What if you could monitor public conversations about accessibility to improve customer experiences?

Students of Retailing 2.0: Social Media Marketing (RMG 922) at the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management were recently given a firsthand chance to do just that thanks to a Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) partnership with Sysomos, a state-of-the-art social media monitoring tool that allows users to monitor, analyze, and gather insights to make better business decisions and create better products and services for customers. In an experiential learning project designed in partnership with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO), nine student teams had the opportunity to act as accessibility policy consultants. Tasked with creating recommendations for policy improvements based on social media chatter, the students used Sysomos to “listen in” on social media conversations about accessibility in Ontario and gain insights into how accessibility measures are being discussed in the public sphere.

The winning team with their certificates and prize bags. Left to right: ​Kirsten Hoang, Jane Santen, Ula Byun, Erica Liu, Susan Parkin, and Wanda Huang.

The teams presented their findings to a panel of judges from the ADO, along with recommendations for how the directorate might use this information to promote accessibility measures and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The winning team, whose task was to investigate words like “disability,” “employment” and “Ontario,” found that companies that hire persons with disabilities and make their retail locations accessible also improve their corporate image. The judging panel from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario was impressed by the depth of their research and quality of their recommendations.

Professor Donna Smith of the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management, who leads Social Media 2.0: Social Media Marketing and often brings in top retail industry leaders so that students can participate in live case studies, says this project was a great opportunity for Retail Management students to learn about the business case for accessibility: “Through our work with the ADO we learned that one seventh of people in Ontario have short- or long-term accessibility issues. In the near future it will be one fifth. From a retail perspective, examples include customers wheeling strollers in-store or those with vision loss who try to navigate e-commerce websites. Meeting accessibility needs is an opportunity to generate $9.6 billion in new money for our province. The bricks and clicks shopping environments need to be conducive to these diverse consumer needs.”

Donna Ratchford, Director of Policy Innovation at Ryerson, helped organize the experiential learning project as a launching point for the upcoming Hack-cessibility challenge, an initiative created by the Ryerson Policy Innovation Platform to bring together students, businesses, members of the accessibility community, entrepreneurs and mentors to envision creative solutions to accessibility challenges. She says one of the main goals of the project is to change attitudes about how accessibility measures impact bottom lines – to see accessibility as a business opportunity rather than a hurdle. Having an accessible business can improve corporate social responsibility, strengthen community relations, and grow the customer base, which are all wins for businesses in the highly competitive retail sector.

The TRSRM class case study project and the larger Hack-cessibility challenge aim to put students in the middle of real social change. Hack-cessibility begins on Friday, October 23, and will bring in industry leaders and mentors to help students effect real change with the chance to win a grand prize of $5,000.

Posted by Shane MacInnis

Shane MacInnis is TRSM's Writer/Content Specialist.

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