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FastSpring: why accessibility matters at the point of sale too

We are seeing great progress in software becoming more accessible, but how inclusive is the user experience of buying it in the first place? In this article, I interview Shawn Nichols, Senior Designer at FastSpring, to understand how FastSpring are working with retailers, including music and audio software companies, to ensure that processes for purchasing software online are as accessible as possible.

So Shawn, would you mind giving me an overview of FastSpring, and your role within the company?

At FastSpring we help companies sell their software globally. Say you go to the website of ‘Software Company X’ and they sell their own audio plugins, for example, through their website. We may well be the software that you would be interacting with when you purchase that software using their site.

I’m the Senior Designer for FastSpring’s marketing system. I also run our website and I’m responsible for creating new pages on there. 

What has FastSpring been up to with regards to accessibility and inclusive design?

We realised in the last year that, while we were following some of the minimal best practices with regards to accessibility, we weren’t following optimal best practices, or being as inclusive as we would like. We were probably doing the bare minimum, which I think is what a lot of brands and businesses were doing. 

Over the last year, we’ve been really prioritising taking it a step further than colour and contrast, and really getting much more into how screen readers interpret websites, how are they used, and trying to prioritise that user experience when designing our website. 

Why is it important to you to develop inclusively?

I’m of the opinion that as you do more and more inclusive design, those communities you enable access to become incredibly passionate about sharing the progress you have made, and about sharing feedback with you to develop your products’ accessibility further. 

If someone is navigating life challenges, then making it easy for them to read and access information is one way of limiting the impact of those challenges on their life. We want everyone to be able to do things easily – requiring minimal effort or attention. 

We’re also in a time where people are positioned more and more towards caring about a brand, and resonating with the people behind the brand. If communities feel included, then they are inherently going to develop a passion towards that brand. I think companies are just starting to understand that now, and see the results. We’re getting there!

For the companies you work with, would you support them to improve accessibility on their own sites?

A little bit. We have a product team, I’m on the marketing side. A lot of FastSpring’s work is focused on integrating our system with the companies’ website or system.  

When we start to work with companies, we see cases where the majority of the company’s site is screen reader friendly, but then the e-commerce structure they have been using, which allows users to go on and purchase their software, isn’t up to scratch. That part may be contained an Iframe or an embed that doesn’t match the user experience of the rest of the site. 

Something that we’ve done is prioritise what’s best from an experience perspective. We have Sales Engineers whose jobs are to get that user experience and integration as good as possible, and they’re very good at it! It’s great to see their passion come through. 

What accessibility tips do you have for music software companies for their websites? 

Firstly, being aware and staying familiar with WCAG helps to keep accessibility on the table. WCAG can seem overwhelming initially, but a lot of is common sense. You come to realise that it’s basically 8 or 9 core principles. Awareness of these principles should help standalone software apps become more accessible too, as there is a lot more web tech being used in software development now. A lot of new software will be a web app or port from one. 

Then, listening to users is really important. I’m of the mindset that doing your best towards accessibility should be the minimum, but ultimately you don’t know what you don’t know. Listening to people and involving them is going to generate the most improvement in product. I think that’s why more and more teams are doing UX that includes research, rather than just UI updates that come from within the company. 

I think it’s also worth highlighting that Google is doing a lot to intentionally support accessibility – their systems are likely to prioritise websites that have been inclusively designed. As the web moves more and more towards being accessibility-friendly, that will impact how you’re ranked. In turn, I think brands will understand that accessibility needs to be a priority and dip into their wallets. 

Software companies are accustomed to supplying specifications such as software requirements, but accessibility information rarely makes it onto product pages. How can we ensure accessibility information supplied in the same way?

We notice that as well. It’s on the companies to prioritise sharing that information, but why not start now? Access information is incredibly important for engaging marginalised communities. It’s also good for your brand image to present as a trendsetter who is ahead of the curve. I think this should just be considered best practice and generally, if you can innovate forward, then you should. Complacency, especially in tech, is one of the easiest ways to die!

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