Home > Why it seems I am mainly on that cold commercial side of accessibility

Why it seems I am mainly on that cold commercial side of accessibility

Short answer: The end justifies the means

Now, as for the long answer: Sit tight. You’re in for a few big statements, while I take you for a ride through the landscape of what I see as “the big picture”.

Small changes happen through kindness and generosity, big changes happen through capitalism and greed

Big industries make choices that ultimately determine which technologies thrive and which ones are to be abandoned. A great example of this is the porn industry. When Apple decided to block apps developed with Adobe Flash in 2010 the porn industry switched to HTML5 in no time.

And this was not the only time the porn industry drove change:

The porn industry has, however, played a big role in determining which technologies thrive and which whither and die. The industry, for example settled on VHS which ultimately killed Beta Max as a mainstream format, and more recently boosted Blu-ray by turning its back on HD-DVD.

Jeff Gamet, Flash Takes a Blow as Porn Industry Backs HTML 5

We don’t live in an ideal world where everybody does everything right for the sole reason that it is “the right thing to do”. I’m not saying that out of bitterness. It’s just a fact.

In an ideal world, the vulnerable people in our society would be respected. They would be fully supported, and their rights would be protected with a vengeance. Disabled people would be not be bled out financially to have their homes, cars, and all else they need, customized. And they would be given every opportunity and all the means to equally participate in society, without feeling set apart and discriminated.

When customers start withholding money, that’s when change is set in motion by the affected industries.

Consumer-led change is primed to become one of the most effective strategies in this moment for one simple reason: In a country where consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of our nation’s gross domestic product, whether and where we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars matters to a company’s bottom line and to the broader health of our economy. We are all consumers, and that purchasing power represents huge untapped influence to encourage companies to do better.

Eric Shih, Use The Power Of Your Wallet To Drive Change In The Business World

Change happens when web shop owners begin to understand that they miss out on a massive chunk of turnover

In e-commerce, it’s not so much about disabled consumers purposely withholding their money. It’s about massive ignorance about the fact that it’s made impossible for a staggering number of consumers to spend it online. It was through an article by Sheri Byrne-Haber called “People with disabilities control $8 trillion in spending” that I first realized how big this is.

We can wrap our heads around millions. Even billions. But trillions? I strongly recommend you read that article from Sheri I just referred to. She did an outstanding job explaining it in a way we can all understand.

E-commerce is a large chunk of those trillions. But the majority of web shop owners are not aware how much revenue they miss out on, when their online shops are not accessible. In fact, the report Sheri refers to was from 2016. In 2020 the amount was even higher! The phrase that keeps coming to my mind is “Read and weep, people”.

A market bigger than China, the Disability Market influences over $13 trillion in annual disposable income. As this giant market emerges, Return on Disability explores opportunities for public companies and governments to add economic value by delighting customers and attracting the best talent.

World Federation of Advertisers, The Global Economics of Disability 2020

That is why I focus on e-commerce to drive change

This, in my opinion, is seeing the big picture. When web shop owners begin to understand the positive impact for them and their customers of ensuring their web shop is accessible, they will stop paying for e-commerce solutions that prove to output code that hampers accessibility. They will invest in solutions that support the technical foundation of accessible web shops and apps.

The companies behind e-commerce solutions seeing their paying customers walk away, will see the need to invest in development of what is the foundation of everything displayed online: HTML, scripting languages, programming languages, and all frameworks that come with those and the browsers displaying those. Because (parts of) a site being accessible in one browser but not accessible in another is bad for business.

It will result in better standards, which will eventually reflect on the web and accessibility thereof, as a whole. It will force improvement in theme and plugin development for open source CMS. And this includes the page builders that promise to be a no-coding solution and currently output code that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for their target group to create accessible sites and shops.

And guess what? Pushing all this, shouting this off the rooftops, using that cold commercial perspective is that “means to the end” I opened this article with.

Currently, I focus on e-commerce with WordPress strongly, simply because the WordPress market share is 43% of all websites. A whopping 23% of all these are WooCommerce with a checkout feature, so we know this truly the percentage of sites that use WooCommerce as a web shop.

Why I am talking about code and not design or content

Shitty code output from the core is the first thing that needs to change. Making and keeping a site or shop accessible is a joint effort from several disciplines. However, correct color contrast, the right order of headings, great ALT descriptions for images, product videos with closed captions isn’t going to improve sales if the core code that these disciplines can’t influence is shitty, to begin with. When the industry standards change where the code is concerned, other disciplines, like graphic design and content, will follow suit.

© 2022 Anne-Mieke Bovelett​

Accessibility & Possibility Advocate

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