Buy Free Range, Buy Fair Trade…Buy Accessible?

As reported last week on the blog of our sister site,, the location discovery service and social network Foursquare was split into two apps. For now at least, the new app, Swarm, is a difficult experience with VoiceOver, the screen reader built into iOS. This “one step forward, two steps back” malarkey with Foursquare is a pattern that’s repeated itself several times. There are a number of other fully accessible ways to discover what’s around me, and Facebook offers a check-in service, so I decided to end my acquaintance with Foursquare. The parting will be tough for a bit as I see others taking mayorships that were once mine, but I think, with appropriate support, I’ll cope with the trauma.
But this post isn’t about Foursquare. It’s about the very moving actions of my daughter, and the belief those actions have instilled in me that there could be more support for the accessibility cause than we have yet harnessed.
My oldest daughter is an electrical engineering student at university, and has been checking into Foursquare as she goes from building to building on campus, takes regular bus trips, and goes on outings with Bonnie and me as she competes for mayorships with us. The other day though, she happened to mention that she had stopped using Swarm, the new Foursquare check-in app, because if it was inaccessible, she didn’t want to give it her support.
A light bulb went on in my head. Like many teenagers, my daughter is a very conscious consumer. Conscious consumerism is on the increase. Are those eggs factory farmed or free range? What is the full list of ingredients on that packet? Was that food locally produced or was there a significant carbon footprint? Is the fruit organic, or were herbicides used? What were the working conditions of the people who produced that cheap shirt? Is that free trade coffee?
People are now more aware than ever of ethical issues surrounding the goods and services they consume.
On her own, my daughter decided that it wasn’t ethical to keep using a product that shut out blind people. How typical is she? It’s true that reading the comments of many mainstream articles mentioning accessibility can make your heart sink, as people talk about how the Internet is a visual medium, and why don’t these disabled whiners just get their helper to read the screen or enter text for them. But comment trolls are hardly representative of human nature. Naively or not, I still believe that the majority of people are fair-minded, and want a fair go for all. Many people still don’t know that blind people are able to use computers, let alone smartphones. After released its video about how blind people use the iPhone, it was incredible how many people contacted us to say they had absolutely no idea such technology existed. So ongoing public education remains critical.
If we were to instigate a coordinated web and social media campaign in which we let the wider public know about companies who had shown no regard for accessibility, and appeal to people’s conscious consumerism, might that make a difference? It has the potential to be abused of course, like any advocacy tool. There are better strategies to employ at the onset of any dialogue. It’s helpful to assume good intensions until we have concrete evidence to the contrary. If we find an accessibility problem, Letters can be written outlining the nature of the problem, and offering some ideas of how it might be fixed. There may be legislative options that apply. But what if we know without a doubt that a company knows there are accessibility issues it needs to resolve, but it simply does not. Spotify is a good example here. Blind people have written, tweeted, posted to Facebook…I even know of one who attempted legal action under his country’s disability discrimination legislation. Yet if anything, the problem is worse now than it’s ever been. It’s hard not to conclude that they just don’t care.
If you could go to a website that perhaps ran a Wiki to which the community could contribute, find out that there are a number of options more accessible than Spotify, and offer a form where a customer could let Spotify know that they lost a sale of their premium service because they continue to thumb their nose at accessibility, maybe it might just have an impact on some occasions.
It would require those of us with experience in the communications field to remain steadfast about exclusionary practices like using the #a11y hashtag on Twitter, which no one outside accessibility understands and which narrows the reach of our message. But if we can be disciplined, inclusive, not cry wolf too often, and educate the wider public about why it’s important that they buy accessible just like they buy consciously based on other important social and environmental factors, we may reach the critical mass for some campaigns that we need.
Do you think there’s merit in a “Buy accessible” campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Oh, and to my daughter, who took the action that inspired this post voluntarily and after thinking about the issues, I am so, so proud of you. You fill my heart with gladness and appreciation every day.

2 Comments on “Buy Free Range, Buy Fair Trade…Buy Accessible?

  1. I think you present an interesting idea here. And a site like you’re thinking of wouldn’t be that hard to build. But I especially like your comments about creating this advocacy method and yet making sure we don’t abuse it.

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