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#04. Moving mountains: how to get started with accessibility at your organisation.
In this issue, we will discuss how to get started with accessibility at your organisation, establish processes and rules, and convince the people to join the fight for universal product experience.
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In the beginning.
Big organisations don’t always prioritise accessibility (unless required by law), and smaller companies rarely consider it at all. If you are an accessibility expert (or aspire to become one), you will need to go through hell to get things moving.
In this short but insightful issue, we will discuss:
Why the organisations don’t care about accessibility, and how it impacts the product, the team, and the revenue.
How to get started without allies, resources, and support from the leadership.
How to build an accessibility team and convince your leaders to back you.
How to stay sane while moving mountains.
Which plugins and tools to use.
Through hell and back.
A road to becoming an accessibility specialist is long and painful. Unless you work at an organisation that prioritises accessibility from the get-go, the chances are, people around you are not quite aware of what needs to be done or why.
Organisations rarely truly care about accessibility. There are more than 10 reasons why, but generally, it comes down to:
Not seeing the immediate benefits.
Lack of feedback (aka “we haven’t heard any complaints yet”).
Limited knowledge and no fitting leadership.
As someone aspiring to become an accessibility champion, you will need to focus on making a fundamental change in the people’s mindset: not to fight one fire after the other, but to ensure your leaders, teammates, colleagues understand that accessibility benefits everyone.
Make a solid business case for why accessibility is important and how it helps your company’s business. From researching the number of currently underserved prospective customers to highlighting the fact that universal design benefits all users. Your leaders will be looking to align all initiatives with the company’s OKR’s, and accessibility is no exception.
Showcase the accessibility issues users are facing and demonstrate how lack of feedback does not communicate their severity. Record how unlabeled buttons prevent a blind user from accessing core features or present the app as seen by someone with colour blindness. Make it clear that you are aware of the problem and have a concrete plan of actions, but don’t underplay its severity.
Focus on building empathy: help your stakeholders feel and experience the need for accessibility beyond formal requirements. Show how your direct competitors deliver truly accessible experiences.
Keep your goals in mind as you bang your head against the wall and walk around searching for allies. You will need as much patience and strength as you can muster, as many fellows in arms as you can find.
Lonely rangers die in an inaccessible hell.
At this point, the mission may appear impossible, depending on the gravity of your situation, but your first order of the day is not to dive head-first into this horrifying pool. Allies and fellows in arms mentioned above were not just figures of speech.
First things first, focus on finding likeminded individuals who share your love for accessible design. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a lonely designer or a desperate engineer who had been walking this road alone until you showed up. Their experience and knowledge, coupled with your burning passion, will create an unstoppable force.
Together, concentrate on identifying small and impactful changes that will serve as examples of what you can achieve. Rally up your engineers and design ops to add focus states to buttons. Work with content designers on adding aria-labels for your “Like” buttons. Small changes go a long way, and your goal at first will be to establish new ways of working. Evolution over revolution, any day of the week.
Finally, a good advice for all ICs: notify your managers of your new side hustle and check how they can help. At this point, anything from a shout-out at an all-hands to allocating office hours to accessibility will be of great assistance. Don’t shy away from
Engaging the team.
Accessibility is fascinating, but delightful micro-animations and catchy copy get people’s attention far easier than landmarks, aria-labels, or focus states. Presenting accessibility as a cool topic is a tricky task, but with a lot of hard work and patience, you may achieve some good results.
It’s impossible to hand all accessibility jobs to a separate team of volunteer contributors and keep growing at a sustainable pace: accessibility is not an afterthought, not something that you can slap when everything else is done. It is embedded in the product’s DNA, considered from the get-go, and the more your product grows, the faster the accessibility debt accumulates.
As the first accessibility specialist at the organisation, you will be assigned an important mission: to carry the burden of engaging and convincing people to join, learn, and contribute.
Think again how you could make your fellow designers, engineers, product managers experience the need for accessibility. For instance, host learning sessions or create a space where designers can ask accessibility-related questions: anything, from a Slack channel to regular office hours, will be great.
Reach out to the local communities and invite their representatives to speak at your company’s townhall. Let someone struggling to top up their card balance tell it directly to your designers. Invite your team to an accessible museum where they can experience “the day in life” of a person with impairments. Use your next team building activity to volunteer at a local elderly home.
Establishing formal practices is a critical step, once you have recruited enough people and made some small changes in your product and the organisation. Develop clear roadmaps and allocate jobs to your teammates: identify, divide, conquer, measure, report. Catch up regularly and share what you are working on and where you need help.
Work on making your research practices truly inclusive. Your user base is diverse and vibrant, their needs evolve and change, and keeping up to speed with their pain points and jobs-to-be-done is critical.
Last but not least, do your best to stay sane and preserve your energy. Your passion will inevitably deplete, your drive will diminish, and if you stop enjoying the ride, you won’t be making results.
The sharpest tools in the shed.
There are many plugins and tools that can help you along the way.
Not A Checklist will save you from the pain of going through WCAG standards one by one, trying to digest and understand them.
Hemingway is a fantastic text editor that highlights long, overly complex, and otherwise hard-to-read chunks of text and helps you improve your writing.
Include will help you prepare your designs for a smooth handover.
Contrast will check your colours.
A11y Focus Order is a great annotations tool that does more that assigning the order of focus states.
HeadingsMap is a simple plugin that visualises your page’s structure in a headings tree.
WAVE tool and the screen reader of your choice will help test your product live and identify areas for improvement.
Finally, learning and staying up to speed with the best practices is essential, so consider following A11y Weekly and, of course, The Accessibility Apprentice.
P.S. If you are in Singapore, join my Accessibility talk on the 25th July!