Empowering A Culture of Accessibility

Written by: Dylan M. Rafaty

Empowering A Culture of Accessibility

Introduction
At C-Hear Accessibility, we believe in expanding our accessibility efforts across the C-Hear organization. Also, in my Accessibility Strategy & Partnerships role, I believe in equipping our teams inside our organization with the best accessibility internal practices, policies, and procedures to achieve a brand and culture of accessibility within C-Hear.

Today, many organizations struggle with motivation when incorporating a brand or culture of accessibility inside their respective organization. In order to execute it, all organizations must develop or create an action plan, identify goals (over a period of 3 to 6 months) that can be attainable, and hold yourself including your fellow coworkers accountable when achieving a brand/culture of accessibility. This will enable an increase in internal motivation for many organizations.

Organizational Culture

In any organization, no matter how big or small, there’s usually an identifiable culture that exists within. Each organization has its own set of unique behaviors, values, and unified vision that is shared among each other. Many organizational cultures are established by its executive leadership; which, has identified a clear vision for the future direction of the company. Many leaders who’ve started this vision have passed it onto its employees hoping they embrace this belief (or ideology) in the workplace, to their fellow coworkers, customers, and while out working in the community.

“The culture of the community your website fosters is just as important as the internal company culture. Heck, some users might even become your employees (Peter, D., 2016, p. 8)!”

However, there are some organizations that do not have an existing brand/culture/or identity that often comes with a lack of leadership, resources, and support. Essentially, this becomes a difficult challenge for many who have to find individual support and resources to build a culture around that represents everyone within their organization.

Building a Sense of Community

It is often that I like to refer to “organizational culture” to the “community.” Why? Well, the community is defined as sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Across the globe, the accessibility community is one strong, vibrant community that collaborates, share ideas, and best practices on ways to improve digital experiences and inclusion for all. It is with the same hope that many organizations can build a sense of community and empower a culture of accessibility so that all teams can innovate and create positive experiences for everyone, together!

Adapting to Changing Times

In recent months, many organizations like ours dealt with the changing landscape and transition ourselves from the office to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are becoming more reliant on accessible technologies to conduct business activities and connect with others. In the world of accessibility, change is part of the process and it’s important to learn how to adjust and adapt to change!

As individuals, we play a crucial role in changing the mindset on the importance of incorporating an accessibility culture. As an organization, everyone from the executive leadership to each department and individual employee must embrace the belief of knowing that “our [organization name] is here to serve all, including, ensuring our technology is accessible and usable by everyone!” It takes time and practice for many to internally accept, embrace the belief (or brand/identity) of the organization. This change in behavior will be the driving force to move an organization forward on a closer path to achieving a culture of accessibility.

Establishing Your Organization’s Culture of Accessibility Roadmap

Before you start establishing a roadmap, it’s important to remember that the process of achieving a culture of accessibility takes time and it does not happen overnight (Disability:IN, 2020). Each employee, team, and department within the organization plays a key, contributing role to the success of incorporating a culture of accessibility. However, it ultimately starts at the top with the organization’s executive leadership.

Disability:IN, a leader in empowering the business community to achieve disability inclusion, highlighted important information in their Accessible Technology Procurement Toolkit that highlights the importance of how to successfully achieve a culture of accessibility. As a proud member of the disability community and an accessibility champion at C-Hear, here are the four pillars in how you can achieve a culture of accessibility inside your organization.

Four Pillars to Achieving a Culture of Accessibility:

1. Communicating and Educating Employees – Executive leadership (or the organization) providing educational resources and tools in achieving and understanding accessibility.
2. Empowering Teams and Work Groups – Providing positive guidance, mentorship, and motivational support to all.
3. Embracing and Recognizing Champions – Rewarding employees for their hard work in embracing a culture of accessibility within the organization and incorporating digital inclusion for all.
4. Participating in the Community – Encouraging all employees within the organization to engage in social impact initiatives relating to digital inclusion, accessibility, etc.

Accessibility Culture Champions: Executing Leadership Roles

Now, you are ready to take the next steps on how to build accessibility culture champions within your organization. This is part of the change management process for many organizations who are first learning about a culture of accessibility.

