In this interview, Dale Reardon, founder of My Disability Matters group of sites – MyDisabilityMatters.news, MyDisabilityMatters.com, and MyDisabilityMatters.club – talks about his mission to provide disability-related news, information, and advice that is timely, and to build a community willing to share experiences and information. Dale discusses why he picked WordPress and WooCommerce to build his sites, and considerations around accessibility.
Below is a summary of the discussion. You can find the full transcript on this page.
Being blind since the age of 17, I’ve always wanted to help the disability community. I did a law degree at university in Tasmania, Australia, and practiced law for roughly six years as a partner in my own law firm. I was the second visually-impaired person at my university and the only blind lawyer practicing in Tasmania. At the end of the six-year period, my business partner and I sold the firm, and I went into the tourism business. That’s where I started using the internet for marketing purposes.
Throughout that time, I was involved in disability advocacy and disability issues. About 12 months ago, we started planning out the roll out of different phases of My Disability Matters.
For the main three sites for My Disability Matters, can you talk about the timeline leading up to the .club launch in December?
I had been using WordPress and WooCommerce for my wife’s website since 2011. I had feedback from the disability community that they wanted a disability friendly, owned, run, and managed website to spread and get news. We started with the “.com.au” domain but got a lot of global engagement on our Twitter account.
The team is currently my wife and myself. We did start building the blog articles and news on the .news site in the beginning of 2016, then acquired the .com domain to make that the central hub for these sites, and launched the .club site in December 2016.
WordPress makes fairly accessible websites right out-of-the-box. The other big one is the number of plugins available to add functionality to the sites.
Putting the sites on Woo helps us run the membership fees, advertising campaigns, donation, and sponsorship components all on the same platform. We use a one-page checkout process to streamline the payments to create an easy seamless experience for our audience, while powering it with Woo on the backend.
One problem with drag-and-drop themes or plugins we’ve used is that they do create a lot of drain on the servers once the site starts scaling up. So one thing I’d like to see is some version of drag-and-drop editing and functionality built into the core.
The greatest difficulty using WordPress being a visually impaired person is the widget system. It’s primarily a visual system for the placement of the widgets. I’m not sure that I have the answer to how it can be improved from an accessibility standpoint, but that’s something I’d love to see get better in that respect.
We put a media kit up on the website and advertisers approached us for sponsorship opportunities. If you have a website for a very tight niche, then sponsors and advertisers are likely to be interested in you.
We’ve been using Twitter primarily to attract readers. This effort has been a combination of using the right hashtags, and following up and engaging with followers. This can be made easier with automated systems like Sendible.
Other than Twitter, Facebook ads have also been quite lucrative for us to grow our member base.
There was a plugin up until two or three years ago for community moderation to allow automatic posting of all comments, but allow other site visitors and members to flag inappropriate comments for moderation by the administrator. At the moment, there’s no plugin that allows that type of community moderation which would be great to have as sites get more active.
Before we get into some advice questions, what do you do when you’re not working on My Disability Matters?
My favorite activities are food, wine, culture, and travel. I particularly love travelling to France, and certainly enjoy the pastries there.
One of the first things I would suggest is get a good quality host, preferably with managed WordPress hosting, like that provided by Pagely, to fix any issues that arise as you build your sites. This is especially helpful when you start using a lot of WordPress plugins – for example, we had 140 plugins at one point.
Other than that, don’t be afraid to make changes to your site if you think it will improve the experience for your audience. These can be minor or major changes like switching themes to changes the look and layout of your sites.
Lastly, use staging environments to test out the changes you’re making before pushing them to the live site. It helps you catch issues prior to affecting your live sites.
One personal request as a visually-impaired person and on behalf of other members in the disability community, is to avoid the use of CAPTCHAs on your sites. There are more accessible alternatives like CleanTalk that achieve the same result of reducing spam.
Those CAPTCHA forms block so many people from using your websites. I personally sometimes fill out a form but then have to wait for my wife to complete the visually-driven CAPTCHA before I can submit the form. Developers should be aware of that as it does ruin the accessibility of your site.
A major step is to engage influencers in the disability community – people with successful blogs or disability services – to work in cooperation with us to promote the club site to their members and site visitors. Another would be cross-marketing and cross-posting of articles.
Rest would be to encourage our current members to start word-of-mouth referrals.
We hope to create a far more tolerant and respectful online community regarding issues of disability. When we are successfully making money, we hope to give back to the disability community, hire disabled staff, and help disabled people start their own businesses.
The only other comment would be to encourage developers to not build their plugins or themes in a way that breaks caching. As our sites have scaled, we’ve had issues with plugins breaking caching on the sites which add extra loads on the servers.