Established under precarious legality, the cannabis industry was forced to build a viable marketplace in a constant state of uncertainty. The entrepreneurs of the industry have proved their ability to adapt, reimagine, and innovate. Today, cannabis engineers are leaders in hydroponic farming, cannabis technology experts customize software to ensure safety for consumers, and professionals all across the industry are demonstrating their commitment to the ethical development of our legal cannabis market.
The unique nature of the industry gives it influential status in the larger marketplace and compels it to act as an incubator for socially responsible business practices. Despite its rapid growth, the industry has maintained the inclusive and community-focused culture for which cannabis is known. Without consistent regulation or historical knowledge to rely upon, the cannabis industry has found creative solutions to help more people access the plant. Much like the rest of the healthcare industry, those who need medicinal cannabis the most also experience the tallest barriers to access. In an industry with an incredible amount of potential customers who may be intimidated by entering a dispensary, accessibility becomes integral to success. Both the online presence and physical environments created by a business can drastically alter its viability in the increasingly competitive cannabis marketplace.
By prioritizing accessibility, the legal cannabis industry has helped reshape mainstream understandings of the plant. Because of prohibition and social stigma, the industry bore the responsibility of educating the public and dismantling harmful myths. The most successful dispensaries are adept at educating customers and creating a welcoming environment for all to explore the magic of cannabis. California dispensary, Bud and Bloom, has capitalized on the chance to make cannabis more accessible to its customers. The dispensary provides a free weekly shuttle to and from a nearby retirement village and trains its employees to effectively educate seniors about cannabis. Bud and Bloom and the retirement community have benefited significantly from the shuttle. Seniors have the opportunity to explore new forms of relief with cannabis products and the dispensary consistently gains new customers. Without the educational efforts of cannabis entrepreneurs and activists, we would not likely see such encouraging trends in cannabis consumption by older generations.
Accessibility is the continual practice of making a business usable by as many people as possible. This practice interweaves our strategies for social equity, inclusion, shared understandings, efficiency, and adaptability into a programmatic approach. It is a collaborative effort that engages the consumer as an expert on their own needs and requires traditionally siloed departments to work together in new ways. Accessibility is good for business, it’s ethically necessary, and it’s also the law. While building an accessible business may seem daunting and financially demanding, the alternative is much more menacing. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental and physical disability, and the last thing a cannabis company wants to create is a compliance issue.
The Power of Design
Commercial-scale cannabis production is a new endeavor and innovators are continuously thinking outside the bounds of mainstream design practice. Engineers have created technology that adapts to a variety of cannabis production needs, and that flexibility is exactly what accessible design requires. When businesses are considering the physical and virtual spaces they offer to customers, their designers should think about their work as macro-level and analyze the political economic forces structuring design norms in the market. Accessible design is powerful because it accounts for diversity and disagreement, it accepts and copes with uncertainty, and it recognizes the importance of governing mentalities. The global estimate of the disability market is $13 trillion, roughly equivalent to a market the size of China, and one in every four people on the planet has some sort of disability. The businesses that prioritize accessibility and enable a broad range of the population to navigate retail spaces will gain the loyalty of a grossly untapped consumer base.
When considering power relations, accessible design is relevant to everyone. Workplace technologies can be designed to centralize power in the hands of management, or they can be designed to empower workers by capitalizing on their skills. For consumers, their ability to access cannabis is pivotal in the assertion of their right to healthcare and autonomy. On the executive level, accessibility is central to a sustainable future, a healthy workplace environment, and a positive role in the community.
The Benefits of Accessibility
Accessibility is prioritized by most Fortune 500 companies, and for good reason. Because we operate in a digital world, accessibility is inseparable from automation. Intuitive software and automated technology streamline operations in both retail and production. The precision for which we strive and the efficiency we pursue cannot be achieved without accessible design. Accessible design optimizes workflow by accounting for issues before they occur and can readily adapt to newfound needs. Businesses that integrate accessibility are more likely to become innovative, inclusive enterprises that reach more people.
A recent study by Forrester found a strong relationship between accessible technologies and employee and customer value. Accessible workplaces created higher productivity, diminished maintenance costs, reduced employee turnover, and resulted in greater employee satisfaction. Websites with an accessible design increased revenue and reduced service costs. And most importantly, businesses with programmatic approaches to accessibility eliminated significant potential compliance fees. As a general rule, non-compliance is three times more expensive than compliance. In 2020, Jay-Z’s cannabis company Caliva, Prospect Farms Hemp Sales, and Highline Wellness were all sued for inaccessible website design. These drawn-out and expensive litigations should compel all cannabis businesses to make accessibility a priority.
Accessibility is obviously pertinent to the disabled community, but as a practice, it extends beyond the bounds of disability. In the establishment of accessibility strategies, businesses must consider the complexity of individual identities. To create an accessible environment, we must recognize consumer needs in the context of their culture, language, gender, age, class, race, and disability. Providing closed captioning on videos, offering a space for customers and employees to share their pronouns, and providing customers with plain language education about cannabis are all important accessibility measures. In many ways, accessibility is synonymous with inclusivity. Businesses with diverse and inclusive workplaces are often more innovative and capable of creating products that bring in new customers.
Building an Accessible Business
A programmatic approach to accessibility is constantly evolving and operates from a centralized budget. Generally, teams building accessibility should focus on equitable use, flexibility in use, simplicity, intuitive features, comprehensibility, tolerance for error, and the physical effort involved in use. If we design products with open mindedness and inclusivity, they can serve an expanding range of uses.
In the realm of e-commerce, a truly accessible website will know a user’s preferences, automatically turn on closed captioning, zoom webpages to 200 percent, and present content with larger line spacing based on user preferences. In a physical space, all customers and employees should be able to move about comfortably and safely, products should be accessible from multiple levels, and all customers should feel welcomed and wanted when they enter the business.
These features may seem like a lot to tackle, but there is help available. The U.S. Department of Justice offers an array of resources on ADA compliance for web accessibility, hiring practices, and design requirements for physical commercial spaces. The U.S. government website accessibility.digital.gov provides in-depth guides for digital ADA compliance in front-end development, content design, UX, and visual design. Companies including AudioEye, accessiBe, and deque offer professional automated accessibility services to businesses in the process of improving their digital offerings. And companies such as Motionspot and Arup help businesses build accessible retail, manufacturing, and office spaces. For start-ups and small businesses that cannot yet afford professional accessibility services, the internet is full of helpful free resources providing guidance on everything from accessible fonts to accessible furniture.
An accessible future is on the horizon and the cannabis industry has the opportunity to act as a leader in design. We have built an industry on collaboration and innovation, and we must continue that collective work. Together, we can make cannabis a universally accessible resource.