Below, you’ll see that it has been reported that many teams do exist today on many organizations including mine at C-Hear, Inc. (in no specific order) with their defined roles covering the digital accessibility landscape, communicating across departments, and how they can achieve a culture of accessibility (Lembree, 2017).

Content Creators and other Contributors

• Leads their efforts by creating new and accessible content.
• All contributors and creators need to understand the accessibility basics to ensure that all documents including emails, web content (following WCAG 2.1 AA, Section 508 compliance) are accessible.
• This can also include the possibility of using any third-party partners (or platforms) that include templates; therefore, any content management system (CMS) used must be accessible.

Design (User Experience/Interface) Teams

• Leads the effort on identifying accessible experiences for all people with disabilities.
• Identifies interface errors that can exist within the visual design process.
• This team usually leads and assists when establishing brand colors and style guides (consider color-contrast; many experience color-blindness), during the development of the user interface components and templates, and in the creation of any print or marketing materials.
• Identifies any accessibility issues in the wireframing stage; ensuring solutions are identified before code is written.

Development Teams

• Provides and inputs the code to support accessibility (in the product, website, etc.).
• This includes incorporating automated accessibility testing into their integration and unit testing.
• Many can improve accessibility by using ARIA and being responsible with their use of semantic markup.

Executive Leadership

• Executes, leads, and supports the mission of the accessibility program.
• Making sure accessibility is identified, established within the organization’s overall brand/identity, its business goals, and vision.

Human Resources (People and Culture)

• Leading the accessible recruiting, hiring, and retention processes of its organization’s workforce.
• Provides all employees the necessary annual and/or required training in accessible formats. This includes accessibility training for every department as part of the on-boarding process.
• Oversees its applications, internal systems, platforms for time tracking, individual benefits, policies, and procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and accessible.

Legal and Compliance Teams

• Providing legal support and holding the organization accountable in regards to its accessibility obligations and requirements.
• Without compliance, it’s important to understand the consequences of such actions, providing an accessibility statement and any additional conformance documentation that may be required to show.

Marketing and Strategy Teams

• These are the two front-facing teams who shall support the culture of accessibility (brand and/or identity) of the organization.
• The marketing team works in coordination with content creators and other contributors when developing social media, email, and video marketing campaigns and other community outreach efforts.
• The strategy team works in coordination with marketing and other teams as they are communicating with potential, current customers, or clients.
• All external and internal lines of communication shall be accessible for all!

Product and Project Managers

• Supports the running of the accessibility program.
• The biggest task is to ensure all accessibility testing measures and remediation are actively implemented into the planning, creating/or building of products, and meeting its deliverables/deadlines.

Quality Assurance Teams

• Leading the accessibility testing efforts of your product or service.
• Quality assurance testing is done with the different assistive technology that is often used by users with disabilities, such as, JAWS screen reader, screen magnifier, and keyboard navigation.
• This team undergoes thorough accessibility testing, identifies clear, consistent issues or mistakes so they can accurately report to the development teams to fix them appropriately in a timely manner.

Usability Testing Teams

• Its main objective is to provide user testing from different users with disabilities.
• All testing teams shall include individuals of different abilities testing the products or services that your organization is/or maybe offering.
• Usability testing can also include the use of assistive technology (AT) for users with disabilities when testing your product or service.

Every technology organization can be led or managed differently. However, every team member within each department plays an important accessibility champion role and makes a contribution to lead the organization’s ability to gain a culture of accessibility.

Conclusion / Call to Action

It is with the hope that many of us consider the value of adding a culture of accessibility as part of our organizational culture. The belief that we are one community (or one organization) working together for a common purpose to serve everyone. Change is part of the process but our willingness to adjust and adapt can create endless opportunities for all. The four pillars to achieving a culture of accessibility are motivationally driven by our organizational leadership. Lastly, each of us can serve as accessibility champions within our respective organizations as long as we believe in empowering a culture of accessibility for everyone, together!

Credits / References:

Building Accessibility Culture by Model View Culture (Peter, D., Jun. 2016)
Building A Culture of Accessibility: Leadership Roles by Deque (Lembree, D., Dec. 2017)
Disability:INclusive Workplaces – Accessible Technology Procurement Toolkit (Disability:IN, Feb. 2020)

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