Developing an Accessibility Charter

Published August 24, 2021

For accessibility professionals working to improve access for persons with disabilities, one of the most important resources to be developed is the accessibility charter. The accessibility charter represents both the organization’s commitment to removing barriers to accessibility and the organization's mandate for accessibility professionals to do their work. The accessibility charter should include a title, define scope and purpose, and outline roles, responsibilities, authority, and commitment from all stakeholders and management.

If the charter is drafted properly, the organization’s commitment should be evident and reflect an understanding and collaboration between the initiative’s manager or coordinator and the effort’s other stakeholders.

Benefits of an accessibility charter

An accessibility charter grants its manager or coordinator rights that would otherwise be difficult to maintain on merit alone. First, it authorizes the manager or coordinator to proceed with all defined activities that involve his or her accessibility initiative. When all roles are defined, resources are identified, and expectations are clear, internal and external stakeholders can develop an understanding and truly commit to the initiative. Once understanding has been reached, benefits such as teamwork, agreement, and trust are developed, and teams can build synergy.

Accessibility initiatives also typically involve managers or coordinators who do not have direct authority over every stakeholder in the project and require personalities that can easily shift between leadership styles. When a charter is not defined, leadership can be difficult to establish and sometimes impossible to maintain.

What should be included in an accessibility charter

Once it has been agreed that a charter is needed to fully realize accessibility, the contents of the charter need to be agreed upon by all stakeholders. It is critical that steps are not skipped in this phase. For example, if the design department is not consulted in the development stage of the charter it is almost certain that constraints and risks will be missed, and worse, the design department may become the barrier when the document is being vetted by leadership because they were not in the loop - the charter will likely be scrapped.

To ensure your effort is successful, draft a list of potential stakeholders and make it a top priority to meet with them all at least twice (or more) to document their concerns and constraints and obtain buy-in before submitting your final draft.

Once you have met with all stakeholders and developed a list of requirements, constraints, expectations, and timelines, consider including the following in the first draft:

  • Title – In all company initiatives titles are important. A title is the first thing your stakeholders will read, and ultimately will define the overall objective of the charter. A great title describes exactly what is included in the charter but is concise and robust. For example, a descriptive title could be “Digital Technology Accessibility Policy” or “Online Content Accessibility Policy.” Both examples clearly communicate what the document outlines – Digital technology or Online Content, and the context – the organization’s policy on the topic.

  • Scope – In the scope section of the charter, we are addressing the details of what is to be accomplished and why it should be. Think of this section as an elevator speech on accessibility. Here is an example of a brief and concise scope:

This charter outlines the organization’s policy regarding online and digital technology accessibility policy to improve access to information and communication technology for persons with disabilities in furtherance of the organization’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and related non-discrimination laws.

  • Purpose – Business case and applicability. In this section, you will define the business case for the charter and what the impact will be. For example:

“In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ABCXYZ Organization must provide equal access to programs, services, and activities….

This policy applies to all information and technology, customer facing websites, mobile applications, kiosks, electronic information, and digital documents….”

  • Policy Statement – The policy statement is where expectations are clearly defined. Standards, success criteria, and timelines would be best defined here. For example:

“New and redesigned web content after the effective date of this policy will conform to WCAG 2.1 Level AA success criteria…Existing web content published prior to this policy will be removed or remediated to meet the standards outlined in this policy to the maximum extent feasible.”

  • Responsibilities – The responsibilities section is an outline of who does what to ensure the objectives of the charter are met. For example, designating a responsible individual to coordinate the goals and objectives of the charter, empowering that individual with authority to carry out the tasks required to realize the objectives, and identifying stakeholder responsibilities and expectations (for example, leadership should make resources readily available for the coordinator and how that is done should be defined).

Other considerations

Accessibility charters should include any information that is needed to fully realize its defined objectives. For example, if there is a concern that some milestones are ambiguous or unclear, use the document to provide a high-level schedule of what should be expected. The work breakdown of the schedule will likely shift and evolve over time, but everyone needs to understand what the goal is. If the expectation is that all technology will be assessed by January 1, 2024, that should be included in the charter. Other important dates, like transition plan development schedules, remediation schedules, and completion should also be included.

An accessibility charter should be no more than four pages in length. The accessibility charter is the document that is used to define the organization’s goals, the initiative’s scope, policy, and responsibilities. This does not mean that including a comprehensive schedule or risk and resource estimate is not important or needed, but careful consideration should be put into how much of that to include. Much of the work that comes in managing an organization’s transition to accessible technology is dynamic and will change often as new constraints and opportunities are identified.

For accessibility professionals, the underlining objective in developing an accessibility charter is as much establishing an organizational policy that adopts an accessibility standard as it is a mandate to execute as needed without having to overcome organizational barriers on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, it is usually best to keep the charter high-level and work through the operational details on a case-by-case basis – to ensure flexibility.

Commitment

Once a charter draft is complete and all stakeholders have signed off on it either verbally or via a sign-off section on the document, the final step is to obtain a commitment from the organization’s leadership via a signature. In this section, it may be an organizational standard to list all stakeholders or only the executive that is sponsoring the document. In either case, what is ultimately needed is buy-in and sign-off on the document so it can be codified and executed. By formally signing off on the charter, stakeholders are more likely to continue to work diligently on their tasks throughout the initiative and ensure the manager or coordinator of the effort transitions the organization successfully.

AccessibilityPlus 2022

Accessibility.com is proud of our role in promoting digital accessibility and equal access for all while recognizing there is much work to be done. As we welcome a new year in 2022, we have opened registration for AccessibilityPlus 2022, which will feature events dedicated to promoting actionable solutions in implementing digital accessibility initiatives. Registration is limited. For more information about the conference, speakers, and topics, please visit our AccessibilityPlus Event Calendar.

Registrations for our August event Add to Cart: Creating an Accessible e-Commerce Experience are now available at no cost for Accessibility.com viewers for a limited time.

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