Creating a culture of accessibility in your organization

Published April 18, 2023

Committing an organization to meet the digital accessibility needs of people with disabilities might require a shift in the organization’s culture. Employees throughout the organization must follow accessibility practices, but shifting an organization’s culture can be difficult. This article discusses three strategies for creating an accessibility culture in your organization.

Include people with disabilities

Disability rights groups have used the motto “Nothing about us, without us” for decades to push back on people without disabilities making decisions, policies and laws about disability without including the people those laws will impact. Your organization should take the same approach when building an accessibility culture.

The best way to achieve this is by hiring people with disabilities. Accessibility is founded on the idea that people with disabilities deserve full and equal access to life in the community. This includes employment. If an organization's leadership tells staff accessibility is important but is not welcoming people with disabilities as members of the staff, they are sending mixed messages.

Your organization could also contract with people with disabilities for advising and testing. Doing so holds your employees directly responsible to the community they are attempting to include. Testing by people with disabilities also gives you access to an authentic user experience.

You should not ask or expect people with disabilities to volunteer their time doing testing. Performing accessibility testing is skilled labor and should be treated as such.

Explain the “why”

It is important to consider the financial implications of making your organization's content accessible. Inaccessible content opens you up to lawsuits, and accessible content expands an organization’s customer base. But your employees might be more motivated by less tangible things. For example, studies show Gen Z and Millennials highly value their employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Access to the internet is more essential to daily life than ever. People with disabilities need accessible content to get information, goods and services. About 25% of Americans have a disability, so accessibility is an important social justice issue. Helping your employees see this will help motivate any employees that value equity.

It is important to help your employees see why specific practices are important and promote accessibility generally. The reason for alternative text for images is fairly self-evident. The benefits of captions for deaf and hard-of-hearing people are clear. Limiting flashing images is vital to the safety of people with photosensitive epilepsy.

Some practices need more explanation. For example, the reasons for properly formatted headings might need to be clarified. It is helpful to ask how frequently anyone reads things straight through from the first word to the last word. If a web page has no headings, a screen reader user is forced to do just that every time. Similarly, people may not realize how many people with disabilities need content they can operate with a keyboard only.

Another motivation for accessibility is the electronic curb cut concept: accessibility benefits everyone. Consider the examples described in this article:

  • Alt text is helpful for people with low bandwidth.

  • People without photosensitivity often find flashing images uncomfortable.

  • People in crowded or noisy places can make use of captions.

  • Properly formatted can benefit the author of a Word document by automatically generating a table of contents.

  • People may only wish to operate their computer with a keyboard for various reasons.

Have accessibility champions

An accessibility champion can motivate employees and serve as a resource and a motivator. Accessibility is the responsibility of everyone in an organization. However, many factors can hinder employees from including accessibility in their work.

Employees may know little to nothing about accessibility. Champions can train employees on accessibility strategies. They can work to make accessibility part of a project when it begins rather than at the end. And they can be available to answer questions or solve problems. 

Champions can also help employees when they encounter obstacles. If they have a deadline and making time for accessibility will make it hard to meet the deadline, a champion can help by finding the employee more resources or getting the deadline moved.

It might be tempting to designate an employee with a disability as the accessibility champion. That’s fine if that employee applied for such a job or expressed a desire to be an accessibility champion in an organization. However, you should not assume that just because an existing employee has a disability, they are interested in advocating accessibility as part of their job.

Conclusion

Creating the right culture is essential to ensuring your organization makes accessible content. You can do this by working to hire more people with disabilities and contacting members of the community to do testing. Having an accessibility champion can help your employees see the importance of accessibility and train and support them.

 

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