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Growing a culture of accessibility at Trade Me

Learning to make products more inclusive for everyone.

This is the first of three articles about our journey growing a culture of accessibility at Trade Me. We’ll share a bit of the process of understanding our customers and our company, as well as some tips for other companies to get started.

Trade Me is New Zealand’s leading online marketplace and auctions website. It has 1.5 million active members. More than 25% of the population of New Zealand are members of Trade Me, making an average of 300k new listings, 11k purchases and 2M sessions every day.

In New Zealand, 24% of the population identify as having a disability, according to the 2013 Stats New Zealand Disability Survey. Of these people, 60% are over 16 years old. This means that approximately 600,000 people that identify as having a disability could be Trade Me users — and it’s likely that the majority are.

Summary of findings from 2013 Stats New Zealand Disability Survey.

In 2001, the World Health Organisation changed the definition of disability from a “personal attribute” to a “mismatch between humans and their environment”. This definition now includes temporary disabilities as well as permanent ones. If you’ve ever broken a leg, for example, you’ll know how difficult simple tasks become. A task we have previously taken for granted suddenly confronts us with new barriers we must negotiate.

If we think about how many daily mismatches there are between us and our environments, it’s easy to see how quickly the number of members with disabilities escalates far beyond 600,000. So, what can we do about it? How can we shape our product to match our users’ abilities?

Getting started

How can we make our products more inclusive for our members, regardless of who they are or what abilities they have?

Research, research, research

We start by learning about best practices. There are so many resources about inclusive design, accessibility and web accessibility, and there’s no better way to start working on something you’re not familiar with than researching everything you can about it.

Some of the resources we use all the time are:

We’ve also set up a space within our version of an intranet where we have been adding all our resources and findings, as well as a Slack channel to keep each other updated on how we’re progressing within the company.

Include users in all stages of product development

“Nothing about us without us.” Thinking about your users early and often, and including them in every step of the process is the best way of ensuring your product is solving the right problems. Your users are the experts in your product, and the ones who’ll be using the solutions you create. They’re the ones who know where your product is a mismatch for them, and where it excludes them from the experience.

In order to better understand our users, we put a company-wide call out to identify any employees who have friends or family living with a disability, and if we could contact them. This gave us a list of Trade Me members that we could reach out to, and chat with, to learn and understand how they interact with our website.

We’ve had eight sessions where we got to meet our users, both in their homes and in our offices. This was just the start of ongoing initiatives to engage with our users more and the things we’ve learnt have been influencing the product decisions we make everyday.

Get external help early in the process

We had the opportunity to work with Jason Kiss, a consultant for Access Advisors at the time. We managed to secure some of his time to go through our designs and get technical advice on the best way to build our new website. In these sessions, we would print out our layouts and he would go through them, writing notes on what components to use and how it would work with assistive technologies. We also went through live examples and created stories out of that.

We’re now working with Chandra Harrison, also from Access Advisors, to set up usability sessions and understand how to better integrate accessibility into our processes.

Challenge respectfully

Valuing the importance of accessibility can be hard for people to grasp unless they have personally experienced a disability or know someone who has. So it’s always important to remember that most of the time people don’t mean to be non-inclusive. People are filled with biases and stigmas and, especially at work, it’s easy to let ourselves fall into a routine of always solving problems in the same way.

In her book ‘Mismatch’, Kat Holmes talks about this interesting idea of a cycle of exclusion, and how we can easily get stuck in this cycle of making things the same way over and over again — something we do due to uncertainty. Not knowing what lay beyond the walls of this cycle makes it hard to know who to design for.

Give your design system the love it deserves

We’ve been working on our design system, Tangram, since the start of the process of rebranding Trade Me. Creating a design system has been beneficial for our company in many ways. It reduces the amount of work for our designers and developers, facilitates the handover process, creates better consistency across our website, and brings benefits for accessibility.

Building elements as reusable components enabled us to embed web accessibility best practices in our code. When these components are used across the website, it’s a major step in spreading the accessibility benefits. It’s worth noting that, while we can achieve a lot here, the individual teams still need to take this starting point and ensure they close the loop for their products and their users.

We’ve added a page about accessibility to Tangram, our internal style guide.

This is the first of three articles about our journey growing a culture of accessibility at Trade Me. In the next article, we’ll share how we are working towards shifting the mindset on accessibility and getting buy-in from others.

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Originally posted on Maria’s Medium page

Senior Product Designer at Trade Me

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