Warning: WordPress.com’s Falling Snow Feature May Make Your Site Inaccessible

Snow FlakeYesterday, I explained how to make it snow on your website if you have the Jetpack plugin activated. After publishing the article, Mark Root-Wiley commented with a link that explains why the snow animation on websites is not a good idea. According to the website After Gadget which is hosted on WordPress.com, the snowflake animation allegedly caused her friend to have a seizure.

Recently a friend of mine visited a blog she often visits. What she didn’t know was that the blogger had added a fun, temporary new feature to her blog. When my friend visited the blog, it triggered a seizure.

The seizure trigger in my friend’s case was WordPress’ “Let It Snow” feature, which is a feature that causes little white dots to float continuously down the screen soon after someone opens the blog.

While I initially brushed off the article as an attempt to dampen holiday spirits, it turns out that the falling snowflakes are akin to videos or audio playing automatically after a page loads. Seeing the snowflakes falling without anything triggering the action can induce panic attacks. While autoplays are annoying to begin with, they are devastating to those with disabilities. Some of the disabilities affected include:

  • Blindness, low vision, or other visual issues
  • Migraines and seizures (the first and fourth most common neurological disorders, respectively)
  • Sensory processing issues and various of other neurological issues
  • PTSD, panic attacks, and other conditions that cause a heightened startle responses

The last thing on my mind when turning the snow machine on for WPTavern.com were the accessibility issues associated with the animation. After reading the article, I’ve decided to turn the snowflakes off. Searching the WordPress plugin repository for an alternative that would allow visitors to manually turn the animation on came up empty-handed. It would be nice to see a snowfall widget that contained a simple on-off button that would save the visitors choice via a cookie.

Before enabling the snow animation on your website, I encourage you to read her article first. Even if her story is false which I have no reason to believe it is, the Web Content Accessibility Group, specifically pause, stop, provides a clear explanation as to why snow automatically falling down on a web page makes a website inaccessible.


17 responses to “Warning: WordPress.com’s Falling Snow Feature May Make Your Site Inaccessible”

  1. Hi Jeffro
    I followed your conversation and I though the same as you:
    “While I initially brushed off the article as an attempt to dampen holiday spirits…”

    Good of you to follow this one up and sort it.

    I guess that having to “turn on” your own snow is not a feature that many people would be looking for!

  2. I never cared for this “let it snow” feature but had no idea it could actually trigger a seizure in someone.

  3. I have also found that the popular dev tool firebug gets really bogged down with Make it Snow.

    I always love the Make it Snow on WordPress but it does have it’s issues as well.

  4. @Len -Good man – looks as though you’re ahead of me in the festive clothing area.

    I go for a party hat on Chrismas day and that’s about my limit!

    Good to see you around Len.

  5. From the w3’s WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Group) 2.0 Level A guidelines:
    “Pause, Stop, Hide:

    2.2.2 For moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating information, all of the following are true: (Level A)Understanding Success Criterion 2.2.2

    Moving, blinking, scrolling: For any moving, blinking or scrolling information that (1) starts automatically, (2) lasts more than five seconds, and (3) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it unless the movement, blinking, or scrolling is part of an activity where it is essential; and

    Auto-updating: For any auto-updating information that (1) starts automatically and (2) is presented in parallel with other content, there is a mechanism for the user to pause, stop, or hide it or to control the frequency of the update unless the auto-updating is part of an activity where it is essential.”

    I bet if you dug into the (likely) JavaScript code that creates the effect, you could fairly easily build out the requested start/pause/stop functionality…

  6. Yes, the snowfall effect can be an accessibility issue. Glad to see Ben shared the WCAG 2.0 Level A guidelines.

    I commented about the snowfall effect on WordPress.com last year; I was very surprised the feature was released without an option for the user to turn it off, or pause it.

    It’s a usability issue, in that the user has no control over the effect. I rank it in the same list as audio and video starting automatically when you visit a web page.

    Not sure if you’ve seen it already, but the WebAIM post about seizure disorders provides more information.

  7. Can’t you put a warning?

    I get a warning when I visit an European website that uses cookies, some EU law.

    Whenever you see a trailer, movie or tv show that contains strong language/nudity/fast action/etc…

    Maybe control the speed of the snowflakes falling? Why is the snow on your monitor a trigger and not when you walk down your street during the winter?

    For the record I am against all automatic starting audio/video.

    I remember years ago there was a plugin for falling down leaves and balloons (which I think you had the option of the balloons going up – no such thing as falling up.).

    What is the trigger? the size of the snowflakes? the direction of the snowflakes? the speed of the snowflakes? THE snowflakes? what if we changed them to leaves?

  8. I built a plugin today that disables the snow by default and allows users to opt-in by clicking a snowflake shown in the header of the site.

    It’s up on github: Jetpack Holiday Snow Opt-In. Give it a test and let me know what you think.

    I’ll submit to the repo once I’ve been able to test it a bit more, as this is pretty alpha. I’m also developing a Chrome Extension that users can install to block the snow JavaScript file from being loaded on any site.

  9. I can assure you that the seizure triggering aspect of “snowfall” on a screen is no joke. I’ve not used that feature, but my wife–who has more disabilities than you can count–has to be extremely wary of anything that flickers. The movement seems to sort of hypnotize her, and if she doesn’t realize what’s happening immediately, the flickers take over and down she goes.

    I’ve been her caretaker for the past 17 years and have become hyper vigilant when it comes to anything presenting repetitive, unsought motion. Even a flickering fluorescent light can wipe her out in a hurry.

  10. Fred, not to discount your wife’s condition,but doesn’t that mean your browser disables pictures and JS and ads? It would seem that this snowfall plugin is small potatoes compared with the rest of the moving web.

  11. Very useful post; thanks. Of course, automatically playing or moving content is also annoying to many of us with no disability whatsoever. Just as I won’t link to a .pdf file without including “[PDF]” as part of the link, I won’t link to any site with auto-playing media without including a similar bracketed warning about what’s coming. The only exception I’ve made is sites with javascript sliders, but now I’m thinking that’s an oversight. (I wish we could convince WordPress developers that the slider craze needs to go away, for the love of all that’s holy. Is there any evidence whatsoever that seeing lots of moving things on a page draws people in, rather than scaring them off?)

  12. I’ve never been a fan of the snowfall effect. Every year, it seems that these two issues come up: that the snowfall causes JS issues/lag, and that it is a potential accessibility concern.


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