by Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) Mid-January 2019, a US appeals court ruled that Domino’s Pizza needed to make its website and app accessible to blind people. While the judgement is great news for the blind (and those suffering other afflictions which make it hard to use the internet), it presents a number of challenges and conundrums for marketers.

The case was brought by a blind customer who struggled to change pizza toppings, apply discount coupons and complete a purchase using the company’s iPhone app. The court heard that, while Apple’s devices include features such as screen-reading software to help visually impaired owners use the internet, Domino’s had failed to put tags on the images and other visual elements in its app. This prevented the software from working on its Pizza Builder, thus conflicting with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Exclusive inclusivity

This is a significant deal for many reasons. For starters, brands love to say they’re inclusive. They build great big marketing campaigns around inclusivity for so many historically marginalised groups. But, in a case of exclusive inclusiveness, they don’t seem to see the blind or hear the deaf.

Which is extraordinary because, not only do they exist, they do so in large numbers — the kinds of numbers that should have marketers salivating at the opportunity to grow reach and build engagement.

The South African National Council for the Blind says that sight impairment is the most-common form of disability in South Africa, accounting for 32% of all disabilities. Globally, the World Health Organisation estimates that 1.3bn people live with some form of sight issue. Of these, 217m have moderate-to-severe vision impairment (the group into which the Domino’s protagonist falls) and 36m are completely blind.

That’s a sizeable group that doubtless wields significant spending power.

Driving blind

The Domino’s case isn’t the first-time website owners have been taken to the courts. The Bank of America settled a web-accessibility lawsuit 19 years ago. Universities have been sued because their free online courses don’t have captions for deaf users and ride-sharing companies have faced the wrath of the judiciary for failing to include text-to-speech facilities for the blind.

A November 2016 story in The Wall St Journal (subscription required) reports that more than 240 businesses, including Foot Locker, Toys ‘R’ Us and the National Basketball Association, have faced litigation. While many of these actions were settled out of court, it seems that the appeal court judgement handed down in the Domino’s case has set corporates scrambling to get their digital properties compliant

Now I’m not a lawyer so I have no view as to whether SA companies are likely to face similar litigation (although my blogger research suggests that we don’t have a legislative framework that comes close to possessing the teeth of the Americans with Disabilities Act), but basic common sense suggests that local brands should up their game and make their digital products more accessible.

This is particularly true, given our current obsession with customer experience (CX). I don’t think I’ve had many industry meetings in the past year where CX or UX haven’t been discussed. But if the UX conversation only addresses the requirements of the 68% of South Africans who are fully sighted, isn’t it missing the point?

Seeing with purpose

One of the other brand mantras of the moment is all about marketing with purpose. Shared purpose, so the thinking goes, encourages people to bond with a company, turning transient consumers into lifelong advocates.

It seems to me there’s an opportunity here.

One company that’s acted on it is Apple (no surprise that its products were cited as the de facto standard for accessibility in the Domino’s court case). Its devices are hugely popular among visually impaired people. And that’s not just because they work — this community believes that Apple actually cares about them. That’s purpose for you.

Recently, my company has received three web briefs from international organisations, each of which requested compliance with the WCAG 2.1 web standard for accessibility. Not one of the last dozen or so RFPs from local companies have mentioned it.

While corporate South Africa’s got lots of challenges right now, this one’s not a biggie. But nor is it big to address. Building websites and apps that adhere to standards has minimal cost impact if compliance is planned from the outset. It’ll make a lot of people’s lives better. And, who knows, it might even win some of that meaningful customer loyalty which is in such short supply these days.


Charlie StewartCharlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) is CEO of Rogerwilco, a multi-award-winning independent digital agency best known for its expertise with Drupal, SEO and content marketing. A Scot by birth, he moved to South Africa in the early 2000s in his quest to support a winning rugby team — a search he’s reluctantly forsaken. Together with Mark Eardley, he co-authored Business to Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, (Penguin Random House, 2016) and may be found on LinkedIn. Charlie contributes the monthly “Clicks ‘n Tricks” column, which looks at how brands are using digital channels to engage their customers, to MarkLives.

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