If you read my previous article for Aquent about web accessibility and inclusive design, you may be wondering ‘where to from here?’ with accessibility. Well, you’re in luck — I recently had a long chat with Gian Wild about this exact topic.
Let’s look at some key points to consider around moving forward with web accessibility in your organisation.
Web accessibility policy
Policy varies from organisation to organisation, but when it comes to web accessibility, we need to clearly define a few things so everyone knows what to aim for. Let’s look at what we need to include (at a minimum):
- Which level of conformance (this one should be easy)
- Set a target around when you will be able to get there (including milestones)
- What are the rules for success, e.g. writing requirements, the definition of done, and what is the testing procedure.
- Define the key roles and responsibilities, including an accessibility champion (or champions) - someone who has the authority to police the policy.
With a policy (even a draft or a version 1.0) in place, it can then be socialised with the team and the business broadly so that everyone is aware and knows what's involved.
Appoint an accessibility champion
One thing that is challenging for web accessibility or inclusive design enthusiasts is having little to no responsibility or authority — which is often the case.
As an example, I can encourage people and join in as many conversations as I can, but without any authority, I can't make people make the right choices around accessibility. This leads to a lot of stuff going out the door without being properly tested or signed off in terms of accessibility.
What we really need is an accessibility champion (sometimes called sponsor, owner, advocate etc.) who is ultimately responsible — a role where every feature needs to go through that person before it goes out the door. The champion should be involved in discussions, writing the requirements, be part of testing and so on. And if the feature does not meet the standard agreed to in the policy, there can be grown up conversations about why and the options available (e.g. remediate issues, wait for XYZ milestone).
Level playing field with onboarding
Included in your policy should be accessibility onboarding. So often, I meet people who don’t have accessibility on their radar or even understand the basics of why it's part of the discussion. We need to ensure everyone has at least taken an ‘intro to web accessibility’ training and are starting from the same point — I suggest making this mandatory for all new team members.
Depending on the number of people in your organisation or how often you have new starters, onboarding could be at set intervals (say every three months) where any newbies just join in on the next one in the calendar, or they can be ad-hoc as required, particularly if the format is online.
Learning, learning, learning
Building on the foundation of onboarding, there is always plenty to learn about web accessibility. Some examples of the types of topics your team should consider are:
- An introduction to web accessibility (this should be part of onboarding)
- How to conduct an accessibility audit (also known as testing, assessment, or evaluation)
- Accessible document authoring (PDFs and other document formats are often a sticking point for organisations and need specialist knowledge)
- Web accessibility for decision-makers (e.g. product owners, BAs, leadership)
- Writing for accessibility (how to be more inclusive in your copywriting)
You will find many of these covered in Aquent Gymnasium’s free online training on accessibility.
In addition to formal training, here are a couple of suggestions to help you bring your knowledge up:
- Setup a recurring (say fortnightly) session with the team to learn and discuss a different topic, to continually broaden the team's knowledge and keep accessibility in their minds.
- The quickest way to uplift your team's working knowledge of web accessibility is to engage an expert to work with you — someone ‘on call’ who can bring their knowledge and experience, and advice to the table.
Be part of the accessibility roadmap
Whether you have an old website, are building a new one, or are working through continuous improvements and new features, accessibility needs to be part of the roadmap. In my previous article, I noted the concept of moving the conversation to the left (in the design cycle), and this is worth mentioning again. Inclusive design is not about bolting something on reactively (after the fact).
The earlier you can get accessibility into the conversation and be part of the planning and plan for success, the better.
Your appointed accessibility champion(s) need to be in the loop/part of the product roadmap discussions so that they can plan and contribute accordingly around how accessibility will be included as standard.
Bring everyone on the accessibility journey
My final thought, and a really important one in my experience, is to make sure everyone is involved — not one team or department, but all departments across the organisation.
One client I work with has a mysterious marketing department responsible for writing content but never seem to be involved in the conversation.
Everyone producing digital content — copywriting, visual design, development — all need to be part of the conversation when it comes to accessibility.
Having one team hiding away doing their own thing will make success very difficult — and this applies to leadership also. Instead, make sure decision-makers have done the onboarding, are part of the conversation, and have an understanding of why we want to build better digital products.
So where to from here? Learn, take responsibility, build accessibility into the discussion and do your best to keep it on the radar with regular check-ins.
Gian also reminded me of a great article by Sheri Byrne-Haber called The 'perilous pitfalls' of Accessibility Maturity, which unpacks some of the above points (and more), and is a great conversation starter if you’re interested in reading more.
Please join the conversation - are you happy with how your organisation handles accessibility?