Implementing Accessibility: Understanding Organizational Culture

Published September 1, 2021

Organizational cultures have an enormous impact on how your accessibility strategy is developed, received, adopted, implemented, and managed. Before an accessibility initiative can be implemented or an accessibility charter can be agreed upon, it is critical to understand the organization's culture. 

Understand your organization's culture

No accessibility initiative can succeed unless the culture supports it. An organization's values, behaviors, mission statement, policies and procedures, and work ethic make up its culture. 

When evaluating an organization's culture, consider the following: 

  • Is the culture supportive of new initiatives?
  • Is inclusion a priority? 
  • Does the organization have established processes regarding accessibility? 
  • Is the organization consistent in its values? 
  • Who does what, and how is power exercised in the organization? 

In general, most organizations have a variation of the following types of power structures that influence their culture: 

  • Chain-of-command/Power culture − leadership is delivered through rigid authority with little deviation. 
  • Role cultureaccording to Reference, "is a business and management structural concept in which all individuals are assigned a specific role or roles." In role cultures, the requirements associated with each role, such as laws and standards, are highly valued and expected of each role. 
  • Task culture− the focus is on achieving results; who should get credit is not important − the objective is completing the task. 
  • Personal culture − a deep concern for the well-being of employees and collaboration that builds synergy for workers and those they serve.

While it may seem that one culture is more receptive to new initiatives than another, what is important is truly understanding each, and working within the constraints and boundaries that exist. 

Be realistic to get results

Don't sugarcoat it; each type of culture can be successfully managed, but assessing them honestly is key. In its Culture Database, the Organizational Behavior Study Guide provides great tips for understanding cultures.

Power cultures

Don't assume that power cultures are not open to accessibility. Although power cultures are more rigid, deriving authority from a strict chain-of-command structure, these types are great places for accessibility initiatives to thrive once buy-in has been obtained from executive leadership. In power cultures, once there is sign-off on the initiative, there is no further debate from lower-level staff about who does what or why; the expectation is clear. In power cultures, strong accessibility charters make implementing the initiative a very efficient and orderly process. 

Role cultures

Role cultures are great when initiatives are defined and established as an expectation. Role cultures will work diligently to ensure each role's responsibilities, both legally required and expected from the organization, are met and respected. In role cultures, roles are more important than the people in them; power is position-based − expert power and personal power or "politics" is generally challenged by others and discouraged by leadership.

Task cultures

Task cultures, unlike role cultures, rely heavily on expert power. Task cultures use resources for collaboration and teamwork and therefore encourage expertise. In task cultures, having in-house accessibility experts may be the key to the successful implementation of accessibility across an organization. Task cultures foster environments in which accessibility experts can be both technical resources on teams as well as department-level champions. 

Personal cultures

Organizations with personal cultures are more likely to adopt accessibility initiatives if it is important to its employees. When an organization has a personal culture, it may be more important to develop the initiative with peers and build support from the ground up − leadership is more likely to take its cues from the team collectively if they believe the effort will benefit all.


No matter the type of culture, accessibility initiatives require a deep understanding of the capabilities, constraints, structure, leadership, and politics of an organization. To successfully implement any initiative, professionals working in accessibility should carefully take stock in the organization's processes, power structure, and motivating factors, and develop implementation plans that complement the organization's strengths and avoid the inherent weaknesses associated with each culture type. 

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