Type in “EnableAll.com” to a web browser, and you are met with an intriguing holding page describing an “exclusively inclusive” marketplace that promises to move the dial on how disabled consumers shop digitally.
It talks of “driving innovation and personalising the UX [user experience] for disabled consumers” and “setting the standards others follow”. The target is to launch an e-commerce destination that delivers a suitable experience for people with disabilities.
Grand ambitions indeed, but they are goals that managing director Kevin Cooper is confident of achieving when the website launches this spring and begins a journey of continuous development based on feedback from the community it serves.
Cooper took on the leadership role at EnableAll in December, after four and half years as e-commerce director at shirts and formalwear retailer Charles Tyrwhitt, and he is currently overseeing the build of what he sees as a transformative business model.
“The industry has been focused on mobile-first as a mantra for several years,” he says. “Our site is accessibility-first – we’re not doing it as an afterthought, we’re doing it with accessibility in mind. We’re trying to level the playing field to give people who struggle online or with access a really good experience.”
Cooper adds: “The extra challenge is it’s not just an experience for people with disabilities, it’s an experience that works for everybody.”
As previously reported by Computer Weekly, disabled consumers have consistently found themselves left out of retail’s digital revolution – with websites not fit for purpose in catering for people with disabilities of all types.
EnableAll aims to change all that by launching in conformance with the highest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, classed as AAA standard. Not many websites can claim that.
The leadership team also want to engage people to share their experiences of the site and their individual needs when shopping online, allowing the marketplace to build additional accessibility features as it grows.
From the outset, there will be a preference centre, so individuals set the site to function in line with their specific needs. For example, users could change their account to dyslexic mode, meaning the website conveys dyslexic-readable fonts, or there is the chance to “declutter” the webpages, supporting people with anxiety.
“You could change the whole site to greyscale [something particularly useful for the colourblind] – there are lots of things that can be tweaked to meet base needs,” says Cooper.
“Will we have every disability covered on day one? Probably not. Exclusively inclusive means we want to hear from people and build solutions that help everybody – we’re looking to build a community of people who will educate us, so we can build for them.”
At present, no third-party tech partners have been involved in the build, but that could change in time. “We’re already in discussions with some third parties about how they can help us,” says Cooper, who will use his 22-plus years’ experience in retail and digital to find the right balance between own-build and external suppliers.
EnableAll’s chief investor, CareTech, is the company behind Smartbox, a provider of augmentative and alternative communication systems that allow disabled people to live more independently.
EnableAll has built its platform so that Smartbox product users can use their technology when interacting with the site. Indeed, the marketplace has been designed to support any assistive technology – from screen readers and magnification software to tools that support people with mobility impairments.
Cooper describes EnableAll as “a key part of what CareTech is trying to do to help people with disabilities engage digitally”.
CareTech also owns Purple, the organiser of Purple Tuesday, an annual event that – alongside other awareness-raising activity – shines a spotlight on retail’s accessibility gap, encouraging companies within the industry to serve disabled consumers better.
Its founder, Mike Adams, whose idea it was to launch EnableAll, says: “Disabled people simply want to be able to access the online market in the same way as everyone else, and although change is happening, it’s not fast enough.
“The beauty of building a marketplace from scratch is that we are not tinkering around the edges of an existing behemoth, we’ve pressed fast-forward and can launch with a product that is built around the needs of disabled people.”
Access (no longer) denied
The imminent arrival of EnableAll comes as several large UK retailers made changes to how they serve certain sections of the disabled community in December 2021.
Asda announced it was trialling new technology in its Stevenage store, which it said would make it easier for blind and partially sighted customers to navigate their way around the aisles.
The store was integrated into the GoodMaps smartphone app, which was built for use among the blind and partially sighted. The app pinpoints its users’ location and then communicates directions to products or shop areas via audio, enlarged visual, and touch commands.
Asda’s Stevenage store is a testbed for tech innovation, with the grocer using it to trial new ideas that can help shape how the business serves customers across its wider estate.
Meanwhile, health and beauty retailer Superdrug launched a quiet hour in its stores, in acknowledgment that some consumers require a calmer environment in which to shop. Such a move is targeted at those who are autistic or neuro diverse, for example.
Although these are encouraging individual initiatives from retailers looking to support the disabled consumer, and they join a long list of similarly minded industry schemes and projects, they are not examples of an accessibility-first mindset. They can’t be.
That can only be achieved by startups such as EnableAll, which – as Cooper suggests – is starting with a blank sheet of paper, and has no legacy systems or processes to hold it back.
“Who knows what the future could bring?” says Cooper. “Five years down the line, it could be services, cars, houses. I’m pretty sure that everything done transactionally over the internet could be considered [on EnableAll].”
He adds: “We may not do that on our own platform, but we might help third parties by letting them use our technology. There’s no end game, no ceiling.”
Large well-known retailers, independent sellers and charities are among those in discussions with EnableAll about selling goods through the platform. Exactly what will be available to buy on the marketplace at launch remains to be seen.
“I’m optimistic we will get very good traction really early – and we’ll see where we go from there,” says Cooper. “The vision for two to three years is selling every product and category we possibly can and doing it very well.”