By Sarah McKenna

Accessibility Experiences

That’s the intentionally provocative title of our recent webinar, hosting our friends at product and UX design agency Red Badger. But actually, are retailers really “doing accessibility wrong’, or are they not doing it at all? Or adhering to the bare legal minimum rather than seeking to set new standards? Why should they prioritise this customer segment anyway?

Well, for starters, it’s not a segment, it’s 20% of the population. And as one of our guests noted, disability is not a fixed, immutable, congenital status. It’s commensurate with the ageing process and by the age of 65, two thirds of the population will have a disability of some sort. Right now, Baby Boomers who, coincidentally, account for more than half of consumer spending. They’re wealthy, mouthy, digitally savvy and their expectations are high. By reframing in favour of this consumer group and catering to their needs, brands will automatically be improving accessibility and inclusion. Looking beyond this age group, the global spending power of disabled customers –“the purple pound” – is equal to the market size of China.

One Senior man caucasian male businessman business owner use digital tablet sit at cafe

Online and Offline Accessibility

So that’s the commercial dimension covered. It just makes good business sense to think about everyone’s experience at the outset of the design process. Whether that’s for a physical store concept (our speciality here at CADA) or the customer-facing transactional websites and apps that fall within Red Badger’s purview. From a moral point of view, ensuring all customers have an equitable experience rather than a negative impact because of disability. This contributes to equal opportunities, participation, independence, and dignity for everyone. So how can brands design for accessibility needs, whether they’re physical, sensory or cognitive?

Starting with physical, it’s everything people are most familiar with from a mobility perspective: ramps, lifts and wider aisles, entrances and exits. Seating throughout the space is a good addition. Primarily giving customers a moment to stop and rest halfway through their shop if required. As well as counters and payment systems at accessible levels such as the self-checkouts at global clothing retailer Uniqlo.


Sensory-friendly environments have reduced levels of noise, music and lighting and stimulation used more sparingly. Some grocery brands have also introduced quiet hours. This does rather beg the question – whether the majority of customers, disabled, able-bodied or neurotypical might not prefer an altoghether calmer environment!? 

Clarity of messaging and wayfinding is key for customers with cognitive disabilities and again, design is well placed to deliver solutions. By making information easily accessible, clearly communicated and available in multiple formats, according to the customer’s preference.

When you design for accessibility, there is often a wider benefit.

Some examples of mainstream brands who are setting new standards include Starbucks. Their “inclusive design framework” now being used as the starting point for all new and newly-renovated stores. What’s more, the framework is going to be open sourced and further developed. Furthermore, with a view to expanding accessibility across the retail industry.

Here in the UK Asda is making it easier for blind and partially sighted customers to navigate their way through the store. They rolled out the GoodMaps app to ten stores after an initial trial. The app pinpoints the user’s location within one metre of accuracy. Moreover it gives directions to key areas such as the pharmacy, toilets and tills as well as to specific categories.

One thing came through very strongly in all the examples we looked at. When you design for accessibility, there is often a wider benefit. Voice-controlled technological inventions such as Amazon’s Alexa device and Zoom were intended for use by blind people, yet they are now mainstream and have been adopted wholesale because they are well-designed solutions to everyday challenges.

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