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A Chat with Dale Reardon on WooCommerce and My Disability Matters

In episode 55, I had the chance to chat with Dale Reardon, owner of My Disability Matters. He keeps busy with his three sites: My Disability Matters, The My Disability Matters Club, My Disability Matters New Site and a My Disability Matters Shop, which will be coming soon.

In today’s show, we look at how Dale uses eCommerce on his club site, as well as reasons he chose WooCommerce, the roadblocks he has navigated, and of  his own challenge working on the web as a visually impaired professional.

We chatted about:

  • Why he chose to use WooCommerce
  • What has been his largest challenge building sites as a visually impaired person
  • The accessibility issues he confronted and the solutions he came up with
  • His biggest challenge with starting a membership site
  • What lies ahead in the future for My Disability Matters and what is his big dream

Thanks To Our Podcast Sponsor: Bluehost


Bob Dunn: Hey everyone, welcome back to the WP eCommerce Show. Bob Dunn here, also known as Bob WP on the web. Today, we are talking with Dale Reardon from My Disability Matters. Hey Dale, welcome to the show.

Dale Reardon: Yes. Thanks for having me along today, Bob.

Bob Dunn: Now, I know that your newest venture is a social networking community, but I also know that you have run and are running several membership sites. Give us a short rundown of what you’re doing. A little bit about yourself, Dale.

Meet our guest, Dale Reardon

Dale Reardon: Yes. I work in the online businesses with my wife Jo. Her primary venture, which we started off just as a blog and has now turned into a full blown consulting and membership site, is Move to Tasmania, where she helps people relocating to Tasmania, where we live. Over the time, she’s built up a site of resources, a discussion forum and other things. That’s all been implemented using WooCommerce and Woo Memberships, which is a terrific plugin that you’ve reviewed on your site. We have also offered a WordPress blog-building course that we designed videos and, once again, an online membership site using WooCommerce and Woo Memberships.

As you say, the latest venture is My Disability Matters, which we are concentrating on as our main business.  At the moment the primary focus is a social networking community for the disability sector. That’s been built up using BuddyPress, bbPress, WordPress of course, WooCommerce and our membership site. Yes, that’s been going along very well.

Why did you choose WooCommerce for your plugin?

Bob Dunn: Obviously you’ve kind of answered my first question, but I’m going to poke it a little bit more as far as you choosing WooCommerce for your platform, or I guess I should say, your plugin. Why did you choose WooCommerce? Was there any specific thing, or was it several things?

Dale Reardon: Yeah, really several things. As compared to a hosted platform like the other solutions that are out there or other plugins, WooCommerce gives us a lot of flexibility. It has tremendous support for a lot of payment gateways, which was always one of the problems. We’re in Australia, so I mean we have access to Stripe and PayPal, of course, and some other gateways, but unfortunately not to Amazon Payments and other things that you’ve reviewed. Using WooCommerce on our own site gives us the ability to control the whole process and tailor the whole payment process.

You can, using one page checkout plugins that you’ve spoken of on your site, make the payment process very streamlined. People don’t even know they’re using a shopping cart plugin, which makes the whole checkout process and conversion much better. WooCommerce being open source means you get so much support from the community. There are so many plugins and add-ons to WooCommerce that it makes it much more powerful for our site. I guess they were the primary reasons we have chosen it, yeah.

The advantage of a flexible plugin

Bob Dunn: It sounds like you’re like me. You’ve used it in various ways throughout different sites, so that flexibility that WooCommerce brings that you can say, “Okay. I’m going to do the subscriptions here but now, the next one, I’m not going to do subscriptions. I’m going to do this, or that.” Sounds like that might have played a big part in it too.

Dale Reardon: Yes, that’s right. You can do so many different ways on different sites. You don’t have to keep learning a new product or something. It’s just using a different component of WooCommerce or a different plugin feature. You gradually build up your skill and knowledge set and, yes, that is a tremendous advantage.

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities

Bob Dunn: Now you probably have had some challenges in building, sounds like you built quite a few sites. Now, as a visually impaired person, what has been really the most frustrating or largest challenge you’ve had?

Dale Reardon: Yeah. I suppose the main … WordPress has done a lot of work over the last year or two with accessibility and improved things a lot. Probably obviously visual design of the website and placement of widgets on sites is the most graphical component of using WordPress. Then my wife does all of that side of things. I stick to the technical side: installing plugins, debugging them, finding all the conflicts and things, yes.

Bob Dunn: That keeps you busy in itself, right?

Dale Reardon: That is probably the most annoying part of using your own eCommerce setup. That people bring out updates, and little updates can break things on other parts of the site that you don’t realize initially, yes.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, yeah. That can be very frustrating. Now I understand that your audience on most of your sites, or on some of them, are people who care or work with disabled individuals. I imagine you also attract people with disabilities. What accessibility issues did you foresee when you started these? Can you give us a couple of examples of the solutions you came up with?

