Would The Blind Be Pinterested? An Interesting New Search Tool For The Disability Market

An adaptive switch interface for the Kindle DX showing two circular buttons connected by wire to the reading device.
This Kindle accessory for people with hand-movement issues was found on Pinterest.
After hearing my friends on Facebook gush about their newfound addiction to this fledgling online pinboard website called Pinterest, I was intrigued enough to check it out and see what all the hype was about. I spent 15 minutes there searching for stuff that spoke to my own passions: food, travel and photography. What I saw on Pinterest was immediately obvious and significant enough for me to say this: it will be The Next Big Thing on the Internet. Not necessarily the next Facebook with its one billion users, but it will be a force on the Internet nonetheless, on a level with eBay, Amazon and Paypal.

Why? Pinterest redefines the Internet search experience, and delivers new and lucrative opportunities for businesses to advertise their products and measure consumer attitudes toward these products.

From the perspective of someone who writes about marketing and business opportunities in the disabilities market, what does Pinterest mean for people with disabilities?

Yes, as I said, Pinterest will be the next Big Thing on the Internet. Or could be: I am not a fortune teller, and this assertion is highly dependent on the ability of Pinterest’s management to effectively guide and grow the company in the next five years. There will be competitors who could do a better job than Pinterest. Or I could completely overestimate the value of the online recommendation market and be proven wrong. Yet, at a very basic level, Pinterest provides a new and easier way for us to search for products recommended by people we know and trust. Marketers now have a new tool for measuring consumers’ attitudes toward their own products.

For people with any number of disabilities, it is a real adventure searching for products and services on the Internet that speak to their own unique needs. Type “wheelchair” on Google and you get a bunch of pictures of wheelchairs from different manufacturers, with different prices. Type “best wheelchair” instead, and the results include a mix of wheelchair review links, “top wheelchair” advertisements by companies who got smart about SEO (search engine optimization), and content farms that take advantage of the word “best” to generate advertising revenue for themselves.

Send word out on Facebook asking for the best wheelchairs, and some of your friends can give you recommendations. You are limited to that circle of friends, and they may not necessarily be the best experts on this topic. Try the same on Twitter, but it gets lost in a sea of tweets. There are resources on the Internet for searching for specific products to accommodate your disability, including Disaboom and Abledata. Yet, it takes time and effort to go through the information on these websites, and the results may not always be what you seek.

Pinterest is about keeping an eye on the things you like to follow. As a serious food cook, I found a fascinating recipe for brown sugar cookies, then another recipe for how to make the perfect pizza dough, and then ran into this very interesting concept for a hotdogopus. Similarly, for wheelchairs, there are boards on Pinterest about different types of wheelchairs. These boards are a work in progress, and not many people use Pinterest yet. But if this fledgling pinboard website is adopted by a large section of the mass market, those wheelchair boards, and other disabilities-related boards (for example, here, here, and here) are going to become a whole lot larger and more informative.

Unfortunately, Pinterest is not accessible to everyone. It is a visual pinboard, so people with blindness or vision issues are shut out of the experience. Screen readers for the blind look for “alt” tags in pictures on the Web that audio-describe what is in the picture. On Pinterest, the content in the “alt” tags is mostly used for other purposes, such as comments or identification of users – making the website useless for screen readers. This urgently needs to be addressed so that people with vision issues – an increasingly significant segment in developed countries with aging populations – can make full use of the online pinboards.

Pinterest is a potentially effective tool for marketers, enabling businesses to measure crowdsourced consumer sentiment toward their products, and use that information to deliver a better consumer experience. Facebook and Twitter only show the frequency of mentions of a product and its associated comments, but not necessarily whether people “liked” it or not because people can “like” negative comments (this McDonald’s hashtag campaign is a cautionary tale of a Twitter marketing campaign gone wrong). Google can move the most-visited product links to the top of a search results page, but, again, it does not measure whether people liked it or not. Although Pinterest’s “like” culture is one-dimensional (liking or pinning a product does not tell you much about why you liked it), until now there was no widely adopted, crowd-sourced platform for spreading buzz about a product.

It is still early in the game, and Pinterest could surprise or disappoint. But if what I saw today is any guide, I hold enough hope for this budding online pinboard website to improve the way people with disabilities seek out information about the products they want.

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