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John Maeda’s 2020 CX Report and Accessibility

The report doesn’t directly address people with disabilities and CX. Here is the TL;DR version of how to align his main points with your accessibility initiatives

Read John’s Medium article here with links to his short, medium, and long videos delivering his report.

John Maeda is the Chief Experience Officer at Publicis Sapient. Much of his 2020 CX report is about Moore’s law and computational thinking. Those don’t apply in any significant way to accessibility. Most basic accessibility features don’t increase the processing power required to run the software. And on the rare occasions where more advanced accessibility features do require additional processing power (predictive analysis, speech input), Moore’s law doesn’t apply because this type of assistive technology (currently) runs on the client-side, not the server-side. If the product can run, you can make it accessible without needing to double your computing power.

John’s Buyer/Customer Relationship

John talks about how people navigate the buyer experience to become customers. But if the buyer experience is not accessible, a person with a disability will never be able to navigate it independently. An accessible buyer experience allows potential buyers to:

  • Review and consider marketing information
  • Evaluate the product
  • Exchange your money FOR the product
  • Additionally, not mentioned by John — an accessible buyer experience allows organizations to avoid lawsuits and the collateral mess and expense those entail.

An inaccessible buyer experience gives a user who needs accessibility NONE of these things. Buyers who need accessibility and can’t get it then are forced to rely on information from other sources to decide whether or not the product is unique enough to warrant getting help to undertake the functions that people without disabilities can do without thinking. The alternative to asking for this help is packing it in and moving on to a different vendor.

Hint: 91 % of buyers with disabilities in the UK have done precisely that — bought from a competitor because their initial experience with their preferred vendor was inaccessible. Typically users with disabilities don’t bother complaining because they know very little will happen for the investment of time and energy in making a complaint. To complain about inaccessibility, the people who have been discriminated against must first get past the emotional blocker of “this company doesn’t give a sh*t about me, so why do I want to waste my time helping them for free?” Trust me, if you don’t have experience processing that particular thought, that is much harder to do than you might initially think.

My favorite way to sum this up is “I do not owe you a teachable moment.”

Typically I vote with my pocketbook and give my money to someone who appears to care, rather than spending MY free time teaching people who don’t care how to care. That may seem callous, but it’s not my job to teach others about my lived experience. To do so sets oneself up for rejection, and there are only so many times you can take that leap and keep your sanity. I hoard those leaps carefully and dole them out when I think I can succeed.

People who use assistive technology who can’t navigate the customer experience won’t commit if the customer experience is not accessible

John’s report further identifies the following activities as part of the customer experience:

  • Onboarding
  • Using
  • Struggling
  • Getting support
  • and finally, commit or exit

With very few exceptions, people with disabilities spend most of their lives in “struggling” mode. The larger (and harder) the struggle, the more likely buyers with disabilities are to exit, rather than committing and becoming an ongoing revenue stream for the company.

The most important thing to understand is if you believe in John Maeda’s work, don’t forget that there are DISABLED humans in that Buyer/Customer Experience infinite loop.

John spends a lot of time comparing the Kardashev Civilization Scale to digital evolution. The Kardashev scale starts at one and tops out at five, what Maeda refers to as the “digital singularity.” One thing that is crystal clear from this comparison is that anyone who is blocked from participating in the digital experience when we hit and of the more advanced levels of the Kardashev Scale as applied to digital transformation is going to be completely out of luck and excluded from being customers.

Part of John’s report focuses on how much faster marketing works than product development. Just over 8 1/2 minutes into the abbreviated version of the report, John says:

Change is hard. Transformation is hard. Not because of the technology, but because of the accrued different technologies that have entered your organization. … and if one thing is wrong, the whole system falls apart.

That statement sums up the issue of accessibility from the perspective of people who use assistive technology in a nutshell. They are well acquainted with the problem of changing one piece of their technology stack (OS / Java / Browser / AT) and having the whole stack collapse like a stack of Jenga blocks. In the broader sense, Maeda’s statement also applies to making products accessible in general. It’s hard to remediate products that already exist (which is reactive accessibility). It’s much easier to build something accessible from scratch (proactive accessibility).

Other John Maeda CX thoughts as they pertain to accessibility

  • Nobody’s in charge of customer experience because everyone is.

Substitute “accessibility” for customer experience, and the same is true. It’s difficult to make true accessibility progress unless the entire company (Procurement, Training, Support, HR, Documentation, IT, just to name a few) are all rowing in the same disability/accessibility direction.

  • Your Employee Experience (EX) is what makes your CX human. Literally.

This Maeda-ism reminds me of Richard Branson’s quote, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Too many companies take care of the accessibility needs of the public before the accessibility needs of the employees. This is especially true in risk-averse organizations that worry about lawsuits from members of the general public. Here is the reality: If you have employees with disabilities, they will know how to take care of your customers with disabilities. As easy as this sounds, it’s a long process, and hiring people with disabilities alone is not enough. You need to establish corporate policies that support your employees with disabilities, and retention programs to make them want to stay.


Thanks for the report John Maeda, it gave me a lot to think about. You might want to consider custom captioning your videos. I don’t know of a single auto-captioning tool that can reliably caption “Kardashev.”

With thanks to my colleague Neeharika Gupta who highlighted in our internal slack channel that this report had been released.

Published inAccessibilityDisabilities

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