For optimum accessibility, keep those features simple

Dale Reardon: Yeah. It really is a matter of if you’re using standard HTML components and features, then you don’t have a lot of issues. When sites start doing fancy things, Flash for example, although thankfully Google’s managing to get rid of it from the community quite well by punishing sites in their listings, that’s completely inaccessible. Menus that use fancy JavaScript to pop up additional options when you hover over them do cause problems for accessibility, so we don’t use them. Yeah, it is really all the fancy mouse over, JavaScript features and things like that that can cause problems. I guess sometimes it’s due to cost that people with disabilities are often using older browsers and things. You do need to make sure that you’ve got good cross-browser compatibility and, yes, just making sure that your site is backwards compatible.

The value of transcripts for video and audio content

Bob Dunn: I know that when I started my podcast, I wasn’t doing transcripts initially mostly because of the cost and the time. As I got into it, I was starting to think, man, I really got to do these. What’s interesting about transcripts is that I think they’re great to have. I wouldn’t not have my podcast without them but having researched it, there’s a lot of podcasters out there—some of them with fairly large audiences, who say,  “Well, you know? I don’t want transcripts on my site because then somebody can read through my podcast rather than listen or download it.”

They’re thinking it’s going to mess up their stats, or they’re freaked out about that it’s going to take away from certain parts of their podcasts. I’m just like, “Hey. I actually had somebody that was hearing impaired who said, ‘Are you ever going to be able to do transcripts on your site?’ ” I said, “Yeah. I’m working on it.” It was also interesting to hear that other part of it where they were more worried about their statistics, and people not actually listening to the show.

Dale Reardon: Yeah. I think transcripts are very valuable. I mean they give you search engine benefits as well, in terms of the extra content. I like them. I mean you can then choose to do different format of show notes perhaps. Yeah, I mean if you monitor your site stats, in terms of people even reading the transcripts, you can tell your sponsors that people are engaged in that way as well. I mean the web is all about choices and, as you say, this presents another option and helps cater to those people with hearing impairments.

Bob Dunn: Exactly. I know there’s even a lot of people who don’t have hearing impairments who prefer transcripts, just because their learning style is I’d rather sit down and read this than listen. When I listen, my mind wanders or whatever. There’s a lot of things there in play. I think it’s, yeah, I feel good about it.

Dale Reardon: Yeah, no. They’re a great option. I mean even when we’ve done video training, we’ve always provided transcripts to the videos as well. As you say, some people just prefer different formats for learning. I prefer the transcripts myself, just as a reference point to go back to and quickly and easily find some information.

Bob Dunn: I know that some of my most popular posts were ones, and they took a long time, but they were the ones that I did video tutorials. Then I did also what I call video highlights. I’d go in, highlight specific things with screenshots and text so people could go back and revisit them. Those are the ones people were like, “Oh man. I wish all your posts were like this.” But they are very time-consuming, too.

Dale Reardon: Yes, that’s right. It does take the extra effort. I guess if they’re of an evergreen nature, the posts, then, yeah, it is worthwhile doing it. Yeah.

Bob Dunn: Oh definitely.

Dale’s new venture in membership sites: the My Disability Matters Club

Tell us a little bit, just an overview, of your membership site, My Disability Matters Club. Why you did it, and then I have a second question about that same site.

Dale Reardon: It came about because I know a number of people, including myself, love social media, particularly Twitter. I really enjoy because it is so accessible just being a quick, short text format. Facebook is particularly difficult to use for a number of reasons. How they designed the site is problematic with so many mouse overs, pop ups and ads everywhere.

They keep doing, and I guess it’s for marketing reasons like supermarkets and shops do, they keep changing the page layout, which for people who can see the page and rearrange [the page themselves quickly, it might be fine. With our screen-reading software, we get used to the particular way a page is laid out, and you can get to particular elements of the page very quickly because you know where they are. But when they keep changing the format, it just makes things very time-consuming.

The page being so cluttered, I’m told, affects people with dyslexia. We’ve had people with other forms of disabilities who just don’t like the layout of Facebook and its ease of use. Yeah, we’ve created, using BuddyPress as the primary base, with a lot of plugins, and we have more custom work planned, a site that is much easier to use, more accessible. We’ve also added discussion forums, which Facebook obviously doesn’t have. I, personally, find them a lot easier to conduct a discussion on than just doing it, for example, on a Facebook page where you can get lost in the discussion, filtering and reading options aren’t as plentiful.

The other big component we have with social media for the disabled is that you can face trolling, bullying, abuse or just poking fun at on the social media platforms that exist in the mainstream. We want to enforce tolerance and respect on the platform. We want to see moderating not as a way of censoring discussions or people, but as a core feature to keep people feeling secure and safe to discuss the issues that they want to discuss. Whereas I’m sure that Facebook and Twitter see it as a cost problem, employing the staff to actually monitor any complaints.

That’s why those things get out of hand, because I mean it’s an easy problem to solve if you’re able to throw enough money at it. You can just have a way of reporting those problems, look at them and delete the conversations if necessary. Yeah, they were the key reasons for creating the community.

Bob Dunn: Now that makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of nasty people on social unfortunately.

Dale Reardon: That’s right. I mean sometimes you just have to use block, ban and yeah.

What was Dale’s biggest challenge starting a membership site?

