<img src="https://3280432.fs1.hubspotusercontent-na1.net/hubfs/3280432/Imported_Blog_Media/GettyImages-1035507788.jpg">

Building a Sustainable Accessibility Program: Your Questions Answered

By UsableNet on Jun 27, 2024
Topics: Web Accessibility, Webinars


In our webinar, "Building a Sustainable Accessibility Program," we explored essential strategies and challenges in developing robust accessibility initiatives within organizations. The session featured Jeff Adams, VP of Accessibility Operations at UsableNet, and Heather Hepburn, Head of Accessibility at Skyscanner.

After Jeff highlighted the importance of creating sustainable accessibility programs, Heather shared her journey from a UX writer to becoming the Head of Accessibility at Skyscanner.

For the rest of the webinar, Heather discussed her experience building a sustainable accessibility program at Skyscanner. Register to watch.

The conversation highlighted four key areas:

1) Continuous Advocacy- Heather discussed the ongoing need to advocate for accessibility across all organizational levels;

2) Personalized Engagement- Heather shared tested strategies for tailoring engagement with team members to gain support for accessibility;

3) Practical Guidance- Attendees received actionable advice for establishing and maintaining a sustainable accessibility program;

4) Accessibility Champions- Jeff and Heather agreed on the crucial role accessibility champions play in driving organizational change.

Over the last four years, Heather and the Skyscanner team have embedded accessibility into the company's processes. Her efforts have made accessibility integral to Skyscanner's operations.

Your Questions Answered

The webinar concluded with a Q&A session. Attendees asked Heather and Jeff for practical tips on implementing and sustaining accessibility programs. This blog addresses these questions.

Editor's Note: Unless otherwise indicated by "(Live Session)," Heather kindly answered these questions over email after the live session. We've slightly edited it for readability.  

Implementing Accessibility Into the Software Development Life Cycle (Live Session)

Question: How do you implement accessibility standards throughout the SDLC?

Answer: Consider a gradual and integrated approach to implementing accessibility standards throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC). According to Heather, at Skyscanner, accessibility was initially within the company-wide strategy, which provided a foundation for further conversations and implementations. Over time, accessibility became embedded in web and app production standards and the software delivery handbook.

Heather also highlighted the importance of embedding accessibility into existing processes rather than creating additional layers. This process involved understanding the goals and workflows of different teams and finding touchpoints to integrate accessibility naturally.

Regular one-on-one conversations with team leaders helped tailor the approach to meet their needs and challenges, making the process enhancements more effective and less disruptive.

Gradual integration and continuous dialogue are vital to successfully embedding accessibility into the broader SDLC.

Annotating Designs in Figma

Question: What do your designers annotate in Figma precisely besides headings?

Answer: We currently have five accessibility annotations available to the design team in Figma:

    1. Headings (H1, H2, etc., for web, just H for app)
    2. Focus order (tab order for interactive elements and reading order for non-interactive elements)
    3. Accessibility text (alt text, ARIA labels, accessibility labels, etc.)
    4. Groups (when a screen reader should read aspects in one go)
    5. Notes (for any additional notes)

Engaging Users with Lived Experience

Question: Are you engaging individuals with lived experience in the design and implementation stages?

Answer: We're starting to try and should be doing it more.

A recent example is that we redesigned our itinerary cards and presented different prototypes to three screen reader users for their thoughts. We iterated the design based on their comments and presented it to them for further thought before proceeding.

We want to incorporate feedback from disabled users as early in the product development process as possible, as it is so important and saves time.

Addressing Accessibility Cuts

Question: As an accessibility specialist with a disability, I'm surprised they're making cuts, considering the legal ramifications. Would you happen to have any ideas on that?

Answer: I mentioned Spotify and Twitter cutting some (or all) of Twitter's accessibility team. It seems short-sighted because accessibility will only become more of a requirement as time passes.

Changing Mindsets on Accessibility Workload

Question: How do you face the challenge of changing the mindset that accessibility means more workload, more work, and extra work to implement?

Answer: We recognize that it is more work. Still, we compare the time involved if you include it early in the process (around 3-5% additional effort) to that if you wait to retrofit fixes afterward (more than 20% extra effort).

We use a case study where accessibility was an afterthought, costing the team much time and money in the long run. We also take time to understand the team's existing processes to see where accessibility can easily slot in rather than creating anything new and time-consuming.

Digital Accessibility Models

Question: Could we see an example of the Digital Accessibility Model?

Answer: Here are a few models you can reference:

Tackling Accessibility Initiatives

Question: How do you tackle the challenge of convincing people to do accessibility work, training them, and auditing their work?

Answer: Getting leadership on board helps with all these issues as it ensures that your people see accessibility as a business imperative. Here are some ways to tackle these challenges:

    1. Convincing People: Help them understand why accessibility is essential by relating it to personal experiences. We run Empathy Labs to show what it's like to do tasks while temporarily impaired, which usually sparks excellent conversations and lasting impacts. Quality and pride in work also matter – can designers or engineers say they've produced a quality product if some people can't use it? Sharing videos of disabled users struggling with the product can also be effective.
    2. Training People: Depending on your budget, organizational size, and how your people learn best, options include creating company-wide training modules, running workshops, investing in online training, sharing free online content, or training a small team to train others.
    3. Auditing Work: We have volunteer Accessibility Champions who manage audits and deliver results to teams. We use UsableNet's AQA tool for automated audits and hope to move to manual audits soon. Eventually, we aim to make this process more self-serve, teaching teams to run their audits.

>>>See UsableNet AQA in Action. Watch a demo here.<<<

The Empathy Lab

Question: What elements went into the Empathy Lab? What impairments were the most impactful in getting engagement and support?

Answer: You can find out more about our Empathy Labs here:

About the AHA Moment (Live Session)

Question: What are some of the 'aha' moments you've had with others when teaching others about web a11y within your company?

Answer: The "AHA moments" often come from making the topic relatable and personal. People have the "aha" when they realize that accessibility benefits everyone. For example, using captions benefits people in noisy environments or those who prefer reading text over listening.

By drawing connections, accessibility becomes easier for others to understand and prioritize. Personal relevance and practical examples are critical in teaching and advocating web accessibility.

Embracing Strategies for a Sustainable Accessibility Program

Heather Hepburn's journey at Skyscanner shows how important it is to include accessibility strategies in business practices. Her story serves as a guide for companies wanting to become inclusive and build a sustainable accessibility program.

Heather and the Skyscanner team use UsableNet AQA, our accessibility management and testing platform. AQA pinpoints accessibility issues and offers you guidance and recommended fixes. Discover how inclusive your website is. Try it free.

This webinar was recorded; click the image below to register to watch the complete program.June 2024 Webinar - On Demand




Founded in 2000, UsableNet created some of the first tools and platforms to make websites accessible and usable for all people. Starting out, we worked with government agencies as well as universities and corporations. Today, accessibility has become important to almost all companies. We provide accessibility solutions to Fortune 1000 companies, small and medium enterprises, government, and education organizations across industries including retail, travel, hospitality, food services, automotive, financial services, and healthcare.

Need to improve digital usability, accessibility or performance? We can help.
Partner with us. Get in touch.