Overcoming Organizational Resistance to Accessibility

Published August 10, 2021

In the environment in which ADA coordinators, accessibility specialists, human resource professionals, facility managers, and other operational personnel operate from day to day, there are unanticipated barriers that must be overcome. These barriers are sometimes easily avoidable and manageable if properly navigated. In general, they can be summed up as two types of internal motivating factors; stakeholders that must be managed, and gatekeepers who can, and do, say the word - “no.”

Both have their own interests, priorities, resources, and initiatives. They are “anyone and everyone” involved in your efforts to improve access for persons with disabilities, from developing a project charter to obtaining the necessary resources to changing a culture. You cannot do it alone. 

In an article published by Inc. Magazine, studies suggested that on average, any given customer would give a salesperson five “no’s” before giving a “yes.” This could also mean that five different customers would say “no” before a sixth customer said “yes”, but the statistics remain the same; the chances of obtaining a “yes” on the first try are slim. And those are the sales odds. You are selling equal access, which can be much more difficult; if it were easy, we would not have to pass laws to accomplish it.

But getting to “yes” is not the hardest part. You must deliver as well. This means once you get to “yes” you must effectively manage and deliver solutions that make sense and can be measured against a standard. You will need more than accessibility knowledge to do that. It starts with a team.

Building a team

Industry leaders who have spent years in accessibility know the importance of building a team very well. Building your team does not always mean building lifelong friendships, nor does it mean you are always the coach. What it means is you need champions, assets, human resources, expertise. This is especially critical when building an accessibility team. Whether you are an ADA guru, a veteran human resource professional, or "the" accessibility wizard of your industry, you cannot know everything, nor can you do everything. To truly accomplish your goals, you will need friends.

Some organizations rely on third-party vendors to serve in this role, and others are realizing the benefits of having in-house accessibility talent. Knowing how to do it properly is critical. You cannot prioritize without a proper team.

Prioritizing remediation work

The amount of work required to truly impact the accessibility of an organization is tremendous. To bring stakeholders on board, you will need to demonstrate that you have a firm grasp on what accessibility barriers exist, what could be done, what should be done, and ultimately what will be done. This means effective prioritization based on the availability of resources, the need of the organization, collective capabilities, and the requirements of any external motivating factors.

For example, there are many rules and best practices that govern digital accessibility. Some require technical expertise and training, and some are easy to spot and correct. Identifying what is most important, what can, should, and will be accomplished, and then executing is critical.

Managing the work

Once you have identified your stakeholders, developed a plan to manage them, and prioritized the work, you’ll need to develop a plan to ensure the work is completed, properly managed, and measured for success. This plan may come in the form of a project charter, a legal mandate, or be driven by the organization, but it needs to be developed with executive support and must be carried through.

Accessibility in particular needs formally documented support within an organization. To be successful, predictable, and compliant, policies need to be developed and maintained so that accessibility programs can operate. This means defining the program, establishing policies, planning the work, working the plan, and measuring success.

Measuring success

Accessibility must be measured to be effective. While the Americans with Disabilities Act was written to be intentionally interpretive and flexible (not every disability type was even defined), standards and guidelines exist to help us navigate and measure our efforts to ensure we deliver equal access to programs, services, and activities.

Internal stakeholders, auditors, C-level executives, and many more benefit from and require data to understand challenges, progress, and completion. Accessibility is no exception. The technical specifications that govern and inform accessibility best practices, volume, and priority provide measurable metrics. Mistakes are usually in the small details of any accessibility project, so understanding them thoroughly is critical to measuring success.

Steps you can take now

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prepare your organization to not only get to “yes” with accessibility but also effectively implement and manage your efforts. The most important being education. Organizations that stop learning lose their competitive edge; an advantage that is easier to build than repair.  

Preparing and educating your organization means preparing your workforce to overcome the barrier of “no” and having the ability to manage the “yes.”

Organizations should be proactive and identify educational materials that will enhance their workforce and build synergy toward a collective purpose. Organizational leadership should also identify persons within the organization to be responsible for the organization’s efforts and provide support and access to continuing education and training on the topic to ensure compliance.


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