Bob Dunn: Yeah, yeah. Thank God for those. On the same subject, as far as the membership site, what was your biggest challenge starting that one?

Dale Reardon: One thing that we had to do, that got beyond me, was ironing out some plugin conflicts between the theme that we were using and a WooCommerce add-on plugin. Understandably, I suppose, the theme author blames the plugin developer for not writing in standard code ways. Then the plugin blames the theme person. In the end, we just got a programmer. Only took half an hour to write some custom CSS code to fix the conflicts for us. Yeah, once you start adding a lot of features, you do end up with some minor conflict problems that can get beyond your skill set. Ultimately, it’s easier to just get an expert involved, fix it and then get on with your business.

Bob Dunn: I think it’s easy for those developers between the themes, plugins, all that stuff, to pass the buck. “Oh yeah, it’s got to be the plugin’s fault.” “No, it’s got to be the theme’s fault.” Back and forth.

Dale Reardon: Yes. Ultimately that doesn’t solve your problem or get you anywhere. In the end, you need to get the solution. One thing that we have also experienced with using WooCommerce, although I haven’t had the need to lodge a support ticket for quite a few months, so I don’t know if they’ve improved, but the support response time for WooCommerce is, and I mean with their paid plugins of course, not free support, is a bit slow. They can take several days to get back to you or to investigate things. I’d like to see WooCommerce, which is now of course owned by Automattic, to improve that, and perhaps even offer a premium support option where you pay a bit more for a support plan and get faster and better attention.

Bob Dunn: I know what you mean, because I’ve had varying time lengths as far as support. Maybe this partnership, or actually Automattic pulling in and the support they have on that side of thing with WordPress, hopefully that will all work out. Like you said, there’s people like yourself that, “Hey. I would love to pay for a priority support type of package as well.”

Dale Reardon: That’s right. I mean it’s another way they can make some money.

What’s next for My Disability Matters?

Bob Dunn: Yeah, right. Okay, so last question. What lies in the future for My Disability Matters? Is there a big dream that you want to attain? Something you just, this is going to be the point where I’m smiling big time.

Dale Reardon: Yeah. I guess what’s next is hopefully we are currently talking with different startup accelerators and potential investors. We do need some investment to grow the site. We need to employ some in-house developers, so that we can take it further, improve the site and give some additional, particularly email-related, features that our disabled members want. Facebook, of course, doesn’t offer interaction via email or it’s very patchy. I know that is a problematic area, so we certainly want to improve that.

We want to spread the word and be a worldwide go-to resource for the disability community, in terms of social networking, discussing, providing peer support and resources. We’ve got about 1200 members at the moment, so getting up in the million would be very good.

The ultimate, as you say, long-term dream is for the site to be highly successful and making a nice profit, so that then we can actually give back to the disability community, be that in terms of offering grants for other disabled people to start up their own businesses. We want to predominately employ disabled people in our business. I’ve found, in the programming community particularly, there’s a lot of people with autism that find working remotely suits them far better. We’d love to work in that way.

Yeah, just to provide some sort of philanthropic arm of the business as well, to do some good back to the community. We’d love to get involved, when we’re making enough profit to do so, in terms of contributing to the BuddyPress and WordPress development, because obviously it’s the open source that has let us get started. We’d love to, in the future, contribute back as well.

Bob Dunn: I hope this podcast will help a little bit. Maybe it won’t attain the big goals, but get you a little bit further and get your word out and stuff. I think what you’ve shared with us, it’s so cool. I love it. There’s so much with the accessibility and actually the focus on it now, I mean people are paying attention to it, that you’ll play a big part in that,  which you already are. It sounds like you have a lot of goals for the future to continue to grow even more in that.

Dale Reardon: Yes. We hope to. The other plan in the short-term as well is creating an app, because a lot of people want to be able to use the features in that way. None of these things are highly expensive propositions but, yeah, we do need an investor. Not in the millions, but a small, medium sized investment would certainly help propel us along much more quickly.

Bob Dunn: That money thing, it always comes along, doesn’t it?

Dale Reardon: Yeah. Yes, we either need that or, yes, a developer coming along and joining us in some sort of profit-sharing component.

Where to find Dale on the web

Bob Dunn: Very cool. I love hearing your story, your perspective, all the things you’ve done on the web. Besides your websites, is there somewhere else people can find you? Some social that you’d like them to connect with you on.

Dale Reardon: Yes. My personal Twitter is obviously @dalereardon. The Twitter for My Disability Matters is @audisability. Facebook, when we realized that you have to still be involved as well to attract people and then we try and get them across to our community, is Yes, on our websites, on the contact pages, there’s obviously links to myself on LinkedIn and our other social media profiles.

Bob Dunn: Perfect. Thanks again for sharing your story with us and all these insights. Most of all, thanks for taking the time to join us today, Dale.

Dale Reardon: Thank you very much for having me. If, yes, people want to discuss any aspect about the business or just accessibility improvements or, of course, have me contribute anything about disability and the internet, then please do get in touch.

Bob Dunn: Excellent. I’ll make sure to get all those links to your social and your websites in the show notes. Take care.

Dale Reardon: Thank you.

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