accurate than using a mouse to navigate around. And I recognize that while it's a nice-to-have feature for me, it is a necessity for others. I've visited many websites that have so many extraneous links that quickly make this function unusable, so while I have the luxury to switch back to another mode of navigation, others don't have the option to do so.
This would be the part of the post where I would point to legal actions, but I won't because a) I'm in Canada and I'm not knowledgeable with all of the laws in my province, let alone in the United States, and b) it feels gross to me to threaten with "if you don't do this then there could be legal ramifications." Instead I will urge the YNAB team to do their research, reach out to any professionals that have the expertise that they need, and if you can carve out the time then watch Crip Camp to get those empathy chambers pumping and inspiration flowing.
I finish this post by saying that this honestly is coming from a place of love. YNAB, you've done a lot of great things, for so many people. I'm just a Canadian gal who honestly is still learning and can't post one of those cool graphs about how I've paid off a huge amount of debt (yet). This isn't just about adding a more accessible way to reorder categories in the web app. This is coming from a place of knowing that you really do want to have a positive impact on the world, and hoping that my words will help for you to continue to do good.
P.S. I'm aware that this technically isn't an API & Integrations issue, but it's the closest thing I could find to tag it under, and I considering the amount of effort I've put in and the words I and others have to say I wanted to try to get the attention of others. I'm aware this isn't the "proper" way to do things, but this is the best way I have. I hope this is given appropriate consideration.
KTwilt , I want to say thank you for bringing this to our attention here on the YNAB Support Forum. This is an incredibly thoughtful post and we're so appreciative of the effort you put into this. We hear you and we agree that we can and should do better. Our Product Team is actually going to chime in on this shortly, as this matter is very important and we want to make sure that what you’ve addressed is answered directly by the folks who design YNAB.
Kwilt, I'm so glad you wrote this reply. You said ALL I wanted to say the other day when I read the sight challenged post. But, I kept getting lost in my ire over the cavalier way YNAB answered. I decided it was best to have a cooling down period and hadn't gotten to that point yet. Thank YOU so much!
Hi KTwilt ,
Thank you so much for this thoughtful, thorough post. I’m a product manager here at YNAB, and I want to share some of our internal context with you and everyone reading along. First, it’s true that we chose to release our most recent update to the mobile apps without a collection of accessibility fixes we’ve been working on for a while. Our decision-making didn’t end there, though. Our plan has been to push those fixes out subsequently after the big “launch”, and this is still our plan. In hindsight I do wish we’d found a way to include everything in last week’s release, but I’m grateful that our team got close. All to say that we have a number of improvements that are going to make the app much more usable, coming very soon.
In addition to the specifics you mentioned in your post, we’re also eager to tackle many other accessibility issues that we know we currently have in the app. You specifically mentioned the user who can’t reorder groups—for that YNABer, the app is basically unusable. Right now, if you have VoiceOver on and you tap a target amount in Edit mode, it’ll tell you the amount entered in that field but without any context. In the solution we’re planning to release soon, tapping a target amount in Edit mode will also tell you the category name, the target type and the frequency of the target. Another example: currently some folks with visual impairments are having issues with the contrast of the app. We originally used custom background colors in our app to keep our visuals consistent between mobile and web, but that actually made it harder to utilize iOS’s Increase Contrast accessibility setting. Changing our minds on that one is an easy decision to make to improve the experience of those users.
I also want to touch on this incredibly important point that I’m glad you made:
Accessibility must not be an afterthought or a "nice to have" feature, but instead needs to be considered at the foundational level of any widely available product or service.
We agree. We also recognize that we are some distance from the bare minimum when the app is unusable for some users, and that’s where our near-term updates will help. Beyond that, know that our attempt to tackle this holistically amidst our other work now has new support as we are spinning up a new team that will work on going much further than meeting that bare minimum.
We can’t wait to ship value to all YNABers more often. Thank you for holding us accountable to that goal now and as we continue the work!
-Elena & the YNAB Product Team