Nairobi, Kenya — The study emphasizes design challenges and the need to think about digital platforms as inclusive workplaces. It also highlights success stories that show the potential of online platforms to help young people with disabilities to earn an equitable living.
A new study conducted by inABLE and Technoprise, in partnership with Caribou Digital and the Mastercard Foundation, has found that e-commerce platforms in Kenya present significant challenges for sellers with disabilities. The study, which is part of a broader research project on platform livelihoods and young people with disabilities in Kenya, documents the results of usability testing and digital accessibility compliance testing on popular e-commerce platforms in the country.
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The findings of the report suggest that there is potential for online platforms to eliminate the physical barriers that many young Kenyans with disabilities face to running their businesses. E-commerce and social networking apps allow young entrepreneurs to interact with their clients despite disabilities such as hearing and visual impairment.
Linet Kulola, a Kenyan makeup artist and baker said: "Every business has its own challenges. Online platforms are not one hundred percent perfect, but it's about how you do it. How consistent you are. How creative with your work you are. As a professional makeup artist and baker with a hearing impairment, I rely on digital platforms to advertise my business and communicate with customers. I love chatting with clients through messages, and without using online platforms, I would not be able to run my business. Online is for everyone, but there is more to be done to make these platforms accessible for people with disabilities."
Platforms can and should do more to improve their accessibility and usability to allow young people like Linet to run thriving businesses online. The new study found that visually impaired sellers, particularly those who use screen readers, had the most difficulty using the platforms. Participants struggled to upload photos and list products for sale on all platforms. The study recommends improvements to screen reader support and labelling, simpler language, and simpler registration processes to make the platforms more accessible for sellers with disabilities.
"I have been using these e-commerce platforms to offer transcription services for some time now, and it has been a challenge for me as a visually impaired seller. Navigating platforms using a screen reader has been particularly difficult. It's frustrating when you have the skills to sell but can't properly present it to potential buyers due to accessibility issues. I am hopeful that the findings from this report will encourage these platforms to improve their accessibility for sellers with disabilities like me," said Adika Onyango, a freelance transcriptionist.
"We hope this report serves as a wake-up call to e-commerce app developers and providers, highlighting the urgent need for them to deliver on the promise of digital inclusion for people with disabilities,"said Tade Aina, Senior Director for Research at the Mastercard Foundation. "Through our usability and accessibility testing, we have identified several areas for improvement, particularly in making e-commerce platforms more accessible for visually impaired sellers. By implementing digital accessibility standards, e-commerce providers can ensure that their products and services are accessible to all, including persons with disabilities."
The study also conducted a digital accessibility assessment using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 A, AA guidelines). The assessment found that the three most challenging tasks for screen reader users were signing up or registering, uploading a product, and logging out from the platforms. Icons could not be read by talkback software, swipe functions were not read correctly, and screens were restricted to portrait orientation, making navigation challenging particularly for those who are visually impaired.
This research project is part of Caribou Digital's broader Platform Livelihoods Project, which aims to understand the opportunities and challenges young people with disabilities face when seeking to earn a living via digital platforms. The study is intended to illustrate how the lens of usability can uncover challenges in making platform livelihoods accessible. The Kenya Standard on Accessibility for ICT Products and Services, launched in 2022, guides all producers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to all, including persons with disabilities.
The findings of this study underscore the importance of designing e-commerce applications for accessibility. As the e-commerce industry grows, accessible applications will ensure that all users are able to accomplish buying and selling goods through e-commerce platforms, regardless of their ability. With the implementation of the Kenya Standard on Accessibility for ICT Products and Services, producers and service providers will have a guide to follow in making their products and services accessible to all users.
About the Mastercard Foundation
The Mastercard Foundation works with visionary organizations to enable young people in Africa and in Indigenous communities in Canada to access dignified and fulfilling work. It is one of the largest private foundations in the world with a mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. It was established in 2006 through the generosity of Mastercard when it became a public company. The Foundation is an independent organization and its policies, operations, and program decisions are determined by its own Board of Directors and senior leadership team. It is a registered Canadian charity with offices in Toronto, Kigali, Accra and Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Dakar, and Addis Ababa. For more information on the Foundation, please visit: www.mastercardfdn.org.
We envision a world where every individual has all-inclusive access to the same educational, technological, and employment opportunities. inABLE.org is a nonprofit organization based in Nairobi, Kenya and Washington, DC with a mission to empower the blind and visually impaired through computer assistive technology.
About Caribou Digital
Caribou Digital is a research and advisory firm helping organizations to build inclusive and ethical digital economies by focusing on digital transformation. Their team of experts work across multiple sectors to ensure their clients lead the field in the use of technology to deliver equitable and sustainable development.