How the New Hulu Interface Fails Users With Sensory Processing Disabilities


When it comes to disabilities and chronic illnesses, things that many people take for granted can often wreak havoc in our lives. We find ourselves creating environments that can best suit our needs. By taking charge of our environment, we can provide ourselves with the best quality of life possible in our situations. This includes the basics such as room layouts, scent control, wall colors, and other DIY-type approaches.

We also have to apply our environmental design to the services and products we utilize to make this physical environment more enjoyable and pleasant for us to be in. This can be something as simple as a magazine subscription, to pictures on the wall, all the way to the streaming media services that are now the staple of almost every home in the world. Much like in an old vampire film, they are in our homes because we have invited them to enter for a given purpose. What happens, though, when like the vampires, they begin to suck the very life from our veins, failing to comply with their original promise and wreaking havoc instead?

In the digital age, media is at our fingertips. We have the means to access it anywhere at any time, for better or for worse. As this internet-based media becomes the norm, in the midst of all the competition in the marketplace, most media content companies agree that making their interface friendly to all users is of great importance. As such, these companies spend countless dollars and hours of research on the impact of things that may seem mundane, but really make a difference for those with and without disabilities. What seems like a simple change may greatly affect a user’s ability to utilize their paid services.

Hulu has long been a favorite of mine for its simple interface, easy-to-use layout, and plethora of content. Recently, however, this service found its way to the end of the list for me and so many others. A basic web search of Hulu’s newest update followed by the platform you chose to view it on will tell you many everyday users are truly upset, frustrated, and disheartened by their changes. But what about someone like me? What about someone who has processing disorders, ADHD, and a multitude of other medical issues?

For those of you who may not be familiar with Hulu’s latest update, things have changed dramatically. Gone is the simple dark background and lighter-colored text for visual acuity and the simplistic filing system used to categorize and arrange titles, episodes, etc. I find myself struggling to even explain the new layout let alone its impact on me.  The best visual I can give is from Alfred Hitchcock’s portfolio. In the film “Rear Window,” Jimmy Stewart’s character uses flashbulbs as a means of blinding his assailant in a gripping action scene. In turn Hitchcock shows this phenomena to the audience in a first person view by having the camera become bright red as if the light had just burst into your own eyes, rendering you temporarily blinded.

This is now Hulu. As someone with a sensory processing disorder and ADHD, an interface that is simple, takes little movement to navigate to what you are looking for, is organized in a simple fashion such as alphabetical, by last viewed, etc. is a must. Another must is the presence of a solid color background, as can be seen in almost every other single media streaming platform around. Since its “revamp” (if you can call it that) Hulu has seen fit to take their solid gray background away and change it up with some color. Now I don’t mind the color, but when that color changes with every button you press on your remote, hand in hand with ever-changing blurred background images hidden in the colors, there’s a problem. It creates unnecessary overload. It brings me back to those moments as a child when sensory overload would send me into meltdowns and feelings that I had to flee to be safe.

Another issue with the layout for those of us with disabilities is readability. White text on bright colors does not work out well at all, nor does grayed out text at a size 2 font as seems to be the case here. When someone like me tries to utilize the service, they become inundated by the changing colors and background images mixed within the colors, and reading the text in front of them is not even a possibility.

I try to read, but the colors start to pulse, the room begins to feel tight, and suddenly I am no longer in the comfort of my own room, I’ve been transported to the center of Times Square. There are bright billboards flashing, videos playing, music blaring, people talking in all different languages, loud cars, taxis, limos, smells of food vendors, and startling sirens. Imagine trying to navigate through all of this to find the Broadway show you got tickets for. Now imagine trying to hear a singular potato chip drop to the ground in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of Times Square. That potato chip is the show or movie you’re trying to find. Seems impossible, no? That is what Hulu has asked everyone, including people with disabilities to do every time we want to watch a show on a service we pay for.

In a world that constantly seeks to divide us, many of our most beloved series and films seek to bring us together, to rise up to the challenges we face, to overcome the obstacles before us. What happens when you can’t access those pivotal unifying forces? What happens when you become defeated by those obstacles? What happens when someone is threatened or feels overwhelmed? They remove themselves from the threatening situation. In other words, fight or flight. Based on the internet’s reactions to the recent Hulu updates, the fighting has already been in full swing. There has been no response, leaving many Hulu subscribers with disabilities feeling betrayed. It is only a matter of time before the flight happens, when Hulu loses so many subscribers they cannot find a base to appeal to anymore. All because of their failure to properly research before implementing systemwide overhauls with dire consequences to those with and without disabilities.

In a world where tensions are high and divides are great, media is often a source of comfort and unity for people. Shows, movies, live entertainment; they all bring us a little closer together. But when you’re faced with something such as the new Hulu, the only unity is among those of us trying to rip the TV out of the wall in frustration.

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