I’ve had some interesting conversations recently with people doing research, and others who are developing or have developed products for visually impaired people. I mean interesting in the original sense of the word – I like to understand how people go about creating things, and hope that I could give them some insight into how I do things, or what I’m looking for in products and services.
I’m generally happy to give ideas on things or help people with market research when I can, especially if they’re students or small companies, because I believe the best way to create really good products is to understand your audience. That’s not easy if you don’t fit into your own audience demographic, i.e. blind people.
I’m a bit more protective of my little space when it comes to promoting things – I do promote things that I like and have used, but I don’t take pre-written content or talk about things that I haven’t tried myself.
The thing is, blind people can be compared to any other large group of people. Take dog owners for example. If you have a Chihuahua, your needs might be different from someone with a German shepherd. If you have a senior dog, you’ll have different needs and expectations to someone with a puppy. It’s the same with blind people – we’re not all one big homogenous group, so it really pays to do some research, narrow down your target audience if you can, and where possible, , find the people who are most likely to benefit from what you have to offer.
Sometimes you’ll have no idea if someone will be in your target audience, but the “blind or low vision” tick box often is not enough. You need to develop your ideal customer persona a bit further.
When you’ve done that, you still might not know if the content creators you find online will be like your customer persona, but it will help you understand why or why they may not be interested in a new product or service.
1. Are you meeting a need?
It’s the same with any product or service – are people looking for the thing that you want to create? Is it fixing a real problem that people have?
If so, great! If not, you could be spending a lot of time on something that people won’t buy. If it’s partially true, then you need to find a way of reaching those people who are most likely to need it. Are they for example younger people, people with less advanced technology skills, or people who speak multiple languages.
I have the feeling that some product designers start with the question “what would I find difficult if I were suddenly unable to see?” However, anyone who has been blind for some time will have developed strategies for doing things, and the things that you anticipate being the most difficult, might actually not be the biggest problems.
Sometimes I think people charge through into the creation stage because they’re eager to get on with things, whereas they could save themselves some time and trouble by seeing how viable the idea really is. It can be useful to have a prototype, especially as blind people may not be able to see your sketches, but if you want to sell a product, all the usual market research stages still apply.
I remember a friend coming to visit me at home and being surprised how “normal” it looked. If I need something to be different, I’ll buy a specialist device – such as a tactile watch – but where the thing that everyone else is using will do the job for me too, that would be my preference. I think sometimes this idea can get a bit lost. If you’re marketing to Harry Potter fans, they’ll like things that automatically make them stand out as Harry Potter fans. In terms of other differences, particularly those that we don’t choose, we don’t always want to draw attention to them.
2. Are there things already on the market that do the same thing?
We’re living in the age of mobile phones and multi-purpose technology. Most of my time is spent not far away from my laptop or my phone. There is still a place for specialist equipment, but why take 4 devices out with you when you could take a phone with apps that do all of the things that the other devices could have done?
There are some exceptions – I do have a colour detector device – it was expensive, and it detects colours better than its app counterparts. But, for example, if people offer me reading devices, I’d rather take the OCR apps that are already in my phone.
Other people may see this differently, especially people who are not as reliant on technology generally, or maybe children that don’t necessarily have other devices.
Some people want extra functionality. Others want an interface that is as simple as possible and requires very little time spent learning how it works.
There will be things that I see as unnecessary, whereas other people will love them – but it is worth checking out the market first to make sure that the thing you want to design doesn’t exist already, or the need isn’t being met in some other way.
3. Are you approaching someone in the right country?
Just leaving this here. I have been asked to promote events in other countries – not even longer conferences that it might warrant taking a flight for. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk about stories from other countries – I find them interesting – but a lot of my audience is UK-based, so a local event in the US would be better [promoted by people closer to it.
4. Is the person the right age group?
I know this may be harder to tell if the person doesn’t post any or many photos, but you can get a bit of an idea when you look at the things that they right about. A teenager will give you different feedback from someone like me in their late 30s. Maybe you need both, and that’s cool, but if your product is specifically aimed at a certain demographic, it’s best to find people who fit that description.
Sometimes it won’t matter. I’ve been a child, so I can give my opinion on toys for blind children, but I don’t know what it’s like to be over 40 or to be living in student accommodation in 2019.
5. Is the person interested in your topic?
Again, you might not know, but don’t be offended if they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how good your football app is, I’ll never use it because I don’t like football. Sometimes it feels like people take things personally because they wanted to do something good, but just because something was designed with blind people in mind, it doesn’t mean that all blind people will use it. That’s not negative, that’s just product marketing! I don’t buy every product aimed at women in their 30s, brides-to-be, or dog-lovers either!
If it’s a really specific thing though, it pays to do a bit of research. I sometimes wonder in the past why I’ve been contacted about mummy blogger campaigns! Use your resources wisely!
. Is your customer journey accessible?
Are your website and the thing that you’re promoting accessible? You may well not know that, in which case it’s good to get some input from screenreader users etc, but if you want people to promote a product that has a completely inaccessible website or interface, you may find considerable reluctance on the part of blind content creators until the site is sorted and we can promote it with a good accessibility conscience.
7. Does the person accept guest/sponsored content?
Some people don’t display this information. I do, but people often don’t read it.
I don’t take any prewritten content. I do work with companies, but only to promote things that I would genuinely use.
8. Do they have the right degree of vision?
I can’t comment on anything that magnifies things because I don’t have the vision for that. Again you might not know unless you ask, but don’t take it personally if someone says “no” to talking about something they will never be able to use.
9. Are you making any assumptions that could turn people off?
I wrote a whole post about myths and stereotypes here. Sometimes the life as someone with a visual impairment is very different from the image portrayed in the media. Also, when you’ve met one blind person, you’ve met one blind person. They don’t speak for all the others. Their strengths and struggles are not necessarily representative. This is why it’s good to get a broad sample of views so that you can look for trends.
10 Don’t expect free advertising!
I do give free advertising sometimes – usually when I’ve discovered things that I think are really cool! I don’t charge when I promote charities or organisations that I think are doing great work. But if you do stand to make money from something, it is a business transaction. Even if it was especially designed for blind people, you shouldn’t start the discussion with the expectation that you will get free advertising from blind content creators. There are costs associated with running a blog – material costs, as well as the time and effort to build an engaged audience. It’s not fair to expect to benefit from those things without contributing anything.
Oh, and if someone says “no thanks”, please don’t spam their other completely unrelated posts with links to your products. The comments will probably get binned, and it doesn’t look good for the company. Unfortunately this has happened to me.
I like conversations, so keep them coming if you want to ask me about a product or idea that you think would help blind people, or that may be of interest. Remember too though that I’m more than that – I’m a woman who has many of the same interests as other women my age and I am much more than my blindness.
My main point for writing the article was to try and highlight the vast experience, needs, preferences and available budget when it comes to advertising to blind people.
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