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    How to Build a Digital Accessibility-First Company Culture

    by Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

    We Need to Talk. 

    The internet has a problem: websites, large and small, mobile apps, email marketing, social media, all of it. 

    So much of the web is not accessible to people who are disabled. As you may know, more than a billion people worldwide live with some form of disability. But, it's likely substantially more if you consider not only permanent disabilities but those that are temporary, situational, and episodic. 

    We must evolve how websites, apps, emails, and social media are created and maintained. An accessibility-first mindset needs to become part of the DNA of everyone who works on digital projects and for every organization whose business is on the web.  

    Think of this as a call for a revolution! 

    The Current State of the Web and Digital Accessibility 

    Despite the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) being the standard for 24 years, a shocking number of digital properties aren't accessible. Why is this? After all, no organization wants a potential customer to have a poor experience with their brand, or worse, not be able to complete a purchase, pay a bill, or whatever the task is. 

    Yet digital accessibility tends to be something many companies struggle to integrate into their processes and mindset (aka their DNA). This means significant numbers of customers are being excluded from the functions the web offers. 

    The goal, of course, should include everyone who wants to interact with your brand. You never want to tell a customer that accessibility will be handled "later… and to please be patient." Yet, that is a regular refrain when customers report issues related to digital accessibility. 

    Why does this happen? In many cases, it's because there aren't enough people pushing for digital accessibility in organizations. What's needed is a grassroots effort to help organizations create the elusive accessibility-first mindset. 

    Cast Off the History of Exclusion 

    In the book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design, author Kat Holmes writes, "For better or worse, the people who design the touchpoints of society determine who can participate and who is left out. Often unwittingly. A cycle of exclusion permeates our society. It hinders economic growth and undermines business success. It harms our collective and individual well-being. Design shapes our ability to access, participate in, and contribute to the world." 

    In my experience working with companies over the past decade, when digital accessibility doesn't take root in an organization, it's because only a handful of people are working on and advocating for it. That makes digital accessibility easy to deprioritize in favor of other initiatives that might produce more short-term returns on investment. It also means that efforts might fall by the wayside if the people leading the charge depart the company. 

    Nobody wins when customers are excluded because they can't access the content. So, organizations must drive meaningfully forward to create an accessible and inclusive experience.  

    Accessibility Conversations for the Win! 

    Creating a digital accessibility-first mindset can start with you. 

    Yes, you. 

    In fact, you might already be doing this if you're advocating inside your organization with the actions you're already taking. Maybe you're a developer who writes accessible code. Perhaps you're a designer producing UX that is accessible. You could be a content creator who makes sure that what goes into a CMS, email campaign, or social media post is as accessible as you're able to make it. 

    You might also be new to accessibility, working through remediation for the first time. Or maybe even doing some initial research to find out what digital accessibility means.  

    Whatever your personal journey is, you have the immediate power and ability to help create more advocates and change within your organization. This is true regardless of where the organization is with its digital accessibility work. The more people understand the need for digital accessibility, the easier it becomes to get traction as a sustainable, ongoing part of processes and culture.  

    The types of conversations you may want to have with your colleagues can vary depending on the digital accessibility knowledge you already have. Here are a few ways to approach it: 

    • Learning what the company is doing already: If you don't know what the company's digital accessibility plans and policies are, find out. If nothing is happening, ask what can be done to get started. 
    • Find out if you can help: If you're on the digital team but are outside the work that's happening, ask what you can do to support the efforts within your role. 
    • Share your knowledge: Find ways to educate your colleagues. Perhaps learning sessions can be organized to discuss various aspects of digital accessibility in 15 to 20-minute time blocks so others can learn. This knowledge might be technical; it could be about why digital accessibility is essential or something impacted by a site being inaccessible. Whatever knowledge you share, it'll benefit everyone. 

    Regardless of your conversation, it'll resonate even more if you can say why digital accessibility is important to you.  

    I'll share a piece of my story to give you an example of what I say when someone asks me why my advocacy extends beyond my work with UsableNet. Because of what I do, I'm well-versed in the exclusion that poor digital accessibility causes. When I see a company or an individual putting something on the web that is inaccessible, I immediately think they don't realize they're doing something that causes a barrier. My desire to teach kicks in, and I want to help them understand what's wrong and how to avoid the problem in the future. So it has become part of my DNA. 

    Ideally, the same type of advocacy and knowledge becomes part of your DNA, your colleague's DNA, and your company's DNA. Then, digital accessibility is always top of mind and will become the natural thing to do. 

    Want to learn more about company culture and digital accessibility? Sign up for our May 17th Webinar, hosted by Jeff, at 12 pm ET. Save your seat for our webinar on company culture and digital accessibility. Sign up now!

    Web Accessibility Company Culture

    Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

    Jeff Adams, Accessibility Operations Director, UsableNet

    Jeff is UsableNet’s director of accessibility operations and advices companies around the world on best practices in website accessibility, and integrating accessibility into their processes. He’s been with UsableNet for more than a decade and is a Certified Professional in Accessibility Core Competencies by the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. In addition, Jeff’s a creative entrepreneur and co-wrote the book, “Content for Everyone: A Practical Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs to Produce Accessible and Usable Web Content.”

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